[After her speech as the student elected speaker at the 2023 CUNY Law commencement in which she commended her class for organizing for Palestinian liberation, Fatima has been made the target of a smear campaign by a variety of organizations who seek to use her case to repress Palestinian organizing at CUNY. This statement, originally published by Within Our Lifetime, CUNY4Palestine, and CUNY Law SJP on 31 May 2023 is written in defense of Fatima and the organizing she and many others have done in CUNY at a moment when New York City government officials and university administrators seek to attack both. Click here to sign onto this statement and scroll down to find a list of tangible action items to fight back against this wave of anti-Palestinian repression.]
Update: 6/01/2023: After pressure from right-wing media outlets, the CUNY Board of Trustees has doubled down on their shameful statement baselessly categorizing Fatima’s speech as “hate speech.” See below for action items on holding the Board accountable.
For over two years now, zionist organizations have escalated a campaign that has motivated right wing politicians, media outlets, and educational institutions to wage war on Palestine organizing at the City University of New York (CUNY). Although the conflation of anti-zionism with anti-semitism is nothing new for Palestine organizers, what is happening today at CUNY is far more serious than any individual smear campaign taken in isolation. Any act of anti-Palestinian repression at CUNY, the largest Black and Brown public urban university system in the country and a historic base of people power, must be understood within the context of the zionist settler project hoping to reverse the gains made by Palestinians, both here and in Palestine, any way they can.
CUNY School of Law alumna and Within Our Lifetime(WOL) member Fatima is under attack after delivering a principled speech against zionist settler-colonialism, capitalism, and racist police violence as the class-elected commencement speaker at the CUNY Law School’s graduation on May 12, 2023. We call on all supporters of Palestinian liberation and our allies to #StandWithFatima and join us in combating the repression of peoples’ movements in CUNY by signing onto this statement, sharing it, and completing the action items below.
In recent days, the attacks against Fatima have flooded in from both sides of the U.S. empire’s political establishment, uniting the likes of Democratic NYC Congressman Ritchie Torres and Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who attacked Fatima’s speech on Twitter and painted a target on her for national harassment. NYC Mayor Eric Adams, after subjecting New York to shock-and-awe austerity measures, has joined the attack against our comrade Fatima with a disgraceful tweet, accusing her of “negativity” and “divisiveness”. Former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly went on national television to slander her in an interview on Fox Business.
These assaults followed a digital smear campaign against Fatima led by a consortium of settler apologist organizations, resulting in the right-wing rag known as the New York Post publishing a front-page story on May 30, 2023. The story, laden with zionist, Islamophobic and misogynistic vitriol, prominently featured Fatima’s photo. Today, the Post doubled down on its campaign by featuring her powerful speech on the cover-page once again. Earlier this afternoon, the Post attempted to contact Within Our Lifetime trying once again to make connections between the organization and unrelated entities and individuals.
As zionist organizations and politicians, and clickbait tabloid publication houses like the Post unite to target Fatima, in the same way they targeted WOL Chairperson Nerdeen following her commencement address in 2022, CUNY administration is once again complicit. CUNY has followed what is now a predictable pattern of staying silent, allowing zionists to attack their students unabated, and then issuing defamatory statements condemning their own students, letting cowardice reign over their obligation to protect and serve the CUNY community. As of May 30th, the CUNY Board of Trustees has gone so far as to label Fatima’s speech as “hate speech.”
Immediately following Fatima’s powerful speech, CUNY Law administration shamefully attempted to suppress the livestreams of the 2022 and 2023 commencements. The 2023 commencement was particularly uncomfortable for the CUNY administration and political establishment, as it witnessed CUNY Law School students boldly turning their backs on the embarrassment that is New York City’s Mayor, Eric Adams. In a shocking lack of transparency, the student body was not informed about Adam’s presence prior to his arrival, and he was rightfully met with resounding boos as he attempted to deliver a self-aggrandizing apologia for police violence disguised as a speech. Although CUNY was compelled to restore both videos online due to public pressure campaigns, the story did not end there. Subsequently, the CUNY Board of Trustees issued the statement accusing Fatima of “hate speech,” placing an egregious stain on the legitimacy of the university. We challenge any representative from CUNY to justify their accusation of ‘hate speech’ with specificity; otherwise, it stands as an actionable defamation of Fatima’s character and unwavering integrity.
