Fatima Mohammed Being Defamed for Criticism of Israeli Government
June 1, 2023 – In response to the CUNY Chancellor’s and Board of Trustees’ criticism of a speech by student Fatima Mohammed at CUNY Law School’s graduation ceremony, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:
Fatima Mohammed, a Yemeni-American student, is being unfairly attacked for her graduation speech at CUNY Law School. Chosen by her fellow students to deliver the address, she devoted part of her speech to condemning human rights violations against Palestinians by the state of Israel, drew connections between long standing fights for Palestinian and Black liberation, and celebrated the students and faculty of the Law School for taking a stand for human rights. She also celebrated her Yemeni heritage and family, spoke movingly about the hardships of COVID-19 on her classmates and “rejoiced” for her class to be “celebrated” and remembered today and in the years ahead. She spoke about love and about truth. That is, she displayed just the kind of analysis, community-building, critical thinking – and demand for justice – that any university should applaud.
Yet following rebukes from politicians on both sides of the aisle – including renewed calls to cut off CUNY’s federal funding – the university’s Chancellor and Board of Trustees released a statement defaming Fatima by alleging that she engaged in “hate speech.” The Chancellor’s and Board’s careless, overbroad, and dangerous use of the term fails by any legal standard. Ironically, virtually any student in the graduating law school class in attendance could have told them that criticizing government human rights abuses is not hate speech, anymore than criticizing abuses by the Israeli government is antisemitic.
Ms. Mohammed aimed her criticism at the actions of Israel’s government. Smearing critics of Israeli policies as engaging in hate speech or being antisemitic is a worn and discredited tactic, but it can still wound, especially when the target is a young student and Muslim. Rather than protect its student by defending her freedom of speech in the face of toxic attacks, the Chancellor and Board of Trustees are creating a dangerous situation, while undermining the core academic freedom that is the basis of its own mission. It is unfortunate that the CUNY Chancellor and Board continue to create a Palestine Exception to Free Speech, defame a student for defending human rights in her speech, and attempt to create a one-sided political narrative that its students and faculty must adhere to. That is not the education that students want or deserve. A university that lives its mission and values would be doing the exact opposite.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.