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The Hateful Slander of CUNY Law Graduate Fatima Mohammed
Two weeks ago my dear friend, Fatima Mohammed was chosen as the CUNY School of Law’s commencement speaker. She dedicated her speech to the fight against oppression in all of its forms, and specifically, Israeli apartheid and colonialism.
“I chose CUNY School of Law for its articulated mission [as one of the] few legal institutions… to recognize that the law is a manifestation of White supremacy that continues to oppress and suppress people in this nation and around the world,” she explained.
“Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshippers, murdering the old, the young, attacking even funerals and graveyards as it encourages lynch mobs to target Palestinian homes and businesses, as it imprisons its children, as it continues its project of settler colonialism, expelling Palestinians from their homes, carrying the ongoing Nakba… our silence is no longer acceptable,” she said later. “Palestine can no longer be the exception to our pursuit of justice.”
Her powerful statement is a testament to her dedication to justice, perfect attributes that you should have as a potential lawyer.
However, the onslaught and slander came soon after. Lawmakers, politicians, right wing media, and the entire American Zionist lobby made it a goal to collectively attack Fatima.
“City University of New York class day speaker slanders Israel and enthusiastically celebrates antisemitism,” wrote Republican Sen. Ted Cruz “Cheers on open borders & releasing violent criminals from jail. And decries the ‘fascist NYPD.’ This is a LAW school. Paid for with tax dollars.”
Even the mayor of New York condemned her words as hate speech.
“I was proud to offer a different message at this year’s CUNY law commencement ceremony “ Mayor Eric Adams wrote on Twitter, “ We cannot allow words of negativity and divisiveness to be the only ones our students hear.”
Ironically, while Fatima was elected by her student body, Eric Adams was largely booed as the graduates turned their backs in disgust over his track record riddled for support of militarizing our community over the funding of NYC’s public education, including for CUNY.
Adams went even further. “If I was on that stage when those comments were made, I would have stood up and denounced them immediately” he said on stage at the Jewish American Heritage Month celebration.
“I am so proud to be the mayor of the Tel Aviv of America” he continued.
While the Zionist lobby and her own mayor, aims to paint Fatima as an antisemite, CUNY Law’s own Jewish Student Association issued a statement in support of her.
“CUNY Law JLSA loves Fatima, our friend and Class of 2023 commencement speaker” the statement read. “We have been so lucky for the past three years to organize with her against Israel’s attempted genocide of Palestinians.”
Even though Fatima’s speech was pre-approved by CUNY in written form and audio recording, the CUNY Board of Trustees ignored the calls of the student body, and released a statement failing to protect its own student and caved into Zionist pressure.
“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” they said.
The lack of support Fatima received from her own institutions against attacks opened the floodgates to violent threats with calls for her arrest and deportation.
“Fatima Mohammed is a terrorist and must be arrested” one Twitter user said. “You should be deported immediately” said another.
This is not the first time pro-Palestinians at CUNY have faced a torrent of harassment and slander. In fact, CUNY campuses have consistently been a battle ground for the Israeli Zionist lobby.
In 2016, there was a call by Zionist Organisation of America to ban all Students for Justice in Palestine groups from CUNY campuses. Subsequently, 35 New York legislators responded by calling for SJP's suspension, newspaper editorial boards called for action against the student group, the New York State Senate threatened to cut CUNY's funding and the New York City council considered legislation in response.
The findings after a 6 month investigation, however, concluded that alleged instances of antisemitism on CUNY’s campuses were not attributable to SJPs.
When the Zionist lobby realized it cannot forcefully stop SJPs at CUNY, they resulted in targeting the students themselves.
City University of New York School of Law (CUNY Law) student graduate, Nerdeen Kiswani is a well-known activist for Palestinian freedom. She chairs Within Our Lifetime–United for Palestine, a Palestinian-led community organization that builds support for Palestine in New York City.
As a vocal and visibly Muslim advocate for Palestinian liberation, Nerdeen is regularly targeted by Zionist groups who have smear campaigns and false accusations of antisemitism to vilify her.
Since Nerdeen started CUNY Law in Fall 2019, anti-Palestinian students and groups, like StopAntisemitism and BDSReport, have targeted Nerdeen, often by using cyberbullying tactics.
Search for her name on the internet and you will find articles and websites calling her “radical”, “hateful,” an “antisemite”, and even a “terrorist sympathizer.” Kiswani was even named “Antisemite of the Year” in 2020 by Zionist pro-Israel group, Stopantisemitism.org.
