NEW YORK – Jewish activists are set to lead a protest Wednesday evening demanding consequences for the dean of City University of New York (CUNY) law school for giving platform to a graduate whose speech critics describe as filled with hate and dangerous anti-Israel, anti-American and antisemitic rhetoric.
The rally, to be held outside the CUNY chancellor's office in midtown Manhattan, is organized by the End Jew Hatred movement. Americans Against Antisemitism, former Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind and social media influencer Elizabeth Savetsky are among those slated to attend.
"We must act against Jew hatred and not just talk about it," Hikind said, calling for the termination of Dean Sudha Setty and any CUNY professors who endorsed the speech.
"We have that opportunity Wednesday at 5 o'clock outside the chancellor's office 205 East 42nd street to demand the removal of the dean of the law school who permitted the vile hatred that came out of the mouth of Fatima Mohammed attacking the Jewish people, attacking the State of Israel. Vicious, malicious, hateful remarks were made. The board of CUNY said it was hate speech, so what are we going to do about it? Let it go by and wait for the next incidence of antisemitism? We must rally. We will not be silent."
Fatima Mousa Mohammed's May 12 commencement address is said to have targeted the NYPD, the US military and Israel, sparking calls from outraged individuals to strip CUNY of its taxpayer funding.
"Vicious, malicious, hateful remarks were made. The board of CUNY said it was hate speech, so what are we going to do about it? Let it go by and wait for the next incidence of antisemitism? We must rally. We will not be silent."Former Democratic NY Assemblyman Dov Hikind
During her address, Mohammed called for a "revolution" to confront what she deemed the legal system's "white supremacy." She launched scathing attacks on city police, the US military and accused Israel of carrying out "indiscriminate" murder.
Mohammed claimed that the school continues "to train Israeli soldiers to carry out that violence globally."
"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."
Furthermore, she labeled the US legal system as a manifestation of white supremacy, accusing it of oppressing people both in the US and around the world. Urging her classmates to join her in a "Revolution," Mohammed called for the fight against capitalism, racism, imperialism and Zionism.
Her speech has drawn sharp criticism from various quarters, prompting a fierce debate over free speech, the appropriateness of the venue and the use of public funds.
"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," Congressman Ritchie Torres wrote on Twitter. "Anti-Israel derangement syndrome at work."
Jewish NGOs call for US Bar to revoke CUNY's accreditation
Also on Wednesday, three attorney groups sent a letter to American Bar Association (ABA) president Deborah Enix-Ross stating that the speech by Mohammed violated ABA standards and should be condemned.
The National Jewish Advocacy Center, The International Legal Forum and American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists argued in their letter that Zionism was an essential component of Judaism for a majority of Jews and that the May speech had enabled abuse against Zionist Jewish students. The NGOs claimed that "Zionists not welcome" were commonly directed against Jewish students.
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 to the school mission and objectives, the letter said.
CUNY is the 'most systemically antisemitic US university'
A 12-page report released just days ahead of the controversial commencement speech claimed that CUNY has become the most systemically antisemitic US school in the past two years.
The report was compiled by Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY (SAFE CUNY), an NGO that describes itself as an alliance of CUNY students or scholars. The report alleges that there are alarming levels of deep-rooted, systemic antisemitism at the highest levels of CUNY "perpetuated through lies, coverups, retaliation campaigns, intimidation against whistleblowers and corruption that has penetrated the deepest corners and the most senior leaders of the university."
While the report shies away from investigating or re-investigating the "relentless barrage of antisemitic incidents since at least 2015," CUNY has made a slew of headlines in recent years for anti-Jewish occurrences.
Last year, The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed a Title VI complaint against CUNY, which has 25 college campuses across the five boroughs. It alleges that CUNY has ignored a sustained pattern of antisemitic activity.
Numerous antisemitic incidents dating as far back as 2013 are listed in the complaint. Among them are several instances of students carving swastikas on school property. In all of these cases, CUNY was aware of the incidents and did nothing to stop them nor the situation, the complaint claims.
Rafaella Gunz was a student at CUNY but left the institution due to what she described as a "toxic" antisemitic environment.
"There was just a big sort of like, icing out of me, a big culture of exclusion amongst the Jews that don't full-heartedly endorse the Palestinian cause by any means necessary," said Gunz, who noted that the anti-Zionist CUNY Law Jewish Law Students Association was of no help. "Basically, I was just not welcome in the community, despite the fact that I agree with them on, like, 99% of issues."
CUNY Law School faculty adopted a BDS resolution on May 11 that had been originally introduced and passed by the student government in December. The resolution officially endorses BDS, and calls on the institution to divest from Israel, end all Israeli student exchanges, and cut ties with any groups that "repress Palestinian organizing."
"CUNY's persistent and longstanding practice of ignoring antisemitism has enabled it to foment the horrifying Jew-hate that we are all seeing now across its campuses," said SAFE CUNY.
Other controversies at CUNY included having Nerdeen Kiswani, the founder of the anti-Israel group Within Our Lifetime (WOL), give the CUNY Law graduation commencement speech on May 12.
Kiswani has been under scrutiny in the past for threatening to light a person's IDF sweatshirt on fire, as well as several controversial statements.
Gunz, a former classmate of Kiswani's at CUNY Law, has said that Kiswani has been criticized "because she interrupts Holocaust memorial ceremonies and says that she hopes the last thing Zionists hear in their life is 'pop pop.'"
In 2017, CUNY invited Linda Sarsour to deliver a commencement address to the school of public health despite nearly 9,000 petition signatures imploring the university not to honor Sarsour's long history of antisemitic comments. Sarsour has sympathized with terror against Israeli Jews, is a supporter of Louis Farrakhan, and has stated that “Israel was built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everybody else.”
Michael Starr contributed to this report