July 18, 2024
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Lawsuit Filed Against CUNY Union Charges It Has Become ‘Cesspool of Anti-Israel Activity’

An atmosphere of ongoing antisemitism centered around “a cesspool of anti-Israel activity” has prompted six professors at the City University of New York (CUNY) to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against its Professional Staff Congress (PSC).

The ongoing situation in the Middle East has prompted a number of antisemitic statements and incidents directed at students and faculty on CUNY’s 25 campuses.

The suit specifically challenges New York’s Taylor Law that forces professors to be under the union’s “monopoly representation” even though they have resigned from the PSC because of its “extreme ideology and poor representation.”

Five of the six professors are Jewish and all are being represented pro bono by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Fairness Center. They are Avraham Goldstein, Michael Goldstein, Frimette Kass-Shraibman, Mitchell Langbert, Jeffrey Lax and Maria Pagano.

“This is a constitutional issue,” said Glenn Taubman, a staff attorney with the foundation assigned to the case. “Why should someone be forced to be represented by a private organization that doesn’t represent their interests and, in fact, is openly hostile to their beliefs and Jewish identity?”

He added Pagano, although not Jewish, has her own economic and moral reasons for joining her colleagues.

Taubman, in an interview with The Jewish Link, said the professors “are brilliant people who knew right away something wasn’t kosher” and sought legal representation. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The suit comes in the wake of a resolution passed several months ago by the PSC calling Israel “a settler colonial state.”

The resolution has prompted the resignation of a number of professors from the union and has been condemned by staff, students, politicians and Jewish organizations as antisemitic.

“These professors all want to stand up for their rights, stand up for Israel and stand up for Zionism,” said Taubman. “All are in one way or the other pro-Israel. Some are very Orthodox in practice and stand out. But it’s not only about discrimination. They are being forced to be represented by an organization they despise.”

He explained even though the professors have stopped paying union dues, the PSC under state law still acts as their exclusive spokesperson, which the suit contends violates their First Amendment rights to freedom of association and speech.

Taubman said his own mother is an alumna of Brooklyn College and lamented that a university that has traditionally employed and educated “tons” of Jews is now “just a cesspool of anti-Israel activity” and that he is “proud and grateful these professors are standing up and fighting for them.”

Lax, an Orthodox professor at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn for more than 17 years, became among the first professors to resign on June 18, eight days after the PSC vote.

“Quite frankly the resolution is disgusting,” Lax said at the time in a phone interview with The Jewish Link, adding the resolution condemns “the continued subjection of Palestinians to the state-supported displacement, occupation, and use of lethal force by Israel” but fails to take into account the targeting of Israeli civilians by Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization.

Lax sent a statement about the lawsuit on behalf of S.A.F.E. CUNY (Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY), which advocates for the rights of Zionists who are being discriminated against and systemically excluded because of their beliefs.

“S.A.F.E. CUNY stands in solidarity with the professors who courageously came forward and brought this action,” it stated. “The PSC-CUNY faculty union has already been found liable by the EEOC for discriminating against its very own Zionist Jewish and observant Jewish faculty members. That is reprehensible and these faculty members should not be forced to have their discriminators represent them in collective bargaining, where their interests—even strong legally protected ones—are not represented.”

Goldstein, an East Brunswick resident and administrator and adjunct faculty member at Kingsborough, has also been targeted going back three years for his pro-Israel stance, including having nails placed in his tires, an attempt by another professor to get him fired and having more than 1,000 fliers distributed calling for his termination. Hate-filled graffiti had also been scrawled on a photo of his father, a former president of Kingsborough.

PSC President James Davis had also denied that its statement supported the Boycott Divestment Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel and insisted that had been previously misreported.

However, in a statement recently emailed to The Jewish Link the PSC dismissed the allegations in the lawsuit.

“This meritless lawsuit, brought by faculty who are not members of our union and funded by the notoriously right wing National Right to Work Legal Foundation, is just another attempt to erode the power of organized labor to fight for better pay and working conditions and a more just society,” said Director of Communications Francis Walter Clark. “PSC members—and non-member free-riders such as the plaintiffs—have good health insurance, benefits, due-process rights, contractual raises and salary steps because of the union’s contract negotiations.”

Clark also claimed the “Right to Work agenda is rooted in white supremacy” and “will find little purchase at CUNY, the nation’s largest, most diverse university system.”

“Antisemitism is on the rise and must be confronted,” added Clark. “The deeply held convictions and differences of opinion that some PSC members have about Israel and Palestine should not be distorted in service of an anti-union agenda.”

Taubman said while they would like a quick decision “the wheels of justice move slowly and now because of COVID they’re moving even slower,” and doesn’t expect the case to be resolved for a year or two.

By Debra Rubin

 

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