Holding Antisemites Accountable.

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NYC City Councilwoman Calls on NY Gov to Take Action Against CUNY Antisemitism

New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, a Republican, called on New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, to take action against the antisemitism at the City University of New York (CUNY).

The Algemeiner reported that Vernikov wrote an open letter to Hochul on August 1. The letter was signed by several Jewish groups. Vernikov wrote in the letter that antisemitism at CUNY is “pervasive and has been going on for years.” She added that she sits on the Higher Education Committee that has been investigating the antisemitism at CUNY and that the hearing was initially delayed to accommodate Chancellor Felix Matos-Rodriguez, only to have representatives of the university show up instead.

“The hearing’s waiting room had so many witnesses lined up to tell their stories that the hearing went on for almost seven hours,” Vernikov wrote. “At the hearing, the responses from CUNY representatives showed both a lack of understanding of antisemitism and a complete failure to deal with it.”

The committee did end up meeting with the chancellor and other CUNY representatives on July 13, which Vernikov called “productive” since CUNY pledged to follow some of the committee’s requests to address antisemitism at the university. But such commitments mean nothing “without concrete action,” the city councilwoman wrote. “The State of New York is the principle funding source for CUNY and your position and leadership as our Governor is integral to the state of affairs at CUNY, as you are empowered with authority to appoint their board of trustees, who in turn implement CUNY policy.”

Vernikov lauded Hochul for adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and suggested that she urge CUNY to also adopt IHRA. She then listed a series of actions that CUNY needs to take, including “specific consequences” against those who engage in antisemitism, include antisemitism in bias training and to pledge that CUNY will never cave to those calling for academic boycotts of Israel. The letter concluded with a request to meet with Hochul to discuss the issues at CUNY.

The watchdog group StopAntisemitism tweeted that they were “proud” to be among the signatories of Vernikov’s letter, adding that CUNY’s “leadership has miserably failed to keep its Jewish students safe.” They added in a subsequent tweet that the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed a complaint to the Department of Education in July that CUNY had violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act for failing to curb antisemitism permeating the campus. According to The Algemeiner, the complaint documents incidents dating back to 2013 involving “Jewish faculty and students having their property vandalized, receiving threats and verbal abuse, and being held responsible for actions of the Israeli government.” A CUNY spokesperson told The Algemeiner that the university condemns antisemitism and all other forms of hatred and that they properly follow protocol when such incidents are reported to the university.

Other signatories to Vernikov’s letter included The Lawfare Project, Americans Against Antisemitism and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

CUNY Professor Jeffrey Lax, who chairs the business department at CUNY’s Kingsborough Community College, wrote in a July 29 New York Daily News op-ed recounting the antisemitism he has experienced on college. Lax, an Orthodox Jew and grandson of Holocaust survivors, wrote that in April 2019, “five professors surrounded me in the faculty dining room and began screaming at me. Twice I tried to leave, but they physically stopped me. One professor put his hand above my head and said, ‘We’re not done. We’re just starting.’” “I didn’t even know these professors, but they knew I was Jewish, observant and Zionist, and that was enough,” Lax wrote. He has since learned that one of these professors has raised money for an organization with ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group and wrote an essay linking Jews with white supremacy.

“But this incident was about far more than one bad apple,” Lax continued. “The professors who surrounded me were part of a larger group called the Progressive Faculty Caucus, almost all of whom held, or were seeking, prominent positions in CUNY’s faculty union. The caucus went out of their way to create a hostile working environment for Orthodox and Zionist Jews, lobbying against Jews vying for elected positions on campus and arranging meetings on Friday nights, knowing that observant Jews could not attend.”

Lax is among the professors that filed a lawsuit in January in an attempt to overstate New York’s Taylor Law mandating that they be a part of the professor’s union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). Lax had resigned from the union after they had a passed an anti-Israel resolution in June 2021; the PSC told the Journal that the lawsuit was “meritless.”

“I’m under no illusion that this lawsuit alone will halt the spread of anti-Semitism on campus,” Lax’s op-ed concluded. “But I am determined to do my part to honor the legacy of my forebears by standing against injustice—especially when those in power turn a blind eye.”