The White House Strategy to Combat Antisemitism Should Start with CUNY!

Posted by Olivier Melnick on June 4, 2023

On May 25th, the White House unveiled a new strategy to combat antisemitism in America in a 60-page document.  In President Joe Biden's words, "Toward that aim, my Administration has developed the first U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism. It represents the most ambitious and comprehensive U.S. government-led effort to fight antisemitism in American history. It also brings Americans together—regardless of our backgrounds and beliefs—to stand united against the hate, racism, bigotry, and violence that have long haunted our Nation. The Strategy outlines a whole-of-society effort to combat antisemitism, including unprecedented, coordinated, and bold actions that will be implemented across government agencies, as well as calls to action for public officials, private sector leaders, and Americans from every sector, industry, and walk of life. "

In principle, I have to applaud that statement. It seems to show that a great effort is being made to combat the oldest hatred. After all, it is extremely alarming to know that 2.4% of the U.S. population is the victim of 63% of all hate crimes in America. This task force is part of a broader committee known as the "Interagency Policy Committee on Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Related Forms of Bias and Discrimination." It has been tasked with combatting antisemitism as its first order of business and has partnered with a myriad of various organizations to do so on as many levels as possible, and again, we should all be very encouraged...If, indeed, this new endeavor truly leads to change. Sadly, I have my doubts.

When it comes, to antisemitism, the number one challenge is education, and, for those interested in fighting the beast of Jew hatred, there are more than enough resources online, in printed form and even in person. Additionally,  they announced that "in 2024, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will launch the first-ever U.S.-based Holocaust education research center." There is great potential for continued education on the Holocaust and its ramifications into the 21st century. This should equip people to debunk history revision and holocaust denial. Again, education is available, but it will only change the landscape if people who learn also take action.

It is not the first time that words have been spoken against the evil of antisemitism. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have claimed multiple times that "America will not tolerate any antisemitism" and that "antisemitism will be punished by law." Sadly, these have been spoken words but followed by very little action unless the event that led to the statements was important enough to draw the attention of the general public - like the tragedy of the Pittsburgh Synagogue murders in 2018. Even then, not enough has really been done.

Another of the greatest challenges in combatting antisemitism is identifying acts of Jew-hatred as such. When a man took hostages in a synagogue on Shabbat in Colleyville, TX, in 2022, the FBI immediately came out to denounce the crime, but without declaring any antisemitic connection. In their defense, they quickly changed their story. Many incidents take place in America on a daily basis and when the Jewish community witnesses the lack of recognition and lack of any enforcement, they simply don't report antisemitism anymore. Why would they if nothing or very little gets done?

As the White House is promising action against antisemitism like never before in America, they have an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. On May 12, there was a graduation ceremony for the the law students’ class of 2023 at City University of New York (CUNY). The school has a reputation for being very liberal, which is their right in our beautiful country. They got into trouble last year for letting graduate Nerdeen Kiswani who has called for "the destruction of Israel," and invited people to "globalize the Intifada." One would think that this year, they would have tried to be a little less controversial, let alone not so anti-Jewish.

Enter Fatima Mousa Mohammed to deliver the graduation speech at CUNY 2023 Commencement ceremony. Her 12-minute speech was laced with racism, CRT and antisemitism. A graduation speech is an awesome opportunity to encourage, challenge and inspire the graduating class. It should be seen as an important responsibility and a tremendous honor. Her speech turned out to be none of that, unless, of course, she wanted to encourage people to ostracize and demonize Israel. It is a sad day we live in when people use any platform they can to denigrate the Jewish state with antisemitic tropes. CUNY trains the next generation of legal experts, lawyers and judges. Where is this world going?

Some of the statements that Miss Mohammed said were, "The continual white supremacy that continues to oppress and suppress people in this nation," and " I want to  celebrate CUNY Law as one of the few if not the only Law School to make a public statement defending the rights of its students to organize and speak out against Israeli settlers colonialism," "This is the Law School that passed and endorsed BDS on a student and faculty level," "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 settlers colonialism expelling Palestinians from their home carrying the ongoing Nakba,"  "Leading the fight against capitalism, racism, imperialism and Zionism around the world." 

Amid all the statements that are not based on factual truth, she also declared, "We must practice a discipline of truth and courage." While I agree with this statement, I am not certain that this is what she had just accomplished in her passionate speech. There are a few things that troubled me with her graduation speech, and the reason for my discomfort is the choice of venue for such a declaration. It is absolutely true that we must uphold freedom of speech in America; otherwise, we become a police state with no freedoms at all as a result.  Yet, free speech being upheld should never occur if and when it places people at risk for their lives. Some questions we need to ask ourselves after listening to the words of Miss Mohammed are:

• Was her speech encouraging and positive, seeking to make a better world?
• Why was she wearing a Palestinian scarf around her neck?
• Why was there so much cheering from the student body?
• Of all her cries against injustice in the world, was Israel disproportionally represented?
• Were all her complaints about Israel killing Palestinians accurate?
• How did the speech receive faculty approval prior to being delivered (or did she change it at the last minute)?

In their defense, the CUNY Board of Trustees made a statement in which they clearly condemn the speech:

“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."

I applaud them for coming out so quickly to denounce the hate-filled speech. Circling back to the new White House strategy to counter antisemitism, what took place at the 2023 CUNY commencement ceremony is a perfect example of the normalization of antisemitism and that it falls into the incidents that the White House needs to identify, analyze, and denounce. But, beyond denouncing the hate, we must start to bring those who promote it to justice and have them pay for their crimes. Maybe I live in a utopian universe, but I still have faith in the human spirit. My prayers go out to our current administration for the hard work that lies ahead of them.

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