Rep. Lawler Introduces Bill to Strip Federal Funding From Colleges Which Promote Antisemitism

By Matis Glenn

Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., listens as President Joe Biden speaks on the debt limit during an event at SUNY Westchester Community College, Wednesday, May 10, 2023, in Valhalla, N.Y. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Congressman Mike Lawler introduced a bill Thursday to remove federal funding from colleges which authorize antisemitic events on their campuses.

The bill follows the Wednesday release of a CUNY Law school commencement speech which accused Israel of genocide and called for an end to capitalism and Zionism “by any means necessary.”

“This comes on the heels of a virulently anti-Semitic CUNY Law School graduation speech, the latest in a long string of antisemitic incidents on CUNY campuses,” Lawler’s office said in a statement.

Fatima Mohammed, a student at CUNY Law, delivered this year’s commencement speech 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.

Footage of Mohammed’s speech, released Tuesday by the antisemitism advocacy group SAFE CUNY after the organization filed a Freedom of Information request, was met with condemnation from elected officials from across the political spectrum and Jewish organizations, as well as CUNY top brass, labeling the address hate speech.

In a discussion with Hamodia, Lawler explained that the new law would use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism to determine which activities or statements would lead to penalties, and mentioned the ideology of the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement as an example of what the law would target. Lawler said that the law would “make it clear to universities that taxpayer funds are not going to be used to promote hatred, to allow for hate speech, or to promote organizations with policy positions that are clearly rooted in antisemitism.”

“Many in the Jewish community in New York and across the country were outraged when a student spewed outrageous antisemitic rhetoric at CUNY Law School’s graduation in May,” Lawler said in a statement. “No college or university should receive a single dollar of federal education funding if they peddle in the promotion of antisemitism at an event on their campus.”

 Lawler, a Republican who won in a moderate district, has bolstered ties with the Jewish communities, especially in Rockland, home to Monsey and its surrounding large Orthodox communities.

When asked how his bill would have implications on freedom of speech, Lawler said that “these colleges and universities, more and more, are serving as breeding grounds for group think and antisemitic tropes and behavior. And I think the bottom line is yes, these institutions of higher learning certainly can allow for free exchange of ideas and issues, but we don’t need to use federal dollars to pay for educating people to be antisemitic.”

Lawler warns that unless there’s pushback “in a significant way,” antisemitism on college campuses will continue to get worse, as “these institutions of higher learning have gotten away with this for years, hiding behind the premise that it’s educational, when all they’re doing is educating people to be bigots.” The congressman says that the best way to stem the tide is by withholding federal funds, as “money talks.”

Lawler’s bill is co-sponsored by Republican representatives Anthony D’Esposito, Joe Wilson, Brian Fitzpatrick, Jeff Van Drew, Chris Smith, Max Miller, Tom Kean, and David Kustoff.

When asked if he is seeking to make the bill bipartisan, Lawler said “We’ve been working on that, and we’ll continue to try and get some Democrats to join the bill.”

Mohammed’s speech marks the second consecutive year where the commencement speech at CUNY Law was given by someone with such views. 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.”

Many students and faculty members gave testimony of antisemitic incidents and discrimination at CUNY in a hearing last year, organized by City Councilmembers Inna Vernikov(R), Eric Dinowitz(D), and Kalman Yeger(D).

New York State’s 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 accused CUNY of religious discrimination, retaliation, and promoting a hostile work environment.

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