Human Rights and Wrongs

Only days before the matter was to go on trial before an administrative Judge, NYC’s human rights commission settled a highly controversial lawsuit it had filed in August 2012 against seven Jewish-owned stores on Lee Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that had posted signs asking customers to dress modestly.

For the stores, facing the threat of thousands of dollars in fines, the deal that was struck was a positive development. They will be permitted to post new signs stating that modest dress is appreciated. The new signs will also have to state that all individuals are welcome to enter the stores free from discrimination, something that they readily agreed to, since they had no intention of discriminating against anyone in the first place.

The settlement, which received high praise from Jewish organizations such as Agudath Israel of America and the Satmar affiliated United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, was a pragmatic decision by the city. As the store owners, several elected officials, and other outraged members of the community pointed out, dress codes requiring jackets or banning casual clothes are common at upscale restaurants.

The City’s Human Rights commission would have had a very hard time explaining why Jewish-owned stores aren’t entitled to the same rights as expensive restaurants. At no time did the stores discriminate against anyone based on their religion, race, or gender. All they asked was that customers respect a dress code that doesn’t offend the sensitivities of the community.

While the de Blasio administration deserves credit for settling this issue, the very fact that a settlement was necessary and that the Bloomberg administration saw fit to file the suit in the first place is deeply disturbing.

As Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the executive vice president of Agudath Israel pointed out in his organization’s statement, the case should never have been brought in the first place and “the Commission’s pursuit of the Williamsburg store owners raised serious concerns of selective prosecution.”

In a most disturbing twist of irony, the city’s Human Rights Commission, an entity charged with protecting the human rights of the New Yorkers was essentially actively engaging in discriminating against them.