News / Student Life

Hunter Community Takes a Stand Against Canceled Film Screening

Students at the November 15 Hunter Senate meeting display signs condemning the Hunter Administration’s censorship. Photo: CUNY Internationalists
Photo by P.M. Campbell


When a Hunter professor learned that the college’s president canceled her film screening, she appealed to student protestors, Hunter organizers, and the senate to save it.

Tami Gold, 74, scheduled a screening of Daniel J. Chalfen’s award-winning documentary “Israelism” to provide an opportunity for dialogue on Palestine and Israel for the student body. The event was co-sponsored by her Film & Media Department as well as the Arabic Program, and was slated for November 14 at 6 p.m. Though Gold, who teaches documentary film making and LGBT Film & Media, started planning the screening in June, she and her colleagues began to receive pushback after Hamas’ October 7 attack. 

When the Hunter administration expressed security concerns surrounding the showing, she was adamant that the event should still be held as a calm and constructive moment for discussion. Gold received word at 9 a.m. November 14, that the fully booked screening would be canceled. Not only did she contact the New York Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Professional Staff Congress for support in the matter, but she also spoke at an on-campus demonstration later that day. 

Hunter’s Palestine Solidarity Alliance held a sit-in demonstration outside of Hunter’s West Building, students held up their hands covered in faux blood and looked up to see “FREE PALESTINE” in large letters on the two bridges connecting the east, west, and north buildings. 

The demonstration featured PSA members reading names of Palestinians killed since October 7, representatives from the 10 collaborating clubs, as well as faculty like Adjunct Professor Sandor John who spoke about censorship of educators. 

A demonstrator at PSA’s November 14 sit-in in front of Hunter college.

Toward the end of the event, Gold announced that the Interim President Ann Kirschner canceled her film screening, an action which the crowd met with boos and cries of “shame!” She told the demonstrators, “You can speak truth to power and let the school know that you recognize censorship, you recognize academic freedom being attacked, and our civil liberties being attacked.” 

As she addressed the crowd, a large black “Accuracy in Mediatruck with LED screens pulled in front of Hunter’s Starbucks, displaying the words “CUNY’s LEADING ANTISEMITES” with a rotating and unsubstantiated list of CUNY staff who supposedly signed a joint letter “taking the side of Hamas.” 

“Oh my god they have the names of professors in my department,” Gold told The Athenian after speaking. 

Gold said she attended the event because she is for a free Palestine and emphasized that Israel’s actions since October 7 embody their decades long mistreatment of Palestinians. She said Israelism is “about the growth of young Jews all over the world beginning to see the truth about Palestine and about Israel and the oppression.” Like the film’s subjects who travel to Israel and Palestine and observe “the brutal way Israel treats Palestinians,” Gold felt that conditions could not get worse while on her trip to the West Bank in 2014. 

“I think they’ve made something much larger for them, a big mess for the president of Hunter college,” she said. “That our students can’t have disagreements in a very professional, healthy way, that’s what they’re saying, they’re saying that our students can’t be trusted.”

Before attending the protest, Simya Sinclair, a 22-year-old media major, explained that members of his family are Zionist, an opposing ideology which causes him to keep his distance.

To him, colleges should provide an opportunity to expand one’s mindset regardless of how they were raised. Discussing the repression of pro-Palestine activities across college campuses, he expressed disappointment yet was not surprised.

“This is where young people join together… it’s where we’re supposed to grow, and part of it is expressing your beliefs,” said Sinclair. He felt that the growing censorship is “counter-intuitive to the whole purpose of why we’re here in the first place.”

Approximately 150 people RSVP’d for the event in the Lang Recital Hall, and that dropped to 100 on November 11 when the administration limited the event to Hunter students. While that figure dropped to zero attendees the morning of the 14th, approximately 60 people showed up to a meeting in the Faculty Delegate Assembly to discuss the cancellation. They spoke with Producer Daniel J. Chalfen and interviewee Simone Zimmerman from “Israelism” and figured out ways to proceed. 

Kelly Anderson, chair of the Film & Media department, discussed the administration’s original willingness to support the event despite hundreds of emails claiming the film would exacerbate tensions on campus. 

Anderson maintained that she attended a meeting on the 14 among Dean Polsky, 

Provost Manoj Pardasani, and President Kirschner who justified their cancellation of the screening with a concern for student’s safety and tensions around campus. Though Anderson clarified that she disagreed with their decision, the administrator’s word was final. 

“I was invited to the president’s office and it was the president who took full responsibility for the decision, and she said that she understood the value of academic freedom and she was concerned about the climate on campus, and that this could be like pouring gasoline on a fire,” said Anderson.

The following day, November 15, students walked into the Hunter College Senate meeting with signs saying “We will not be silenced,” “McCarthyism at Hunter?” and other slogans concerning free speech. Anderson, Undergraduate Student Government President Bashir Juwara, and the PSA president critiqued what they saw as the Hunter President’s lack of support for civil conversations, of impartial support for students, and of recognition of Palestinian students. John discussed his hatred of anti-Semitic symbolism and called the president’s reference to “swastikas [which] were drawn on posters surrounding our buildings” a false pretext to cancel the screening.

“If the statement in any way implied that I considered the film anti-semitic, then I did not express myself clearly, I haven’t seen the film,” said President Kirschner in response to Anderson. “To have shown the film last night struck me as not responsible for campus safety.”

Jennifer Gaboury, Hunter Chapter chair of the PSC and one of the faculty members doxxed on the Accuracy in Media truck, expressed her disappointment in the president who was present on zoom, and asked the senators to consider endorsing a statement from the union chapter which “objects to the last-minute cancellation” of the film. Professor Sandor John added an amendment stating, “we call on the administration to provide a space for the film to be shown in November 2023.”

One member of the audience dissented to the resolution, and agreed with the president that the film posed a safety concern, another felt that a union resolution did not belong in the senate. 

“This is not me making a political statement, it’s about me saying I trust that our students can engage in complicated issues,” said Gold in support.

All senators participated in an anonymous “clicker vote” at the controversial request of a senator. The first vote, which added John’s amendment to Gaboury’s resolution, passed with 33 in favor, 8 against, and 12 abstaining. 

As the minutes ticked down however, with a straightforward “voice vote” off the table, the task remained for the senators to digitally vote on the complete resolution. Ultimately, the resolution to condemn the cancellation of Israelism as “an egregious and illegitimate violation of academic freedom,” and to reschedule it later in November was passed with 32 in favor, 7 against, and 16 abstaining. 

 After the meeting, Gaboury and Gold expressed joy that the senate defended academic freedom. 

“Let’s mobilize our students to come to the senate more often… I’m leaving soon, and I don’t mean I’m leaving Hunter, I’m leaving the planet,” Gold joked. “And I want this space to be healthier, and therefore students need to be in the senate so their voices can be heard.”

There is no planned date for screening the film at Hunter.



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