Nerdeen was also CUNY Law’s commencement speaker last year, and similar to Fatima, she also dedicated her speech to Palestinian libration.
It was then that Councilwoman Inna Vernikov unleashed a smear campaign against Kiswani and the CUNY Law student government over their adoption of the resolution. Vernikov even pulled $50,000 worth of funding for the CUNY Law School over the faculty’s support of the resolution and alleged antisemitism at CUNY campuses.
As a CUNY alum myself, I recall the sheer vitriol that came from CCNY’s administration against our group. We were specifically told that our events are flagged. Our vetting process underwent weeks longer than other clubs. Masked as bureaucracy we were targeted and censored.
An event I organized with Israeli human rights activist Miko Peled, an event I submitted months in advance, was suddenly canceled by the City College administration in 2018 under the pretext that it was “too controversial.” It was only until my student group, Students for Justice in Palestine, contacted a group of lawyers, did the event get reinstated as it violated our first amendment rights. We received no apology from the administration.
“Any student group that’s organizing an event particularly around this issue of Israel and Palestine has to go through a bureaucratic maze of regulations,” explained Brooklyn College professor Corey Robin. “They are written down but they are so complicated and so lengthy that I, who have a PhD from Yale, have an extraordinarily difficult time making sense of them.”
We are under fire in CUNY. We are usually not protected by our administrations, and our actions as student activists regularly gets the attention of the Zionist lobby and the politicians that they fund. It seems as if it is stacked against us. We are put on Canarymission, a blacklist site against pro-Palestinian activists aimed to slander our name.
However, Fatima reminded us, once again, that no matter the hate, our commitment to fighting for a free Palestine from the river to the sea is not predicated on what stance the mainstream has.
Thousands across the country have stood in support of Fatima. Palestine Legal, the group of lawyers all collectively released a statement in support of Fatima. “Palestine Legal stands with Fatima Mohammed,@CUNYLaw’s peer-elected commencement speaker, in the face of a racist, anti-Palestinian, Islamophobic harassment campaign exacerbated by public officials over her comments in support of Palestinian freedom and justice for all. We call on CUNY to apologize to Mohammed, correct the record, and take serious measures to protect its students from such attacks that put them, their families and their careers at risk.
CAIR National, America's largest Muslim civil rights organization also released a statement: “We condemn CUNY for joining dishonest, cowardly, and dangerous attacks on their own student leader, Fatima Mohammed, who has been attacked by far-right media, Mayor Adams, and multiple members of Congress & City Council for standing up for Palestinian rights” they said.
Even my former SJP at the City College of NY released a statement as well. “The attack on Fatima is a direct attack on campus activism throughout CUNY and repression of all Palestinian solidarity organizations including CUNY-wide SJPs.”
But it wasn’t just organizations that stood in support of Fatima.
“Do not equate my Jewishness with loyalty to an apartheid state. My Jewishness calls me to fight for Palestinian liberation” Jewish CUNY instructor, Sandra, stated on Twitter.
Palestinian activist and writer, Mohammed El Kurd also spoke out. “What a beautiful, principled speech” he said. “Someone send her my love.”
One person on social media even changed his Twitter username to “Tameem stands with Fatima.”
Shahana Hanif, CUNY alum and NYC citycouncil member said that she is “deeply disturbed by the school’s misguided statement. Fatima Mousa Mohammed was brave to denounce settler colonial violence, and we must support her” Hanif said.
There are hundreds of these tweets online, overshadowing the bullying we have seen from Zionist lobbies and political figures. Now, you can show your concrete support too. Here are the bullet points from Within Our Lifetime, a pro-Palestinian advocacy group’s, action page.
First sign this form and state that you stand with Fatima.
Second Email, using WOL’s hyperlink at the bottom of the page, and demand that CUNY recant their accusation of hate speech and protect Fatima and all of their students from right-wing Zionist harassment.
Third educate yourself on the Palestinian liberation struggle and the history of that struggle, in CUNY and beyond.
Fatima’s speech was a statement that reached not only every single person at CUNY Law, but reached people across the country and world. Her hitting a nerve, just means that we are inching closer to Palestinian liberation- for why else would mainstream put so much effort to silence her?
As Fatima reminds us that end of oppressive institutions is the “inevitable future for oppressed people everywhere. For greater empires have fallen, and so will these. So for the class of 2023, the fight begins now.”
You are my personal hero Fatima, on behalf of all Palestinians, thank you.