Outrage as CUNY Law Student Accuses Israel of ‘Murdering the Old and the Young’ in Commencement Speech
By Matis Glenn
Amid investigations and a lawsuit alleging antisemitism at CUNY colleges, a student who was elected to give a commencement speech drew widespread outcry after accusing Israel of genocide and calling for an end to capitalism and Zionism through a “revolution.”
Fatima Mohammed delivered this year’s speech at CUNY Law on May 12, where she spoke about using “rage” as fuel for ending “capitalism, racism, imperialism and Zionism” throughout the world. She devoted large parts of her 13-minute speech to Israel, where she claimed that the state “indiscriminately rains bombs and bullets on worshippers” and that the state murders “the old and the young…even at funerals.”
Throughout her speech, she was met with rounds of applause.
When mentioning the IDF’s Operation Shield and Arrow, she said simply that Gaza was “bombed as the world watched,” and made no mention of the hundreds of rockets shot into Israel by Palestinians at the time.
Including Zionism in a list of societal problems, Mohammed called on bringing about her vision of a new society “by any means necessary.”
SAFE CUNY, a group which aims to combat antisemitism, obtained a full recording of the speech through a Freedom of Information request and published it Monday. “No wonder CUNY Law, under state investigation, tried to hide this video,” the group said on social media.
Jewish groups expressed dismay and outrage over the remarks.
“Agudath Israel of America is outraged by the antisemitic commencement address given at the CUNY Law School graduation, the Agudah said in a statement. “The use of a commencement speech on May 12 at the CUNY Law School to deliver a wild tirade against Israel was an ugly example of the sort of hatred that has been reported on CUNY campuses, as on others, that crosses the line of antisemitism.
“Student-activist Fatima Mohammed’s libels about Israel, characterizing the country’s responses to attacks from without and within its territory as indiscriminate murder of innocents and asserting that Israel encourages “lynch mobs,” are textbook examples of the vilest sort of propaganda,” the statement continued.
The ADL said that the speech was a denigration of student identity. “Graduations should be a place for all — not a time to denigrate students’ identities. We are appalled to see such an egregious display of hostility toward ‘Zionists’ (which is how many Jews see themselves) and Israel in CUNY Law’s commencement address,” the group said on social media.
In her speech, Mohammed blasted the U.S. imprisonment of members of the Holy Land Foundation, an organization designated by the State Department as a terrorist group. The Texas-based HLF group was found to have been funding Hamas under the guise of being a Muslim charity.
In what appears to be an acknowledgement of classic antisemitic conspiracy theories of worldwide Jewish influence, Mohammed said that the U.S. Army trains IDF soldiers(sic) to “carry out violence globally.”
Last year, CUNY Law students elected Nirdeen Kiswani to deliver its commencement speech. Kiswani had previously called for violence against Zionist students, proclaimed “death to Zionists,” and even threatened to murder a young man wearing an IDF sweatshirt. Kiswani had a leadership role in Within Our Lifetime, an organization which calls to “globalize the Intifada.”
“For a second year in a row, the commencement speech slot at CUNY Law is used for politics and has nothing to do with a law school graduation,” City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov(R) told Hamodia. “Why does a student feel so comfortable to get up, and in front of hundreds of other students and faculty malign and slander America, Israel, and the NYPD? Because she knows she will get applause and support. Because this is the hostile environment CUNY has allowed and encouraged to fester. I can’t imagine sitting in that auditorium as a law student. This is the future generation of New York City’s lawyers, judges and policy makers.”
Vernikov co-chaired a seven-hour-long hearing last June to address antisemitism in CUNY, in which students and faculty shared harrowing accounts of antisemitism at college campuses, including cases of assault, and threats on students by teachers of being failed if they didn’t espouse anti-Zionism. CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez did not attend that meeting, despite it having been rescheduled to accommodate him.
Congressman Ritchie Torres (D-NY) wrote on social media: “Imagine being so crazed by hatred for Israel as a Jewish State that you make it the subject of your commencement speech at a law school graduation…Anti-Israel derangement syndrome at work.”
“This hate-filled and dangerous speech has been brought to you by CUNY and paid for by New York taxpayers,” Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein(D) wrote on social media. “Keep this in mind next time our elected leaders highlight their commitment to fighting antisemitism.”
Former New York Congressman and Mayoral candidate Lee Zeldin(R) called for CUNY to be defunded until its administration is completely changed. “Raging antisemitism has fully consumed the City University of New York. Until the administration is overhauled and all Jewish students and faculty are welcome again, taxpayer funding must be immediately halted.”
The State Division of Human Rights is currently investigating CUNY over allegations of discrimination, following a lawsuit brought by Professor Jeffrey Lax, of Kingsborough Community College, where he alleged “religious discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment taken against observant Jews and Zionist Jews, including me.” Lax had resigned from the Professional Staff Conference – a union of 30,000 CUNY teachers and staff – after the group condemned Israel last year, and said that CUNY should have “discussions” about adopting a BDS platform. Several student and faculty groups have already adopted the platform, even though it is illegal for state-funded entities to be affiliated with the organization under state law.
Subsequently, in September, Matos Rodriguez announced that he was appointing Saly Abd Alla to oversee a committee which would investigate antisemitism. Abd Alla previously worked at CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations), a BDS-supporting organization. Vernikov responded to the appointing of Alla several times on social media. “CUNY assigning a former CAIR rep to investigate allegations of antisemitism is like hiring David Duke to investigate racism,” she further told Hamodia.
Earlier this month, Matos Rodriguez said that CUNY would be taking steps to address antisemitism.
“We will not waver in our dedication to fighting antisemitism, and we want our Jewish students, faculty and staff to know they are valued and protected at our University,” Matos Rodríguez said at the announcement event. “As we mark Jewish American Heritage Month, I call on our entire CUNY family to help us paint the University blue and stand up against intolerance. Today’s announcements are yet another way we are working to show that our University condemns antisemitism hatred in all its forms and will fight back.”
Matos Rodriguez announced that he was forming an Advisory Council on Jewish Life, a group of “prominent New York Jewish leaders,” including members of the Reform and Conservative New York Board of Rabbis that will first convene in June. Groups representing Orthodox Jews – which suffer the vast majority of antisemitic incidents citywide and nationally – were not mentioned as candidates.
Mohammed also called the NYPD “fascist” and said that American law is the “manifestation of white supremacy.”
Towards the end of her speech, Mohammed called on her audience to affect the changes in global society that she had outlined, including the eradication of Zionism and capitalism, “by any means necessary.”
The audience responded with cheers.
On Tuesday, CUNY officials responded to the public outcry surrounding the airing of Mohammed’s speech.
“Free speech is precious, but often messy, and is vital to the foundation of higher education,” read a statement released by CUNY board of trustees chairman Bill Thompson, vice chair Sandra Wilkin and Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez.
“Hate speech, however, should not be confused with free speech and has no place on our campuses or in our city, our state or our nation. The remarks by a student-selected speaker at the CUNY Law School graduation, unfortunately, fall into the category of hate speech as they were a public expression of hate toward people and communities based on their religion, race or political affiliation. The Board of Trustees of the City University of New York condemns such hate speech,” the statement continued.
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