Photo Credit: Courtesy
Jeffrey Lax

Much has been made about antisemitism at the City University of New York central administration – specifically at Sheepshead Bay-based Kingsborough Community College (KBCC) and at Brooklyn College.

No one is more aware of it than former Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represented residents in the Midwood and Borough Park neighborhoods; Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, a Democrat, who represents Brighton Beach and whose district includes KBCC; and Jeffrey Lax, dean of the business department at KBCC.

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Lax says he is being ignored by the KBCC administration, including President Claudia Schrader, who took the helm of KBCC in September 2018, and will resign his position on the Personnel and Budget Committee “because I refuse to report to her. She’s the chair of that committee, she won’t let me do my job on that committee,” Lax told The Jewish Press exclusively. “I’m on the budget committee. Every chair is on the budget committee. I’m entitled to ask her questions about budget allocations. She’s required under the CUNY by-laws to report to us (the P&B Committee) on these allocations and on these searches. She refused to respond to my questions. I’m going to resign in protest.”

Schrader has refused to offer her views publicly about the situation at KBCC even after several attempts by The Jewish Press to request her to comment.

Lax’s frustration by being ignored is apparent.

“I call her an antisemite to her face now because I know it’s true. I tell her over and over to her face that she has a problem with Jews,” Lax said. “She’s not stupid, she’s evil. There’s a difference. I am a victim like any other Jew at Kingsborough. It should not be about me. There’s nothing to be proud of being a victim. People are scared. People don’t have tenure like I do. There are reasons why people don’t speak out. It’s sad because other people do need to speak out.”

Cymbrowitz says he speaks and meets with Schrader on a regular basis. He told The Jewish Press that Schrader is currently sidetracked with other pressing matters.

“They are still trying to deal with the fact that they’ve lost so many students due to COVID and trying to build up admission again. I’m just not letting them forget that antisemitism is an issue [on campus],” Cymbrowitz said. “Antisemitism on campus still exists. I don’t think it’s been handled appropriately by the Kingsborough administration and more importantly by the CUNY administration. We need to continue to work on it. I think Kingsborough needs to do a better job at mitigating antisemitism. They’re working on it. I don’t have specifics from them.”

Cymbrowitz, who is not a member of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, says antisemitism cannot become part of the mainstream culture on campus.

“We have to continue to work to not allow antisemitism to become a fact of life where we do nothing to stop it. It is our responsibility as Jews to alleviate it no matter how long it takes, and it is something that we will work as diligently as possible as Jews to alleviate it,” Cymbrowitz said.

Hikind, the founder of Americans Against Antisemitism, is injecting himself into the controversy at KBCC. At the behest of freshman City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov (R – Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn) Hikind will be meeting with former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who Hikind supported throughout his political career, including his run for mayor against Michael Bloomberg. Thompson is the chairman of the board at CUNY. The meeting is scheduled in Manhattan on September 12. Vernikov served as a special assistant to Hikind during his assembly career.

“Whatever we’ve been doing up until now is not working. Whatever the ADL is doing just ain’t working. When the numbers continue to grow and nothing changes it ain’t working,” Hikind told The Jewish Press. “We’re trying every single angle. I have the greatest respect for Bill Thompson. I’ve worked with him and seen him in action. We hope that we can get him to truly act as to what is going on. All we’re asking for is a protocol for when someone violates the rules that the city university actually has. [Each hateful action] creates intimidation, creates fear, threatens people, the BDS stuff.”

Hikind wants Jews to be more vocal and take matters into their own hands, a move Lax resists because he works at KBCC.

“I am asking that every student who attends the city university system is safe. That is not the case right now. The kind of hateful rhetoric that comes out is just unbelievable.,” Hikind said. “These people have to be confronted. We should go to their homes, for G-d’s sake. [Lax is] the head of a department at Kingsborough. There needs to be a change of tactics. The way things are being done right now just does not work and we’re wasting our time. I rocked the boat a lot and people were upset and furious and out to get me. That was part of life. That was my choice, always.”

At a recent news conference in Cedarhurst, Nassau County, freshman Republican Assemblyman Ari Brown was visibly upset by the actions at CUNY even though he is from Long Island.

“No matter what happens it’s just allowing vicious antisemitism from staff, from students,” Brown said. “This antisemitism stems from somewhere. The rape, the murder, the defunding of the police, cashless bail all came about because of the antisemitism. Jews are always the easy targets. We’re a small population, we’ll go after them, no one’s really going to care. The antisemitism and the crime today are exactly the same. There’s no fear of authority. There’s no fear of G-d. Antisemitism is the number one hate crime bar none. Physically pushing a professor into a corner is a hate crime.”

Joining Brown at the news conference was Congressman Lee Zeldin (R – Shirley, Suffolk County), who is running for governor. At a separate event Zeldin told The Jewish Press what everyone already seems to know antisemitism is out of control at CUNY.

“If you see it happen once you’ve seen one too many occurrences of antisemitism,” said Zeldin, who is Jewish. “If you wear a yarmulka. If you look different, you’re being targeted. It’s not just Jews, it’s others that are being targeted with raw, violent hate. We have to combat antisemitism in every form. The City University of New York has a big issue with growing antisemitism, a culture of antisemitism. The leadership at CUNY isn’t doing enough about it. The faculty-student association, other organizations connected with CUNY have been advancing resolutions that are creating a toxic culture where Jewish professors, faculty and students feel less welcome at the CUNY Law graduation ceremony. They had an antisemite giving a commencement address. We have to make sure that antisemitism is removed from our classrooms and we also have to remove antisemitism from the halls of government. There are individuals who are getting elected to positions and others who are holding much weight and influence with elected officials and they are advancing the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. They also engage in rhetoric and other positions that are antisemitic. Whether it’s on our streets, in our schools or in our government we have to do everything we can to eliminate antisemitism in every form.”

Hikind didn’t have confidence the culture would change anytime soon through governmental channels.

“I don’t think Ari (Brown) understands what needs to be done. He understands that there is a problem. It will take time. He’s new. He’s not rocking the boat,” Hikind said. “Simcha Eichenstein is a nice guy but he’s not milchig and not fleishig. We’ve got a serious problem the last couple of years and it’s not getting better. The numbers are there. We see what’s going on.”

When contacted and reached by phone, Eichenstein declined to comment on this issue to The Jewish Press.

Hikind also takes aim at a former colleague.

“Steve Cymbrowitz, have you seen one iota of leadership on his part? I didn’t know if he was even still in office, he’s been so silent on this issue,” Hikind said. “I’m sure that Steve is against antisemitism. I’m sure that Steve is against hatred at city universities. Leadership? Rocking the boat? Doing what needs to be done? That’s why the leadership at the city university gets away with it, for G-d’s sake. The reason they get away with it is because there are so few of us who actually take this seriously.

“Where are these people? If they’re not going to be for the Jewish people at a time like this when Jew hatred is out of control, if they’re not going to be there for the Jewish people now, then give someone else a chance. Step up to the plate or quit.”

Hikind said he will be endorsing former Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, a Brighton Beach resident, and “doing everything I can to push him.” Brook-Krasny, a former Democrat, is running as a Republican in southern Brooklyn against incumbent Mathylde Frontus.

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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at swnsonline@gmail.com.