The City University of New York is a university that was born and reborn in the struggles of the people who live here, in New York City. CUNY was a free university from the moment of its inception through the U.S. Civil War, the Great Depression, two world wars, and countless fiscal crises. In 1969, student, worker, and community uprisings, including occupations at CCNY, Brooklyn College, Queens College, and BMCC, led to the victory of Open Admissions – guaranteeing CUNY admission to any high school graduate in New York City. It was only in 1976, the year that the student body became majority non-white for the first time, that tuition was first introduced.
By 1999, the victory of Open Admissions and the radical legacy of the people’s university was largely defeated. Since then, CUNY administrators and the New York political establishment have embarked on a crusade of privatizing and militarizing the university of the people of New York.
Just last week, Hunter College President Raab fired beloved organizer, renowned artist and professor Shellyne Rodriguez in retaliation for her direct action confronting a right wing anti-abortion lobby group masquerading as a student organization in the college. This incident happened immediately after President Raab unprecedentedly and illegally banned Hunter alumna and WOL Chair Nerdeen from speaking at the campus. Shortly after, Raab announced she would be conferring an honorary degree on notorious war criminal Nancy Pelosi. At the same time El Centro—the once-legendary Puerto Rican liberation center at Hunter—hosted an event arguing that statehood for Puerto Rico is a form of decolonization. Little by little, year by year, CUNY administrators attempt to transform this university into one that is out of touch and unaccountable to its students, workers and the community in which it is embedded.
It is important we contextualize these developments not as individual viral sensations or disorganized backlash, but as part of a proactive, coordinated campaign that has been shaping CUNY as a battleground for decades, and increasingly over the past two years. This is a campaign of racialized militarization and privatization – which, in recent years, has manifested itself through the hiring and lauding of war criminals like David Petraeus and Colin Powell, the return of the ROTC, the seizure of the Morales-Shakur Community and Student Center, tuition hikes, tightening admission standards designed to attract wealthy out-of-state students, an exploitative multi-tiered labor system and increased precarity for the majority of CUNY workers. Repression against Palestinian student organizers is one part of this wider landscape.
Well-funded zionist organizations like the Anti Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), settler-financier Robert Kraft-linked foundations, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) work in concert with zionist city councilmembers like Inna Vernikov, Ari Kagan, Robert Holden, Kalman Yeger and Eric Dinowitz, aiming to pressure the CUNY administration to roll back wins for Palestine at the university system, punish Palestinian students and their allies, and deepen existing ties to the zionist settler-colony. This has included attempts to implement the IHRA definition of anti-semitism, and increase funding for initiatives that target and repress Palestinian activism on campus. After last year’s witch-hunt against WOL Chair Nerdeen at the City Council, CUNY Chancellor Rodriguez confessed that the CUNY administration is looking into implementing the blatantly unconstitutional IHRA definition throughout the CUNY system.
Chancellor Rodriguez is a relative new-comer to the CUNY administration, having been installed in that position in the wake of the anti-militarization and anti-austerity campaigns throughout CUNY in the era of 2011-2016. Despite that, Rodriguez has used his position to enjoy all-expense-paid propaganda junkets to the zionist settler colony, canceled the Palestine Lives Conference that was to take place at John Jay College in 2022 on literally one day’s notice, and legitimized a witch-hunt against Palestinian students at CUNY conducted by the New York City Council in the same year. While he pushes for tuition hikes and student fee increases, Rodriguez takes in roughly $670,000 annually, not including a $90,000 housing stipend, paid for by CUNY students and New York taxpayers. Additionally, Rodriguez has announced millions of dollars in funding towards a new initiative “combating anti-semitism” in the CUNY system in partnership with the Foundation to Combat Anti-semitism. While the exact details of what this initiative will involve is still under wraps, we note that the Foundation is funded by the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft. Kraft is linked to a host of settler organizations who operate throughout historic Palestine, including settlements in the West Bank, like the Friends of Ir David. With funders like Kraft, it seems clear that the initiative has more to do with entrenching CUNY’s relationship with settler-colonialism than it has to do with genuinely combating anti-semitism.
