Offended by Kanye’s antisemitism? Examine academia, too

COMMENTARY

Photo by Jim Henderson, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

Originally published in the Washington Examiner.

By Jeffery Lax

Kanye West has just been named “Antisemite of the Year,” beating out celebrities such as Mohamed Hadid, the father of supermodel sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid, and others spreading hate, according to watchdog group StopAntisemitism. No doubt, the musician’s Hitler-praising meltdown on Alex Jones’s show made the rapper a shoo-in for the award.

These and many other examples of the mainstreaming of antisemitism prompted the White House to meet with Jewish leaders last week. Good. Having lost my great-grandparents to the Nazis, I take the rise of antisemitism with deadly seriousness. But while these examples of high-profile hate rightly grab headlines, we must remember that antisemitism isn’t isolated to attention-seeking celebrities. Sometimes it surfaces where you least expect it.

Academia and organized labor are two standard-bearers for the supposedly tolerant Left. But as my experience shows, don’t expect acceptance on my campus if you can trace your heritage back to the 12 tribes of Israel.

As a Jewish professor at a public university in New York City, I can tell you that my employer and the union that is supposed to stand up for me appear to have baked antisemitism into my workplace and are adamant about keeping it that way.

I have been ringing alarm bells about antisemitism at the City University of New York for years. Jewish students and professors have been repeatedly maligned or mistreated—some have faced enough oppression that they have fled to different schools.

My colleague had his property vandalized and nails driven into his tires. I was personally surrounded and physically threatened by other professors on campus just for being an observant Jew. Events such as these are disturbingly common—there have been more than 150 antisemitic incidents reported on CUNY campuses since 2015.

Nor is university antisemitism isolated to CUNY: One-third of Jewish college students experienced antisemitism in a single school year, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

My faculty union representatives proved no help at all in addressing the abuse I experienced. On my own, I filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint which, last year, found that by allowing campus discrimination, CUNY had violated the Civil Rights Act.

For more than a year, CUNY officials took little to no action to address campus antisemitism. But my union did—just not in the way I was expecting. Union officials at the Professional Staff Congress, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, issued a statement aligned with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, whose goal is to punish Jewish Zionists in America and isolate the state of Israel.

So instead of backing me up, my union was attacking my identity.

Although I resigned my union membership in protest, I’d have to quit my job to escape antisemitic union officials’ influence. New York law requires all CUNY professors to be represented by the union, even if they aren’t union members.

Yes, the same people who referred to Israel as an “apartheid” state are negotiating the salary and working conditions of Jewish professors at CUNY. Absurd? I thought so, too, and several professors joined me in suing the union, CUNY, and the state of New York to escape the union for good. But as that lawsuit works its way through the courts, I must continue to work in an environment hostile to Jews. And it’s only getting worse.

When CUNY administrators were seeking a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer, they put a vocal BDS activist on the hiring committee. My complaints about this only sparked reprisals. Another Jewish professor and I are now under investigation by CUNY officials for reasons they refuse to disclose.

Do I feel persecuted? Yes—and dehumanized. The administrators who approved this investigation have never once agreed to meet with me in person to discuss my complaints. However, in seemingly retaliating against me for bringing to light campus antisemitism, CUNY officials have finally clarified their stance on the issue: They have no tolerance for Jews who bring harmful antisemitism to their attention.

I will continue doing my best to resist the tide of antisemitism at my university and within the union that represents me. I hope the White House understands that the scope of this problem extends far beyond the scandal of the day—it is deeply rooted in institutions that have for too long avoided scrutiny.

Jeffrey Lax is a professor and chair of the business department at Kingsborough Community College.

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