Graduation is traditionally a time of celebration and fulfillment – an opportunity for graduates to reflect on academic accomplishments and embark on the next chapter of their lives. An inspirational commencement speaker emphasizes and lauds these accomplishments through an impactful personal story conveying gratitude and giving thanks.
Enter the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law. The public university system has educated millions of students across its 25 campuses and counts 13 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni. For the second year in a row, CUNY’s law students selected their classmate, a known anti-Zionist activist – whose incitement and actions cross the line into overt anti-Jewish hatred – to deliver the commencement speech.
In her ludicrous speech, Fatima Mohammed falsely accused the Jewish state of white supremacy, colonialism and violence. She also repeatedly referenced “investors” and “Zionists,” which are codewords for Jews. CUNY’s Law School suppressed the video from social media feeds for weeks after being criticized for the commencement.
The past academic year was marred by many attacks against students for simply being Jews and Zionists. The U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights entered into a “historic and precedent-setting” agreement with the Univ. of Vermont regarding the intimidation, harassment and discrimination faced by Jewish and Zionist students. The department’s investigation followed a complaint filed by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law claiming that the university violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin.
Allegations in the complaint included blocking Zionist students from a support group for survivors of sexual assault and vandalism of the campus Hillel Center. Another incident involved a teaching assistant’s post on social media: “is it unethical for me, a TA, to not give zionists credit for participation??? i feel like its good and funny, - 5 points for going on birthright in 2018, -10 for posting a pic with a tank in the Golan heights, -2 points just cuz i hate ur vibe in general.”
Brandeis Center President Alyza Lewin stated that the university resolution agreement demonstrates how “Jews are protected by law from discrimination that targets them on the basis of their Jewish peoplehood and the Jews’ shared ancestral ethnic heritage, which is inextricably linked to the land of Israel.”
Reports of attacks against Jewish students at K-12 schools also are becoming increasingly common. Numerous students harassed a young Jew at an Arizona school, calling her a “dirty,” “stinky” and “filthy Jew.” One abhorrent joke made by a student toward her, asked, “How do you get a Jewish girl’s number? By lifting her sleeve,” in reference to the location of the arm tattoos that the Nazis painfully forced on Jews bearing their prisoner identification number. Others made jokes about the Holocaust and made Nazi salutes towards the Jewish student.
The Office for Civil Rights concluded that by not seriously investigating the offenses, the Phoenix area school district violated the Jewish student’s civil rights under Title VI, on discrimination based on national origin. The decision requires the school district to take actions intended to prevent bigoted discrimination from happening again.
There have been countless other examples of discrimination against Jews at all educational levels – from elementary school to graduate colleges, public and private schools – including vandalism of Chanukah menorahs, ripping down mezuzot from the dorm room entrances of Jewish students, anti-Jewish flyers distributed on campuses, anti-Israel sidewalk graffiti, speakers defaming the Jewish state, expelling students from university clubs, threats to reduce student grades and so much more.
Students, alumni and campus leaders are fighting back against campus anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Students and staff filed discrimination lawsuits, alumni are threatening to withhold philanthropic contributions and university presidents are committed to fighting hatred targeting Jews. In many cases, university leaders are speaking out in support of Israel and against harassment of Jewish students, meanwhile their students and staff are enthusiastically targeting Jews and vociferously backing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against the Jewish state.