The time SUSE, the German Linux company, banned mentioning Jewish holidays.
And then punished the Jew who objected to that action.
What follows is a tremendously personal story. It is 100% true and factual. I am publishing this in the hopes of bringing about a positive change at a Linux company that I view as historically significant and important — both to the broader open source industry and to myself.
I have kept quiet about this for far, far too long.
Before we start, I want to say that there are some amazing people who work for SUSE. Both back when the events of this story take place… and nowadays. People who are brilliant, kind, and generally wonderful. People who were supportive and helpful to me during the events I’m about to talk about. To all of you: keep being the good people I know you are.
Back in 2013, I joined SUSE — specifically the marketing team.
During my time working for SUSE (the longest running Linux company on Earth) I was — without question — the most publicly visible person within the company.
Not only did I bring a sizable audience with me when I joined the company, I then: Was elected to the openSUSE Board, represented SUSE at conferences (and in interviews) across the country, and created some of the most successful advertising campaigns in SUSE (and Linux) history… my name and personal brand became closely tied to SUSE. I was widely considered to be the “Go To Guy” for all things “Linux” related to SUSE marketing.
One thing we regularly did at SUSE… was to celebrate holidays. For example, back in 2014 I helped write “How Linux Saved Christmas”.
I love that stuff. Celebrating holidays — all holidays — and spreading a little joy and cheer from the company (and reminding people how cool Linux is in the process). So much fun.
But not Jewish holidays
The one thing we had never done, as a company, is make any mention of any Jewish holiday. Not once, not ever.
Well, no big deal.
Being a Jewish man, I can come up with something easily enough! So, in 2015, I drafted and published a very small “Happy Hanukkah” post that went out on SUSE Social Media (which I controlled 100% of for many years).
It was short, simple, pleasant.
Immediately after, I received instruction (handed down from the head of Marketing, a few steps above me on the totem pole, at SUSE) to delete the “Happy Hanukkah” posts.
I was also instructed — explicitly — to leave all content related to every other holiday (Christmas, etc.) online. The only holiday that was to be removed was the Jewish one.
So I did what any good little corporate boy would do… I deleted the posts that sounded a bit too “Jew-y”. And left all the other holiday content in place. As instructed. Did it make me happy as Jew? No. It did not.
Fun side note: Within mere minutes of deleting all of the content that referenced a Jewish holiday… an email went out to SUSE employees. Encouraging us all to sing Christmas carols. At the company office. Not joking.
Right about now you might be thinking to yourself, “SUSE — a German company — is forbidding the mentioning of Jewish holidays? That’s not a good look.” And, well, you wouldn’t be alone in having that thought.
Obviously I raised a concern about this through the proper channels within SUSE.
My immediate manager did the right thing… and raised my concerns up the chain of command.
That manager was promptly fired. And, needless to say, the issue was not addressed.
A new manager was hired for my team. After a short period of time, I brought up the whole “SUSE bans mentioning of Jews” issue to this manager as well. And, once again, my manager did the right thing and raised the issue up the chain of command.
That manager was, also, promptly fired.
At which point the head of SUSE Marketing — who issued the “No Jewish Holidays” rule, was given a significant promotion.
This is a good moment to mention how crazy good my performance within SUSE was. Not only was I the most recognized name and face within the company… I was personally responsible for starting, writing, and driving some of the most successful campaigns in SUSE history. SUSE’s financial results reflect my insanely good performance. Literally off the chart.
So, what happened next? I was reprimanded and moved off my team. Then denied a promised pay raise. At which point multiple false statements (provably so) were made about me internally by upper management.
The Jew that raised concerns about the German Linux company discriminating against Jews? Punished. Significantly. And any manager that inquired about the discrimination was quickly fired.
Things kept getting worse
I stayed with the company. I wanted to make it work.
So I raised the issue again. To everyone in the chain of command — all the way up to the CEO.
To my delight, investigation was started. Huzzah! An investigation! With how extensively everything was documented, surely this would help resolve the issue!
After the investigation drug on for what seemed like an eternity, I was eventually informed that no discrimination, of any kind, had occurred.
Say, what now?!
The evidence of discrimination was overwhelming. The documentation (including emails detailing everything) was extensive and verifiable. In fact, SUSE never (not once) disagreed with any of the facts… they simply didn’t think what they did was wrong. (Even though it is under both US and German law.)
Obviously, I asked to see the results of the investigation — because, clearly, something was wrong here. Something shady was happening. I was told, point blank, that I would not be shown any notes or information from the investigation. Period. No exceptions.
No apology for discriminating against Jews. Nor for discriminating against, and punishing, me. Nobody that committed (the well documented) discrimination was disciplined in any way (in fact, they were promoted and praised).
I was told that I simply needed to be happy about it.
Then they scheduled SUSECON on the holiest day of the year
The annual conference for SUSE is known as SUSECON.
And me, being the person that controlled all of SUSE social media (and being the most high profile face within the company)… I kinda needed to be there.
SUSECON was schedule to occur… during the Jewish High Holy Days (the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). With the closing event occurring on Yom Kippur… the holiest day of the year. A day when Jews absolutely do not work.
The management of SUSE knew all of this. I know they knew all this… because we had talked about it many times.
And they certainly knew I was Jewish (see this entire article up until now).
