Kenneth Ryesky

Those Telephone Calls

On 23 March 2011, the Professional Staff Congress union representing employees of the City University of New York (PSC-CUNY) held what they described as “a peaceful, non-violent direct action protest” in Albany at which 33 people were arrested for blocking access to the Executive Chamber in the New York State Capitol building.  I was teaching at Queens College CUNY that year, and for what I considered to be cogent reasons, had chosen to join the PSC-CUNY union (though I would not continue to be a member if I were still teaching at a CUNY college today).

Never mind that the Albany event occurred during Spring Break when I had no classes to teach, and never mind the demands of my law practice; even if I had not been in Philadelphia that day attending to the issues of my aging parents, I would not have been in Albany. And never mind that PSC-CUNY was protesting both cutbacks in state funding infusions to CUNY and CUNY tuition increases (one need not be an Economics major to immediately see the disconnect). My decision to join PSC-CUNY was a practical one.  Back then, before the Janus v. AFSCME case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018, my choice was to either join PSC-CUNY or have deducted from my paycheck an agency shop fee in lieu of union dues.  As an Adjunct faculty member, I had an active and outspoken interest in the status of part-time faculty at CUNY and other higher education institutions, but  I disagreed with almost all of the union’s socio-political stances.  My being a union member enabled me to attend chapter meetings and express my views without fear of being ejected.

Even if I had had the slightest inclination to go to the Albany protest, I would have thought twice because word came out that some of the people in my PSC-CUNY chapter and others who were urging union members to attend were themselves foregoing attendance for various reasons, including one who admitted that he risked losing the Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal of a pending criminal charge.  People who talk the talk are far more credible when they are willing to walk the walk.  Those who cajole others to take risks they themselves are unwilling to assume differ only in degree from the Hamas leaders who sit it out in Qatar and Turkey while their underling operatives use the Gaza civilian population as human shields.

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Two individuals who did walk the walk recently are Yad Yamin New York activist Karen Lichtbraun and former New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind; they accepted the risk of arrest on 7 March 2024 when they protested Amnesty International’s double standards regarding sex abuse victims who happen to be Jewish women raped by terrorists.  Dov and Karen were quite willing to face the consequences of arrest, and did not resist when police officers escorted them out of the building in handcuffs.

It now is too early to predict how the criminal charges against Dov Hikind and Karen Lichtbraun will be resolved.  It is possible that charges might be dropped, it is possible that there will be a plea bargain, and (as we now are witnessing in certain other active cases) it is possible that some politically-motivated prosecutor might become so obsessed with the prosecution that standards of justice are wantonly discarded.  But regardless of the outcome of the criminal cases against the two, a seasoned politician such as Dov Hikind can likely salvage something from it.  An unwelcome spotlight can be shined upon Amnesty International’s hypocrisy, especially if the cases go to trial.  Moreover, the police response  might be potential ground for a comparison study; not all police forces regard the safety of Jewish citizens seriously or evenhandedly.

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In a 2013 incident at Brooklyn College CUNY, a college outsider was permitted to order the expulsion of four Jewish students who peaceably expressed opposition at an anti-Israel event (while a college vice-president refused to intervene).  CUNY’s official rules for public order specifically provide campus visitors who do not comply with the rules are “subject to ejection and/or arrest by the civil authorities,” the same sanctions apply to students as well.  Other colleges and universities have analogous rules.

Dov Hikind and Karen Lichtbraun were arrested by the NYPD because the Amnesty International people made a telephone call when the two remained on the Amnesty International premises after being told to leave. Amidst all the disorder on America’s college and university campuses, administrators clearly need to make more of Those Telephone Calls.

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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