At the same time, CUNY announced a partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) to create an “advisory council” on Jewish life in the university system. While CUNY and JCRC claim the function of the council is to “advise CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez on how to lift up Jewish life and improve communication between religious communities,” JCRC CEO Gideon Taylor, who will sit on the council, remarked that the councils true intentions are to get CUNY to have a “good understanding about Israel and the Jewish community within CUNY.” We reiterate CUNY Law’s Jewish Law Students Association’s words about the conflation of the zionist project and Jewish identity: “As long as zionism has existed, there have been Jewish people fighting against its racist and imperialist logic– to equate anti-zionism with anti-semitism is to erase the history of Jewish anti-zionism, throughout the world and at CUNY Law.” The JCRC was one of the first organizations to attack Fatima’s character after the commencement ceremony.
Integral to this campaign of repression are outfits like Canary Mission, the Zachor Legal Project, Liora Reznichenko’s StopAntisemitism.org, the Jewish Defense League, SAFE CUNY, etc. These organizations reproduce the campaign in various forms: while Canary Mission and StopAntisemitism.org create McCarthyist dossiers to terrorize, target and harass students and professors throughout the CUNY system, Zachor Legal and the Zionist Organization of America write hystericalarticles and make baseless reports of the targeted individuals to entities like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice. Meanwhile, KCC professor Jeffrey Lax’s SAFE CUNY desperately attempts to astroturf a movement of zionist students in CUNY to counterbalance the tide of support for Palestine, while the JDL confronts Palestinian mobilizations with counter protests that number half a dozen at best. All of these organizations have attacked Palestinian students, professors and workers in the university system such as Fatima and Nerdeen for years.
We cannot omit the fact that the trend of increased repression of Palestinian exiles in the United States and Europe is directly correlated to the successes and growing unity of the Palestinian resistance back home. As U.S. hegemony continues to decay, the beneficiaries of empire will become more and more desperate to roll back the victories of oppressed peoples and reassert their supremacy. Our people in Palestine bear the brunt of the zionists’ increasing desperation—but the Palestinian refugees and our allies will feel its aftershocks in the imperial core.
The zionist forces in the U.S. have unleashed their desperation in the classrooms of our universities, and CUNY has become a prime target for their attacks. They correctly fear that CUNY— long a site of organizing people power and a popular base for various emancipatory movements—is the type of grassroots terrain where the struggle will be forged and principled leadership will be built. After years of popular organizing at CUNY, from the passing of BDS resolutions at various campuses to a community-led campaign against racism and repression, zionists are attempting to reassert their politics from the top-down, aligning themselves with fascist politicians like Eric Adams and Kalman Yeger, and milquetoast liberals like Richie Torres.
The events of the last year have made clear that there is much work to be done. We regret that many national organizations and well-funded nonprofits who claim to be in solidarity with the Palestinian people have turned a blind eye to the struggle for CUNY, and reduce their solidarity, if it comes, to sporadic tweets of vague support for individuals instead of materially supporting the mass movement that is growing day by day. There is still time to join the side of the people. Aligning yourself with Fatima, Nerdeen, and the broader movement for Palestine at CUNY is aligning yourself against the forces that seek to turn our university into a gated community and a playground for neoliberal vultures like Board of Trustees chairperson William Thompson, who oversees billions of dollars in his role at an investment firm, and vice-chairperson Sandra Wilkin, who is not an educator, but the CEO of a construction company. Thompson, Wilkin, and Chancellor Rodriguez were the three signatories of the statement characterizing the commencement address as hate speech.
Our people will not slow their march towards a free Palestine, and neither will we here, in New York City. Fatima’s speech was a statement that rang true in all people of conscience and #WeStandWithFatima with full solidarity. We demand that the attacks against Fatima immediately cease and all those with an interest in CUNY find their place in her defense and in defense of all students, professors, workers who find themselves under attack at the university. We will continue to advance victories for the Palestinian liberation struggle at CUNY and beyond.
As Fatima reminds us, the fall of oppressive institutions and entities is the “inevitable future for oppressed people everywhere. For greater empires have fallen, and so will these. So for the class of 2023, the fight begins now.”
