Prof calls CUNY's DEI programs a 'farce' as system faces anti-Semitism investigation

Professor Jeffrey Lax of CUNY’s Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn calls the system’s recent $750,000 DEI investment 'a farce' that will not address campus anti-Semitism.

'I never thought of myself as a white person. My grandparents weren't treated as white people when they were taken to concentration camps by the Nazis.'

Administrators behind the new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives within the City University of New York (CUNY) system have not only failed to address anti-Semitism on system campuses. They are also the ones responsible for the attacks on Zionism, according to one professor. 

In an interview with Campus Reform, professor Jeffrey Lax of CUNY’s Kingsborough Community College (KCC) in Brooklyn calls the system’s recent $750,000 DEI investment “a farce.” 

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Over the past year alone, allegations of anti-Semitism on CUNY campuses include Brooklyn College hosting a staff bias training on Yom Kippur following complaints from students over professors sharing anti-Semitic tropes. More recent headlines depict a series of complaints, investigations, counter complaints, and counter investigations into these incidents. 

A Feb. 23 announcement from CUNY describes the recent launch of a bias reporting system and the proposals submitted by CUNY schools to combat “antisemitism, anti-Asian hate, and other forms of racism and discrimination.” 

Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez allocated the system’s $750,000 based on these proposals, one of which delivers a Holocaust education program. But other investments include initiatives like DEI training and “a two-woman play covering the topics of race, love and friendship.” 

The inaction of administrators, Lax suggests, actually stems from their DEI agenda, which crudely divides people into “oppressors” and the “oppressed.” Under DEI programs, he told Campus Reform, Jews are lumped in with whites and treated as oppressors. 

“I never thought of myself as a white person,” Lax says. “My grandparents weren’t treated as white people when they were taken to concentration camps by the Nazis.” 

An organization co-founded by Lax filed complaints in July 2022 against CUNY’s School of Law, alleging that Jewish students and faculty experienced discrimination on the basis of their creed and national origin

New York’s human rights division is investigating the state complaint from Lax’s organization, Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY (SAFE CUNY). Manny Kottaram, an assistant public information officer with New York’s Division of Human Rights (DHR), told Campus Reform that “DHR cannot confirm/deny filings or otherwise comment.” 

The events from the complaints began in May 2022 when “the faculty of CUNY School of Law unanimously adopted … a BDS resolution that illegally boycotts Israelis and Zionist Jews.” The resolution, the state complaint continues, also calls for boycotting companies that do business with Israel, including “PepsiCo (for the apparent crime of selling Cola to Israelis).” 

Student Government members originally introduced the resolution, which “proudly and unapologetically” supports boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) “against Israel.” The BDS movement is often associated with anti-Semitism, and more than half of U.S. states forbid “recipients of public contracts and state investment … from boycotting Israel,” according to Newsweek

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Some critics of the movement say that meeting BDS’ demands–including “[r]ecognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”–means that Israel would cease to be a Jewish state.  

Anti-Israel sentiment is often treated as a form of free expression on college campuses rather than as acts of discrimination. But this sentiment goes further than free speech, Lax suggests, when it is embraced by CUNY leadership. 

The DEI officer appointed to respond to complaints of anti-Semitism on CUNY campuses is a former employee of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The organization has lobbied to end states’ BDS bans, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claims that “[s]ome of CAIR’s current leadership had early connections with organizations that are or were affiliated with Hamas.” 

Support of CAIR from Saly Abd Alla, the system’s Chief Diversity Officer, tells Jewish students and faculty that they are unwelcome, Lax argues. 

Abd Alla and the system’s other DEI officers oversee the bias reporting system “addressing discrimination and retaliation,” which Lax calls “a joke.” 

If CUNY administrators want to combat anti-Semitism, Lax says, the system should adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition, which encompasses “the targeting of the state of Israel,” when responding to discrimination complaints. 

“They rejected that multiple times,” Lax told Campus Reform. “I think they’re just doing things to say they’re doing penance.”

Campus Reform contacted all relevant parties listed for comment and will update this article accordingly.