The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), the nation’s largest American-Muslim advocacy group, has strongly criticized the leadership of the City University of New York (CUNY) for denouncing a law school graduate’s commencement address as “hate speech,” alleging that the speech was actually cleared by the school’s administrators.
CAIR-NY condemned the CUNY Board of Trustees and Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez for their failure to defend the free speech rights of Palestinian activist Fatima Mousa Mohammed, claiming that they succumbed to pressure from Jewish activists and supporters of Israel. In a statement, CAIR-NY expressed, “CUNY has a responsibility to protect its students, even in the face of disagreement or discomfort, and its failure to do so is unacceptable.”
According to CAIR-NY, Mohammed’s speech was submitted, reviewed, and pre-approved by CUNY in both written and verbal form. They emphasized that the speech received positive reception from the audience and was endorsed by various CUNY student leaders, including the Jewish Law Students Association. CAIR-NY refuted CUNY’s characterization of the speech as “hate speech,” asserting that it was false and defamatory.
The organization underscored the importance of free speech as a “fundamental pillar” of democracy and expressed alarm over CUNY’s alleged willingness to yield to pressure aimed at silencing dissenting voices. CAIR-NY also highlighted the cyberbullying and death threats Mohammed has faced and expressed solidarity with her and other students targeted for advocating justice. They urged CUNY to live up to its stated values and resist succumbing to anti-Palestinian pressure.
During her commencement address on May 12, Mohammed accused Israel of indiscriminately using force against worshipers, including the elderly and young, and criticized CUNY for cooperating with the New York Police Department and the military, referring to them as “fascist” entities. She also condemned the school for training Israeli soldiers to carry out violence globally.
While the CUNY board of trustees, led by chairman Bill Thompson, and Chancellor Matos Rodriguez eventually labeled Mohammed’s speech as “hate speech,” it was noted that CUNY law administrators, including Dean Sudha Setty, applauded her address, and no one on stage condemned it. In contrast, 40 professors from CUNY Law school supported Mohammed in a letter and condemned the university’s leadership for disavowing one of its students.
However, a Jewish rights watchdog group has called for Chancellor Matos Rodriguez’s resignation over the controversy. Additionally, some CUNY Law School alumni expressed concerns in a letter that the graduation ceremony was an inappropriate platform for Mohammed’s provocative protest speech, claiming that their alma mater had fostered a “toxic, intolerant, and antisemitic environment.”
A source within CUNY, as reported by The Post, claimed that the speech delivered by Mohammed differed from the draft she had submitted to the administration. The source stated that she was expected to speak for four minutes, but her address lasted for 13 minutes.
In her controversial speech, Mohammed stated, “We joined this institution to be equipped with the necessary legal skills to protect our communities,” highlighting their enrollment in CUNY Law to challenge “systems of oppression” designed to sustain an empire driven by destructive violence. She also criticized institutions created to intimidate and silence those who resist.
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