Radhika Sainath in New York Magazine

The following article, which quotes Senior Staff Attorney Radhika Sainath, was published in New York Magazine on September 11, 2018. Click here to view the full article.

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A CUNY Student Was Investigated for Criticizing Israel

By Jesse Singal

On June 1, an announcement was posted to the City University of New York’s Earth and Environmental Sciences listserv advertising Fulbright grants to study in Israel. The next day, Rafael Mutis, a sixth-year Ph.D. student in that department, responded, “Thanks for passing this on, but this is some sick zionist propaganda. Is this a Trump initiative? Maybe there are post docs in Palestine? Free Free Palestine!”

Under normal circumstances, once the thread wound down, that would have been that: Some people would have thought Mutis was dancing a bit too close to anti-Semitic tropes by using the term “Zionist” in the way he did, others would have viewed that charge as overblown and an attempt to tamp down criticism of Israel — and just about everyone would have gone about their day a bit more exasperated. That wasn’t what happened, though.

Instead, on June 6, the student who signed off her email with “FUCK YOU” sent an email to Edith Rivera, the chief diversity officer and Title IX coordinator at CUNY’s Graduate Center, to attempt to get Mutis in trouble.

On July 10, Mutis finally went in for a meeting with CUNY administrators, accompanied by his attorney, Radhika Sainath of Palestine Legal. Sainath’s account of that meeting, contained in an email she wrote to Stacie Tiongson, one of the CUNY administrators present, is surreal and worth reading:

At the start of the meeting, you mentioned the complaint filed against Mutis and asked Mutis to state his response. I explained that the complaint contained no allegations and asked CUNY to inform Mutis of the allegations against him so that he could respond. You stated that CUNY was not alleging any wrongdoing. You again asked for a response from Mutis. I stated that without any factual allegations, there was nothing to respond to. You then stated that the complainant told you that that Mutis’ initial response to the Fulbright posting was “triggering” and “made her feel unsafe.” You did not say what language the complainant was alleging discriminated against her race, color, religion, national origin or creed. You did not state the complainant’s race, color, religion, national origin or creed.

I asked what CUNY rule or policy Mutis’ email was alleged to violate. You could not cite any rule or policy. I asked if Mutis was being investigated for policies governing listserves. Schoengood said that Mutis was not. I asked what penalties were on the table. You said that no penalties were on the table.

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