OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Finally, CUNY’s antisemitism is in the dock

Campus Jew-haters must be stripped of their power.

CUNY Law School graduation speaker Fatima Mohammed, May 12, 2023. Source: Screenshot/SAFECUNY Twitter.
CUNY Law School graduation speaker Fatima Mohammed, May 12, 2023. Source: Screenshot/SAFECUNY Twitter.
Benjamin Kerstein
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his work on Substack at No Delusions, No Despair. Purchase his books here.

It was the devout hope of many of us in the trenches that, sooner or later, the City University of New York (CUNY) and especially its School of Law would detonate itself. That is, the systemically antisemitic institution would finally do something so heinous that even the most blinkered and cowardly would be unable to look away.

The reaction to a May 12 CUNY School of Law graduation speech by a petulant racist and antisemite named Fatima Mousa Mohammed may mean that the moment of reckoning has arrived.

Mohammed’s rant was no surprise to anyone who has been following antisemitism in higher education and especially at CUNY. Among the institution’s more egregious crimes was another Jew-hating graduation speech last year and the vicious persecution of Jewish student Rafaella Gunz, who was pushed out of the school in 2020 by a campaign of racist harassment and intimidation.

In her Nuremberg-style screed, cheered by students and faculty, Mohammed demonstrated that this tradition is alive and well.

“Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshippers, murdering the old, the young and even attacking funerals and graveyards, as it encourages lynch mobs to target Palestinians’ homes and businesses,” she claimed without evidence. “As it imprisons its children, as it continues its project of settler colonialism, expelling Palestinians from their homes. Silence is no longer acceptable.”

One would have thought that this blithering expectoration would have gone largely unremarked. After all, in last year’s commencement speech, Nerdeen Kiswani spun an antisemitic conspiracy theory about a “campaign of Zionist harassment by well-funded organizations with ties to the Israeli government and military” that was out to get her “on the basis of my Palestinian identity and organizing.” No one particularly cared.

Mohammed, however, made the mistake of also ranting about a “fascist NYPD” that appears to spend all of its time killing black people—Mohammed, incidentally, is whiter than most Jews I know—and then condemned American society as a whole, in which, apparently, white people in general spend all their time killing black people.

All of this, at long last, sparked outrage, including from New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

The outrage quickly spread to Mohammed’s antisemitic comments and proposals were put forward to defund the school altogether if it does not do something about all this.

The CUNY Board of Trustees seems to have gotten the message. It issued a statement saying, “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.”

“The Board of Trustees of the City University of New York condemns such hate speech,” it said.

This was a welcome development, but one must be cautious. CUNY’s systemic antisemitism has been a problem for the better part of a decade, and up to now, no one did a thing about it. The trustees could have acted last year in response to Kiswani’s crypto-Nazi rant, or when Gunz complained of the harassment she experienced. Instead, they did nothing. Their sudden change of heart, one regrets to say, seems entirely mercenary.

There is also the simple fact that none of the proposed remedies, whether they be efforts to combat antisemitism at the school (sure to be half-hearted and pro forma) or defunding the institution (which will never happen), are likely to work.

They will not work because Mohammed and those who cheered her did not emerge out of a vacuum. They are a deliberate creation of the CUNY faculty and administration, who by and large share Mohammed’s anti-American and antisemitic sentiments. These “educators” have spent their lives and careers inculcating their prejudices and hatreds into their students. That these students act accordingly should not be a shock.

Nor is this a problem confined to CUNY. American higher education in general suffers from the same problem.

This is not a coincidence. The dominance of anti-American and antisemitic radicalism in American academia is the result of a conscious strategy. Dubbed “the long march through the institutions,” this movement involved the infiltration of far-left academics into major universities and then, once they had the power to do so, shutting out all other voices via administrative corruption. Dissenting academics are not hired. Dissenting students are silenced or emotionally destroyed. Dissenting administrators are chased out.

This situation cannot change without total institutional reform. The long marchers’ stranglehold on academia must be broken. The principles of objectivity, free speech and inquiry, liberalism, genuine anti-racism and fairness in hiring that these institutions claim to embrace must be reimposed.

There are several ways this could be done. The state and university leaders could set down firm guidelines on what constitutes antisemitic speech and conduct in academia—perhaps based on the IHRA definition—and follow through on those guidelines by firing any teacher and expelling any student who violates them.

Perhaps more important, faculty and administrators must be stripped of their powers of hiring and dismissal. New faculty and administrators could be hired by trustees or other persons outside the long marchers’ totalitarian system. Even better, new hires could be chosen by standardized testing over which the long marchers would, by definition, exercise no influence.

Certainly, this would not change things overnight, but as the long marchers retire and die off, they would be slowly replaced with a new and better generation of faculty and administrators, slowly draining the poison out of American higher education and toppling the totalitarian system from within.

What is clear, however, is that the situation cannot go on as it is. It is a clear and present danger to the psychological and physical well-being of Jewish students and American Jews in general. It is raising a generation of students to loathe the country they live in and of which they are meant to be future leaders. No nation, indeed no civilization, can survive such a thing.

More than anything else, however, this is a matter of simple justice. For decades, a cabal of nihilistic and racist extremists has exercised unjust and unearned power over a series of essential institutions, many paid for with the tax dollars of working people. At the very least, this is a monstrous injustice.

It is an injustice that can no longer be countenanced. People are getting hurt, a nation is being undermined and the long Western tradition of free speech and inquiry is being raped without compunction. The long marchers want a revolution. It’s time to give them one.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates