By Lea Speyer
A lawyer representing a New York City professor in a suit against his university for alleged antisemitism told The Algemeiner her client was previously pressured by the school’s president to drop an internal complaint.
Brooke Goldstein, director of the nonprofit legal think-tank the Lawfare Project and co-counsel to the plaintiff – Jewish professor of business Jeffrey Lax – said that City University of New York (CUNY) Kingsborough Community College President Farley Herzek repeatedly instructed Lax to withdraw a formal CUNY complaint lodged against Stuart Suss, former vice president for academic affairs and provost at Kingsborough. Herzek, according to Goldstein, told Lax to “let it go.”
As previously reported by The Algemeiner, Lax filed a lawsuit in February against senior Kingsborough administrators, claiming they limit the hiring and promotion of Jews and maintain a hostile work environment for them. According to the suit, which named Suss specifically, Jewish faculty members were frequently mocked for wearing religious head coverings and keeping kosher, and were referred to as “the Devil” and “evil.”
Before filing the lawsuit, Lax submitted separate informal complaints to Kingsborough’s General Counsel and the Interim Provost. Both were ignored, he claimed, forcing him to file a formal complaint with the CUNY human resources department. As a result, the suit alleges, “discrimination and harassment only intensified” against Lax.
According to the suit, Lax, an orthodox Jew, faced “constant discrimination based on his religion” from Suss, including “comments, innuendo and verbal harassment.” Suss, the suit accuses, expressed support for suicide bombers and attacks against Jews, and was “constantly reminding people that he knows that they are Jewish.”
“The significance of Herzek responding in this manner to serious allegations of antisemitism cannot be understated,” said Goldstein. “For the president of a CUNY institution to direct an employee to drop his claim of discrimination against a senior administrator rather than investigate them, represents not just a dereliction of duty, but a vile and tacit endorsement of antisemitic practices.”
In March, Herzek told The Algemeiner: “Based on my knowledge of the review of this claim, it is baseless and entirely without merit. Discrimination and acts of bigotry of any kind are in complete violation of the values we stand for at Kingsborough Community College.”
In a recent op-ed by Herzek in the Jewish Voice, the Kingsborough president denied knowledge of any incidents or complaints of antisemitism on his school’s campus. A faculty member at Kingsborough – who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job – told The Algemeiner that acts of antisemitic vandalism at the college have become commonplace. Swastika graffiti is found on campus at increasing rates and the personal property of Jewish faculty members has been repeatedly defaced, the faculty member said.
Reports of antisemitic behavior at Kingsborough are part of ongoing charges against CUNY as a whole. In March, the New York State Senate approved a resolution cutting $485 million in funding to the institution, due what some lawmakers considered inaction on its part where antisemitism on its campuses is concerned.
Herzek failed to comment by press time.