New York City Mayor Eric Adams made the controversy surrounding a law student’s antisemitic remarks in a May 12 CUNY commencement speech his first order of business in his remarks at Gracie Mansion on May 31.
Addressing a Jewish American Heritage Month event at the official mayoral residence, he railed against City University of New York Law School graduate Fatima Mohammed. The student’s commencement remarks, which heavily criticized the New York Police Department where Adams once served and invoked antisemitic tropes in attacking Israel, became public in recent days following pressure from media outlets.
“If I was on that stage when those comments were made, I would have stood up and denounced them immediately!” declared Adams, who left the ceremony before Mohammed took the stage.
At the commencement ceremonies, some graduates turned their backs to Adams in a form of protest when he spoke, specifically when he was introduced as having formerly been part of the NYPD. Younger New Yorkers especially have been expressing their disappointment in current crime statistics and how the police are handling matters.
“Now I know why they turned their backs on me because I would never turn my back on you,” the mayor told those assembled at Gracie Mansion.
Ari Kagan, a Jewish city councilman and an immigrant, denounced Mohammed for her comments, which were also heavily critical of the United States. If Mohammed is so unhappy, “there are other places for her to live,” he told attendees.
Kalman Yeger, another Jewish city councilman, praised Adams for speaking out against antisemitism while acknowledging that the problem is getting worse in New York City.
“What’s new is the existential crisis that we’re seeing and what it means to be a Jewish New Yorker today,” he said. “We see it in my neighborhoods, where if you walk around with a yarmulke, you’re likely to get smacked. We see it on the subways, where if somebody is sitting there minding their own business, they’re gonna get called a ‘dirty Jew.’”
“We see it at CUNY Law School,” added Yeger, “where an antisemite gets up on a lectern that looks a little bit like this, funded by tax dollars, preaches hate and gets a standing ovation.”
‘This is a city that was built by Jews’
Adams told attendees that his African-American community and the American Jewish community, which he addressed, have a related history and fate.
“If you look at what you do for America—but specifically, for the African-American community—that became a rich relationship with the Jewish community. The civil-rights movement was about the embodiment of the Jewish community and African-American struggle,” he said.
“We’ve gone through the same journeys together all over the globe. What you have endured, it’s no different than what African-Americans have been doing all over the globe. We are connected in our struggles to build a better environment and a better city and a better country,” said the mayor.
Bronx Borough president Vanessa Gibson struck a celebratory note. She told attendees that the event is “about recognizing the contributions of Jewish New Yorkers from the borough of the Bronx to Brooklyn and all over our great state.”
The Bronx is “proud to support the State of Israel,” Gibson said, thanking the rabbis with whom she has worked across her borough.
Yeger said that the event was “a joyous time when we’re supposed to be celebrating Jewish heritage.
“This is a city that was built by Jews, and we’re proud of having played our role in creating the city that we have today,” he said.
Two observant Jews on the mayor’s staff flanked Adams on stage: Menashe Shapiro, deputy chief of staff; and senior adviser Joel Eisdorfer. Dozens of Jewish members of the city’s police and fire departments, including NYPD Inspector Richie Taylor, the highest-ranking observant Jew on the force, also attended.
Also on hand were executive leaders of Jewish organizations such as the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, UJA-Federation of New York and the American Zionist Movement.
A vegetarian, Adams had the event catered with a plant-based lineup, including kosher pizza, falafel and sushi. Benny Friedman, a well-known Chassidic singer, performed.
Israel Nitzan, acting Israeli consul general in New York who announced that he would soon leave his post, told JNS that he planned to return to Israel and continue serving with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Tsach Saar, deputy head of mission in Athens, is expected to take Nitzan’s place.
The New York consulate has been without an appointed consul general since Asaf Zamir resigned in March in protest of the Israeli government’s plans for judicial reform.
An attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint firebrand Knesset member May Golan to the sensitive post received swift blowback and was quickly shelved.