A group representing pro-Zionist students and faculty at the City University of New York (CUNY) has called out the university’s school of law for its “horrifying and Jew-hating” decision to allow a student who has called for the death of Zionists and Israel’s total destruction to deliver the student commencement address.
“Honoring a Jew-hating bigot who has called for violence to Jews makes Jews at CUNY unsafe,” wrote representatives from S.A.F.E. CUNY (Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY), which advocates for the rights of Zionists who are being discriminated against and systemically excluded because of their beliefs.
The group put out its statement after the speech delivered by Nerdeen Kiswani at the May 13 commencement, which was entirely devoted to deriding Zionists and criticizing Israel. It was often interrupted by enthusiastic applause.
During the speech Kiswani said she feared she would not make it through law school because “of the campaign of Zionist harassment from organizations with ties to Israeli government and military” because she was a pro-Palestinian organizer and cited a series of articles “slandering me personally” and a campaign launched to try and stop her from speaking.
Kiswani told the students, who had selected her as their speaker, that “this moment is about our triumph in the face of that.”
Jeffrey Lax, an Orthodox professor at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn for almost 18 years and a spokesperson for S.A.F.E. CUNY, told The Jewish Link that like many others Kiswani “misconstrues the entire argument.”
”People like Nerdeen Kiswani always change the conversation to Israeli policy,” he explained. “Ask anyone why they are a Zionist and no one will tell you it’s because of Israeli policy. It’s because they feel a Jewish connection to the land.”
Lax said his organization is hopeful the university will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which is a non-legally binding resolution adopted by its 31 member countries, including the United States, in 2016. It is gathering signatures on an online petition.
The definition states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and cites several examples, including the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.
Kaswani was named in 2020 as “Antisemite of the Year” by stopantisemitism.org. and has posted on Instagram and taken down photos of herself with known terrorists. She is founder and director of Within Our Lifetime, a New York City anti-Israel activist group that was banned from Instagram for violence-inciting hate speech and where she has glorified the Intifada.
“CUNY bears responsibility if someone gets hurt in the wake of Kaswani’s violence-inciting antisemitic rhetoric,” read the S.A.F.E. CUNY statement. It also tweeted a video of her speech, which has garnered about 45,000 views as of May 17.
In introducing the video the tweet noted, “For those who agree that Zionists ought to be dead, she did not disappoint.”
During the speech Kiswani linked the struggle of Palestinians to that of Blacks, Latinos, indigenous people and others “fighting for their existence and liberation under colonial domination, imperialism and white supremacist restrictions both around the world and in the U.S.” She praised the law school’s student government for passing a resolution in December supporting the Boycott Divestment Sanctions(BDS) campaign against Israel that was unanimously endorsed by the CUNY Law Faculty two days before commencement, which she said is a first for a law school faculty in the nation.
BDS is considered antisemitic by most Jewish organizations and the State Department. It has been overwhelmingly condemned by Congress and 35 states, including New York and New Jersey, have laws requiring divestment from any company participating in BDS.
“I wasn’t surprised she spoke in a speech dripping with hate at a commencement speech,” said Lax of Kiswani, but he was shocked to see faculty members among those cheering.
“I thought that faculty members who are supposed to be thoughtful academics were uncivilly cheering her on,” he noted. “I thought it was uncivil, mindless and outrageous. It is time for CUNY to take action.”
Susan Tuchman, director of the Center for Law and Justice for the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) pointed out the federal Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is currently investigating CUNY Law based on a complaint filed by the ZOA.
“We have alerted the OCR to the fact that CUNY Law School lauded Kiswani and gave her a prominent platform as a commencement speaker knowing her record of antisemitism,” said Tuchman.
In her speech Kiswani went on to criticize CUNY administrators for failing to acknowledge Israel’s “oppression” of the Palestinian people, the “fascist and racist” police that oppress Blacks and minorities in the U.S.
She urged the graduates to use their degrees to join her in in envisioning a future “in which oppressed people are in control of our destinies,” by bringing “an end of the fascist, oppressive colonial regimes that build and run the prisons and system of oppression.”
The video of the speech can be viewed at:
The petition can be signed at:
By Debra Rubin