As if to further confirm how CUNY Law School has become a cesspool of anti-Israel activism masked as social justice, its most radical and toxic student, Nerdeen Kiswani, was chosen to give one of the school’s commencement addresses on May 13.
Kiswani is the perfect example of the radical who whines about being victimized for her aggressive activism—what The New Criterion’s Roger Kimball has defined as a “cry-bully,” someone “who has weaponized his coveted status as a victim.”
That behavior was on full display during Kiswani’s activist speech when she began by complaining about “facing a campaign of Zionist harassment by well-funded organizations with ties to the Israeli government and military on the basis of my Palestinian identity and organizing,” apparently oblivious to the fact that these organizations may have had good reason to respond to her unrelenting vitriol against Israel, Zionism and Jews.
Kiswani, it will be remembered, was featured in a provocative 2020 TikTok video when she was a second-year student at CUNY law school, one of the many examples of her long record of toxic activism.
In the video, Kiswani is seen attempting to light on fire an Israel Defense Forces-emblazoned sweatshirt worn by an individual sitting with her, expressing her hatred for the IDF and the nation it defends—a loathing that apparently animates her life since she was fully engaged as the former vice president and president of the virulent student group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Hunter College and at the College of Staten Island (CSI), City of New York University (CUNY). She is also the chairperson of Within Our Lifetime (WOL), an anti-Israel activist group in New York City, where, at one repellant rally, she called on supporters to “globalize the Intifada, from New York to Palestine;” in other words, to murder Jews everywhere in the name of Palestinian self-determination.
Canary Mission, a website that tracks and catalogs the anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activism of individuals and organizations, and compiles online dossiers on them, has a voluminous file on Kiswani—an individual, it notes, who has “spread hatred of America, incited hatred against pro-Israel donors, promoted hatred of Israel and demonized Zionism,” “glorified intifada, honored leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group and expressed support for other terrorists in her WOL activism.”
Kiswani, the Canary Mission dossier also notes, “has opposed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism and is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
And, as evidenced by the TikTok video clip, Kiswani is perfectly willing to use and celebrate violence against Israeli Jews. In fact, when in 2017, Palestinian terrorists killed four people and injured 17 others by ramming them with a vehicle on a Jerusalem promenade, Kiswani lauded and encouraged the celebration of the murders, ghoulishly noting that “Palestinians in Palestine are giving out sweets in celebration. I will not hide from this. I will not be ashamed or embarrassed by this. These celebratory actions are what keep the resistance moving forward; they are what keep it alive.”
No university—and certainly not an institution like CUNY, engulfed as it is in woke activism—would tolerate a white-supremacist student group that purported to exist only to promote pride in being white but whose activities wholly involved agitating against minorities, staging Black Racism Week events, inviting white racist speakers to campus to trumpet the moral defects of minorities in America, and regularly yelling out at rallies “Send them back to Africa” or “String them up, string them up,” a call to lynch and murder blacks. No anti-gay or anti-Muslim group would ever be allowed on an American campus either. And that same university would never compound the moral harm of this group’s activism by inviting its leader to speak as the representative of its student body at graduation events.
But the woke anti-Semites in the audience for Kiswani’s speech regularly interrupted her talk with cheers and applause, obviously in thrall with her lofty, but empty, nod to social justice. She trumpeted that she embraced all her CUNY fellow travelers who are “fighting for black, Latin X. indigenous. Palestinian liberation and for the freedom of all people living under colonial domination, imperialism, and white supremacist structures both around the world and here in the U.S.,” signaling that only oppressed victims are worthy of support, but clearly not Jews.
And since Kiswani has repeatedly called for the “liberation” of Palestine (which, not coincidentally, includes present-day Israel), the continuation of an intifada and the eventual extirpation of the Jewish state, it’s clear that any Jewish student at CUNY or anyone who supports Israel is not part of this high-minded progressive coalition of woke social-justice warriors.
The issue here is not whether or not Kiswani has the freedom of speech to utter her calumnies against Israel Zionism and Jews. The fact that she has done so for years—and has never been censured or censored for it by the CUNY administration—is evidence that at least on her campus, she enjoys unrestricted First Amendment rights.
Still, it is one thing to allow the toxic rants of a student activist in her role as a member of different groups and organizations on and off campus, and another thing altogether to allow her to promote her toxic ideology as a featured speaker at that institution’s graduation exercise. No one from CUNY’s administration or faculty seems to have vocally denounced the choice of Kiswani or her speech itself. No one in the audience tried to shout her down, heckle her or disrupt the speech.
That was not the case, however, in 2018, when legal scholar Josh Blackman was invited by the Law School’s Federalist Society to lecture on free speech, and the woke law students—claiming Blackman was a racist and white supremacist based on some of his writings—discourteously and in violation of CUNY’s own code of conduct tried to shut down and aggressively disrupted his event. No such opposition from fellow law students or faculty was evident at Kiswani’s speech.
Most troubling, of course, is that Kiswani was chosen not in spite of her radical speech and behavior, but because of it. CUNY Law School has collectively enlisted itself in an anti-Israel campaign, complete with the incessant slanders, libels and lies about the Jewish state. Kiswani acknowledged as much when she noted that “we’ve been able to pass a BDS resolution through student government which CUNY faculty just officially endorsed yesterday,” not to mention the school’s “statement standing with the freedom of speech of those fighting for Palestinian liberation.”
One has to wonder if the CUNY community fully comprehends what “Palestinian liberation” means, and how such a catastrophic and genocidal event would affect the 6.8 million Israeli Jews who live there were the delusional fantasies of BDS proponents realized, and “Palestine” was purged of its pesky Jews as part of Palestinian self-determination.
On this single global issue and for this one group of perceived victims—the Palestinians—the entire law school has committed itself to stand in solidarity? That it supports “resistance” by the Palestinians, a euphemistic term for terrorism against Jews? That it deems Zionism to be racism? That Israel is an illegitimate, colonial outpost created by imperialism and maintained through apartheid and the oppression of a wholly innocent indigenous people who only seek peace? Those notions comprise the ideology of the BDS movement and certainly WOL’s tenets are just as extreme and lethal.
That CUNY stands by and thinks that Kiswani and her fellow students are somehow reflecting well on the institution because they purport to be acting on behalf of the downtrodden does not erase the fact that their ideology is based on one in which the well-being of Jews is inconsequential, and the continued existence of the Jewish state is an irritating detail that can be cured by a “globalized Intifada” in which Israelis are slaughtered and their state eliminated once and for all.
When you allow a speaker at a graduation ceremony to bray about being victimized by those who have a problem with this incendiary and anti-Semitic rhetoric and behavior, you have stopped being a place where true debate and reason prevail. You have created, instead, an echo chamber in which like-minded, misguided radical activists have corrupted the purpose on which a university is based. That is not what a university should do or be. And that is not a place where the country’s future lawyers should be taught.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of “Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.”