We call on all people of conscience to heed Fatima’s call and join the fight for a free Palestine and a liberated CUNY. Take on the action items below to support Fatima and defend Palestine:
If you know of any developments within CUNY not mentioned here, or want to share anything in particular with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
ACTION ITEM #1: SIGN ONTO THIS STATEMENT AND SHARE IT ON SOCIAL MEDIA
ACTION ITEM #2: EMAIL CUNY DEMANDING THEY RECANT THEIR ACCUSATION OF “HATE SPEECH” AND PROTECT FATIMA AND ALL OF THEIR STUDENTS FROM RIGHT-WING, ZIONIST HARASSMENT
ACTION ITEM #3: EDUCATE YOURSELF ON THE HISTORY OF THE STRUGGLE FOR CUNY WITH THE FOLLOWING MATERIALS:
The Struggle at CUNY: Ron McGuire
The Struggle for CUNY: Christopher Gunderson
Take Action: Reject City Council’s Anti-Palestinian Crackdown, Stand With Nerdeen Kiswani and CUNY Students, Alums and Faculty Under Attack!
Take Action: CUNY Cancels Palestine Lives Event Commemorating the Nakba
#WeStandWithNerdeen: Take Action
March 4 Education
Cuomo Won’t Deliver Us a Free CUNY
The Real Story: The New McCarthyism and Repression of Palestine Activism at CUNY
Victory! SJP and Allies Pressure Stop Zionist R*pe Advocate From Speaking at Hunter
The Role of Youth and Students in the International Solidarity Movement for Palestine
Post MSM: CUNY, Zionism, and Organized Repression
Million Student March Statement
ACTION ITEM #4: VISIT WITHIN OUR LIFETIME’S WEBSITE IN THE COMING WEEKS TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SITUATION AT CUNY AND WHAT YOU CAN DO TO BE A PART OF THE STRUGGLE FOR CUNY
ACTION ITEM #5: BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR MOBILIZATIONS & FUTURE CALLS TO ACTION
Within Our Lifetime
Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine
CUNY Law Students for Justice in Palestine
CSI Students for Justice in Palestine
John Jay Students for Justice in Palestine
CUNY Law Student Government
CUNY For Abortion Rights
Masar Badil: Palestinian Alternative Revolutionary Path Movement
Rank and File Action, CUNY
Not In Our Name CUNY
CUNY Law Jewish Law Students Association
Muslims Giving Bank @ CCNY
Samidoun Palestinian Political Prisoner Solidarity Network
Collectif Palestine Vaincra
Palestinian Youth Movement
NY Boricua Resistance
American Muslims for Palestine
Art Against Displacement NYC
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of israel (USACBi)
CUNY Law Foundation for Immigrant and Refugee Empowerment
CUNY Law Latin American Law Students Association
Voices for Palestine
One Democratic State Initiative
Workers World Party
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
National Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Maryland Students for Justice in Palestine
Miami University Students for Justice in Palestine
Green Mountain Solidarity with Palestine
Students United for Palestinian Equality & Return – University of Washington
Students for Justice in Palestine, UNC-Chapel Hill
American Muslims for Palestine – New Jersey
Berkley Law Students for Justice in Palestine
National Lawyers Guild
National Lawyers Guild – International Committee
Bridges for Yemen
Dallas Palestine Coalition
National Lawyers Guild – USC Gould Chapter
National Lawyers Guild – St. Louis
Law for Black Lives
Asociación Americana de Juristas
NY Law School Black Law Students Association
Brooklyn Law School’s Muslim Law Students Association
Drexel Community for Justice
United Islamic Front
East Berkshire Palestine Solidarity Committee
For Our Liberation
Formerly Incarcerated Law Students Advocacy Association
International Commission for Solidarity with Yemen
Voices for Justice in Palestine
Jewish Voice for Peace – Central Ohio
Jewish Voice for Peace – Miluwakee
Samidoun – Albuquerque
BIPOC Analysis Collective
Palestinian American Organizations Network (PAON)
Fordham National Lawyers Guild
Rutgers-Newark Law National Lawyers Guild
United Front Committee for a Labor Party
Law Offices of Moira Meltzer-Cohen
Harvard Law Muslim Law Student Association