As printed in The Jewish Link
Rabbi Moshe Hauer
Nathan J. Diament
Imagine being a Jewish student at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law when Fatima Mohammed gave her speech at its commencement ceremony on May 12.
On a day that should be celebratory for all those in attendance, Jewish students had to sit through hearing their homeland accused of fomenting “lynch mobs” and being compared to an array of heinous racist and imperial groups.
The worst part? Far from denouncing this explicit use of hate speech, their fellow students cheered the attacks. Coupled with CUNY’s history of antisemitism, this incident serves as a loud alarm bell that America’s universities have an antisemitism problem to address.
The good news is Mohammed’s speech came at the heels of the release of the White House National Strategy to Counter Terrorism, which offers concrete steps to address, among other things, the rising hate on our campuses.
The Orthodox Union provided The White House with a lot of input for the Strategy. We joined roundtable discussions, submitted memorandums, and more. This was a priority for us because Orthodox Jews, whose Jewish identity is more visible, are also targeted for hate crimes at a much higher rate. But the incident at CUNY Law shows all Jews are vulnerable to hateful harassment irrespective of their level of religious observance. Here is the first early test of how the White House Strategy will – or will not – be implemented.
The White House Strategy recognizes the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which clearly outlines that criticism of Israel can spill into hate speech. Adopted by the governments of 31 nations and many states around the U.S., IHRA leaves no gray areas in recognizing Mohammed’s speech as antisemitic and addressing it head-on.
The White House Strategy directs senior officials of the U.S. Department of Education to conduct site visits to campuses “that have experienced upticks in antisemitism but have not yet adequately addressed such concerns.” A visit to CUNY Law should be atop the travel itinerary. We also urge the Department’s Office of Civil Rights to open an investigation into this incident to ensure, as the National Strategy says, “everyone has a right to learn in an environment free from antisemitic harassment.
But there are other actions to be taken in response to the CUNY Law screed. Congressman Mike Lawler has introduced legislation to block colleges and universities from receiving federal funds if they fail to prevent the fomenting of antisemitism on their campuses. Congressional leaders should schedule consideration of this bill as soon as possible.
America’s colleges can and should be a welcoming place for all students, Jewish students among them. A 2022 survey found that over half of Jewish students worry about paying a “social cost” at their school if they support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. The White House Strategy to Counter Antisemitism cited this survey as evidence of the need for action. CUNY Law’s commencement has provided an immediate illustration of the problem. American Jews are watching for the White House’s response. The plan is a good one, but only as good as its implementation.
Rabbi Moshe Hauer is the Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union
Nathan Diament is the Executive Director for Public Policy of the Orthodox UnionSource: Jewish Link