Stuart Gershon

How to See the Antisemitism Hiding Behind Anti-Zionist Rhetoric

During the 2023 commencement speech at CUNY Law School, graduate Fatima Mousa Mohammed did not offer even one inspiring word to her fellow graduates about love for our common humanity, the virtue of coexistence, or the beauty of diversity.

Instead, the overarching theme of Ms. Mohammed’s speech — as she herself said — was to encourage and further incite the graduates’ “rage that fills this auditorium” in order to fight against “capitalism, racism, imperialism, and Zionism around the world.”

Ms. Mohammed attacked the legal system, the NYPD, Senator Schumer, Mayor Adams, even “CUNY Central” with abusive insults.

Ms. Mohammed reserved her most hate-filled attack for the state of Israel and Zionism. Ms. Mohammed didn’t stop with the often cited but manifestly false claim against Israel of “settler colonialism.” With one propaganda-like lie after another, Ms. Mohammed demonized both Zionism and Israel. She placed Zionism in the same category as the evils of capitalism, racism, and imperialism. She charged that Israel “continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshippers,” “murdering the old, the young, attacking the funerals and graveyards as it encourages lynch mobs.”

Ms. Mohammed’s defenders insisted there was nothing antisemitic about her remarks, that she was exercising her right of political free speech to criticize Israel. This defense of anti-Zionism could not be more disingenuous. It was none other than the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who famously declared, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking Antisemitism.” The use of ‘Israel” and “Zionists” as code for Jews are among the newest epithets in a long history of anti-Jewish dog whistles. This is undeniable.

Even the CUNY board of trustees recognized the dog whistle by declaring that Ms. Mohammed’s remarks should not be confused with free speech. Their statement said, “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.”

Ms. Mohammed’s anti-Jewish prejudice pervaded her anti-Zionist speech.The evidence is clear:

Ms. Mohammed accused the entire Jewish people, past and present, of being privileged oppressors. By linking Israel – falsely – to the evils of colonialism, white supremacy, and systems of oppression, Ms. Mohammed blames Jews for the harms done to people of color, including the global slave trade.

Ms. Mohammed claimed that Jews are white supremacists. It was no coincidence that Ms. Mohammed chose to accuse Israel of encouraging ‘lynch mobs.’  Ms. Mohammed blames Jews for the ongoing injustices suffered by black people in America.

Ms. Mohammed charged that Jews are a violent people.
By accusing Israel of committing violence against Palestinians and that IDF soldiers are trained to “carry out that same violence globally,” Ms. Mohammed blames Jews for the violence used to oppress/suppress those who resist systems of oppression around the world.

It is obvious that Ms. Mohammed’s views reflect a deep hostility toward Jews for their national, religious, cultural, and ethnic identity/heritage. Her remarks clearly meet the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitic hate speech. How hypocritical of Ms. Mohammed to call for a revolution against racism even as she fails to call out her own.

About the Author
Rabbi Stuart Gershon, D.D. is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Sinai in Summit, New Jersey. He was a founder and tri-chair of the Darfur Genocide Rescue Committee of Summit. He served as co-chair of the New Providence Diversity Committee. Rabbi Gershon was awarded the "Keeper of the Dream" Award by the Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service Committee. Rabbi Gershon is the author of Kol Nidrei: It's Origin, Development, and Significance.
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