There are two possibilities here:
This was done on purpose, with malice, directed at me and the other Jewish employees of SUSE.
This was done with profound disregard for Jewish employees of SUSE.
Those are the only two options. Because I also know that many other dates were on the table that worked better.
Think about this for a moment…
What if SUSECON had been scheduled on Christmas morning?
What if a devout Christian was told to delete ALL content that mentioned Christmas… but leave all Jewish and Islamic content online (and then even make more of it)?
What if that Christian raised this as an issue and then was reprimanded, passed over for raises, moved out of his/her team?
What if every manager of that Christian was fired right after raising the issue internally?
What if that Christian was told "we looked into it and it's all fine, you're wrong, go back to work... and we won't tell you details of our investigation"...?
Replace the word "Christian" with "Muslim", "LGBT", etc. How does that read to you?
Classic, obvious, well documented, text book discrimination.
What is truly mind-blowing to me: is that SUSE leadership knowingly did all of this… even though it hurt the company tremendously.
What does that suggest? That discriminating against Jews — or covering up the fact that some of their employees had done so — was more important to SUSE than achieving corporate goals.
Turns out… I wasn’t alone.
As time went on I began hearing more and more stories like mine.
Times when SUSE did things (sometimes large, sometimes small) that made Jews within the company feel uncomfortable. Sometimes far more than simply “uncomfortable”.
I can’t speak for those people. Those stories are theirs to tell. But I have independently corroborated some of them. And, should those individuals ever choose to speak out, I will be available to provide supporting documentation and support.
I was intimidated and forced out
Despite all of this… I kept trying to fix things internally.
I didn’t speak about the discrimination publicly. Despite me having a large platform — and despite the fact that I, specifically, report on Linux companies… I kept quiet. In part out of a sense of loyalty to my friends within the company… and a genuine affection for the SUSE brand (it is the oldest Linux company, after all).
After years of attempting to resolve the issue… to help SUSE stop discriminating against Jews…
In 2017, after months of SUSE intimidating me into silence… including what I perceived as threats from their lawyers, I agreed to leave the company and not talk about these issues publicly. They made sure I was afraid to tell my story.
Just to drive home how high profile I was within the company — and how valuable I was for them — SUSE had to issue a press release when I left. That sort of thing is usually only done for departing CEOs.
My coworkers asked me to supply a quote for the press release… and I did so. Begrudgingly and under more than a little duress. A quote that was about as vague as you can get (and certainly did not address the real reason for my departure).
Agreeing to not talk about these issues was a profound mistake on my part. What I should have done is to immediately (once it was clear that SUSE would not fix their problems) tell the whole world what SUSE did. And, quite honestly, SUSE should not have pressured me into agreeing to such a thing. Their actions were deeply unethical. And cruel.
It is now 2022. The fifth year since SUSE threatened me into silence and, effectively, forced me out of the company.
In the years since, SUSE has changed hands and gotten a new CEO.
After the new CEO was appointed, I reached out to her. In a kind way, I let her know that I had been forced to leave the company after discrimination against Jews (and a policy of forbidding public discussion of Jews). And that I wanted her to be aware of the past issues so that she could make sure they don’t happen to others going forward.
The new CEO of SUSE responded by blocking me on Twitter.
Which was weird.
Later, after I called the SUSE CEO on the strangeness of being blocked… she unblocked me. Still. Quite odd.
Why do I bring all of this up now — nearly 5 years later?
Because this last week I spoke to someone at SUSE… who let me know of similar, current, goings on within the company. And I want people within SUSE, who may be currently being discriminated against because they are Jewish, to know that they are not alone. And that if they need help in telling their stories… I am here.
What happens now?
I am not a litigious man. I operate under the simple notion that sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Would I like an apology? You bet. That would be nice (and certainly warranted).
Do I expect one? No. I do not.
If me publishing my own, personal, story of discrimination simply helps to put a stop to any possible future discrimination of Jews (or anyone else for that matter)? That’ll be a good result.
“Aren’t you afraid that SUSE will come after you, legally, because you told your story of discrimination?”
Yes. I am. Very much so.
When I was forced out of SUSE, it was made clear to me that they would not allow me to tell other people what they had done. (Which is funny, considering they also told me that what they had done was not a bad thing… if their actions are not bad… why would they not want people to know about it?)
What I have written here is (part of) my personal story. If SUSE decides to try to intimidate me further… it should be noted that I have a great deal of documentation related to SUSE’s discrimination of me because I am a Jewish man.
My records are extensive and easily verifiable.
“What would you like SUSE to do about all of this?”
Obviously, a good person (or company) would simply apologize and try to not do the same, discriminatory things going forward.
Note: I did not name any names in this recounting of my story. I am not seeking to harm anyone’s career (even those who sought to harm mine because I am Jewish). I am not asking for anyone to be punished or fired in any way.
I tried to work with SUSE for multiple years to fix what they did. Then I waited for half a decade, after leaving the company, to see some sort of attempt to make up for it. Not only have I put forth a tremendous amount of (good faith) effort to help SUSE… I also gave the company many, many years more time than they needed to make amends.
What would be wonderful: If SUSE wants to reach out to me to help them to make sure they don’t discriminate against Jews going forward… I would gladly offer my advice to them and applaud them for taking a positive step forward.