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Jewish students, professors allege antisemitism on CUNY campuses

Jewish students, staff report antisemitic incidents at CUNY campuses
Jewish students, staff report antisemitic incidents at CUNY campuses 02:50

NEW YORK -- The rise in incidents of antisemitism at City University of New York campuses has some Jewish students and professors saying they're afraid to return in the fall.

As CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported Thursday, they are pleading with the university system to take action.

When Professor Jeffrey Lax steps on the CUNY Kingsborough campus, where he's the Business Department chair, he does not wear his yarmulke.

"I do not want to be targeted. That's the reason," Lax said. "I wish I could just do my job."

But Lax says a few years ago some fellow faculty members learned he was Jewish and Zionist, and threats and intimidation followed.

"It is a religious belief for me and for many other people," Lax said. "And they admitted they had events on a Friday night not to make sure Orthodox Jews -- me -- couldn't come."

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission substantiated all of his claims last year, but Lax says CUNY has still not addressed the hostile work environment.

Similar complaints were voiced by dozens of professors and students across CUNY campuses last month at a City Council Higher Education Committee hearing.

"Graduate student, um, starts telling me that Jews control the world, that they, um, kill babies, that they own all banks," said Tzvia Waronker, a student at CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

But Waronker says CUNY John Jay told her comments like that were not considered to be antisemitism.

She and Councilwoman Inna Vernikov met with CUNY's chancellor last week after he failed to show up at last month's hearing.

"They also committed to more Israel exchange programs, as well as they said that since the hearing they've been exploring the idea of adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism," Vernikov said.

That's the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, which says antisemitism includes holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel. New York's governor adopted it last month.

"If we don't have a definition of antisemitism, it doesn't matter what you've reported," Waronker said.

Councilman Eric Dinowitz has introduced a resolution in the City Council that would have CUNY create a systemfor students to report antisemitism.

"My great grandparents were gassed to death by Nazis, so that's something that weighs on me and when I see something like this, I want to act," Lax said.

A CUNY spokesperson told CBS2 the "University is engaged every day in efforts to combat antisemitism," and it is "always learning new ways to improve our efforts."

In response to Lax's allegations that CUNY has not responded to the EEOC ruling in his favor, a CUNY spokesperson said, "Since Professor Lax has pending litigation against the University, and is represented by counsel, any meetings with him would be with the University Office of General Counsel. OGC has been trying to schedule a meeting with Professor Lax and his attorneys for some time. No meeting has been scheduled with the Chancellor."

Lax says CUNY's Chancellor recently cancelled a scheduled meeting for later this month, and he says the president of CUNY Kingsborough has not responded to requests to meet with him to create a safer work environment.

A spokesperson for Kingsborough Community College said, "Kingsborough Community College is committed to a diverse and inclusive community where students, faculty and staff feel safe, welcome, and free to pursue their studies and their work. We have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind, and allegations of this kind are taken very seriously. The College does not  comment on pending litigation." 

As for Waronker's claims on CUNY John Jay's campus, a spokesperson said, "John Jay College educates for justice and does not tolerate hate of any kind, including antisemitism. We are committed to fighting bigotry and to providing a safe learning environment for every one of our students."

The spokesperson added the school has also reached out to the Campus Climate Initiative - Hillel which works with campuses on instituting positive changes.

CBS2 contacted Mayor Adams for comment for this story.

A spokesperson said, "Hate has no place in our city and in our state.  New York City is a diverse landscape of many different cultures, languages and nationalities that make this city the greatest in the world. As we work to combat a spike in hate crimes, especially antisemitic ones, it is important to support and uplift all New Yorkers to ensure no one is targeted for hatred."

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