Anti-Israel speech: Jewish NGOs call for US Bar to revoke CUNY's accreditation

A law graduation commencement speech called for a rage-fueled revolution against capitalism, racism, imperialism and Zionism worldwide.

CUNY Graduate Center (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
CUNY Graduate Center
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Jewish lawyer groups claiming to represent 10,000 attorneys on Tuesday called on the American Bar Association (ABA) to investigate revoking the accreditation of  City University of New York (CUNY) Law over a controversial graduation commencement speech on May 12 and longstanding platforming anti-Israel discrimination.

The National Jewish Advocacy Center, The International Legal Forum and American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists said in a letter to ABA president Deborah Enix-Ross that the speech by Fatima Mousa Mohammed violated ABA standards and should be condemned.

In her speech, Mohammed had called for a rage-fueled revolution against capitalism, racism, imperialism and Zionism worldwide. Mohammed's repeated attacks against Zionists, said the attorney groups violated ABA standards against discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion and national origin. The writers argued that Zionism was an essential component of Judaism for a majority of Jews, and that besides the May speech had enabled abuse against Zionist Jewish students. The NGOs claimed that "Zionists not welcome" were commonly directed against Jewish students. 

Part of the abuse, it was argued, came through the hosting of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on its campus.

"I want to celebrate CUNY Law as one of the few if not the only law school to make a public statement defending the right of its students to organize and speak out against Israeli settler-colonialism," Mohammed said in her May speech. "This is the law school that passed and endorsed BDS on a student and faculty level."

AN ANTI-ISRAEL protest takes place in New York City during Operation Protective Edge, in 2014.  (credit: LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)
AN ANTI-ISRAEL protest takes place in New York City during Operation Protective Edge, in 2014. (credit: LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)

BDS, the three groups argued, promotes discriminatory boycotts, and the official bodies have ties to Palestinian terrorist organizations. It was contended that by adopting BDS as an official policy, CUNY Law may be engaging in political and lobbying activities in violation of its status as a non-profit body. By supporting BDS, CUNY law also violated a standard requiring that the school get acquiescence in major changes of the school mission and objectives, the letter said. 

The attorney groups alleged that Mohammed's speech also used coded antisemitic language, referring to "investors" and "donors" who sought to purchase their morality and motivated CUNY central administration to "cross BDS picket lines." This language violated an ABA standard against  antisemitism, and an investigation into CUNY Law's approach to antisemitism should be investigated, said the groups.

On June 6, Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY (SAFE CUNY) sent a similar letter in the wake of Mohammed's speech to ABA’s Council on Legal Education, and called for cancellation of accreditation, sanctions or remedial action until CUNY Law changed its policies. In addition to the standards noted by the attorney groups, SAFE CUNY argued that a standard on diversity and inclusion had been violated with the targeted exclusion of Zionist Jews, and that the standard for professional environments had been violated by banning work with Israelis and Zionist Jews. SAFE CUNY said that the speech was evidence that the school’s discriminatory BDS policies were being implemented. In June of last year, SAFE CUNY had sent the council a letter calling for revocation of accreditation over the faculty adopting BDS resolutions. 

The speech also contained coded antisemitic language

Mohammed's speech was also laden with anti-American rhetoric, claiming that the legal system was a manifestation of white supremacism and denounced the "fascist NYPD" and US military. 

Watchdog NGOs like Canary Mission allege that on social media Mohammed had in the past called for the death of the USA and for Zionists to rot in hell.

The May 12 speech by Mohammed is the second anti-Israel CUNY Law commencement speech in a row. In 2022, Nerdeen Kiswani, the founder of the anti-Israel group Within Our Lifetime (WOL) gave the graduation speech. Kiswani had in the past expressed support for terrorism, and her organization has often called to "globalize the intifada." A phrase used in WOL's materials, "by any means necessary," was repeated by Mohammed in her speech. Critics argue that the phrase implicitly supports political violence. At one 2022 rally, an Israel supporter was beaten.

CUNY has been grappling with accusations of antisemitism and anti-Israel animus in recent years. In late May a 12-page report issued by SAFE  CUNY claimed that there was deep-rooted systemic antisemitism in the administration. Jewish students have previously told The Jerusalem Post that they felt uncomfortable at CUNY Law. 

Haley Cohen contributed to this report.