(New York Jewish Week) — Amid ongoing debate over a recent commencement speech at the City University of New York’s law school that included harsh criticism of Israel, Republican Rep. Mike Lawler has introduced legislation that would rescind federal funding from colleges that promote antisemitism.
Lawler, who represents New York’s 17th congressional district, introduced the “Stop Anti-Semitism on College Campuses” bill on Thursday. Lawler’s district includes Rockland County, which has a large population of Orthodox Jews.
“Many in the Jewish community in New York and across the country were outraged when a student spewed outrageous antisemitic rhetoric at CUNY Law School’s graduation in May,” Lawler said in a statement. “No college or university should receive a single dollar of federal education funding if they peddle in the promotion of antisemitism at an event on their campus.”
The bill would “prohibit institutions of higher education that authorize Anti-Semitic events on campus from participating in the student loan and grant programs” under Title IV of the 1956 Higher Education Act. It has eight cosponsors, all Republicans, including the chamber’s two Republican Jews, Tennessee’s David Kustoff and Ohio’s Max Miller.
The bill comes after a speech delivered on May 12 at the graduation ceremony of the CUNY School of Law in Queens, in which Fatima Mousa Mohammed praised the law school as a place where students could “speak out against Israeli settler colonialism.” She also called the New York Police Department “fascist” and encouraged “the fight against capitalism, racism, imperialism and Zionism around the world.”
Pro-Israel advocates have long accused CUNY of tolerating antisemitism on campus, and the speech has drawn criticism in recent days. On Tuesday, CUNY Chancellor Fèlix Matos Rodríguez and the school’s Board of Trustees condemned Mohammed’s speech, calling her remarks “hate speech.”
On Wednesday night, at an event celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month at Gracie Mansion, New York City Mayor Eric Adams criticized the speech. He had been in attendance earlier in the ceremony, which had initially drawn attention because part of the graduating class turned their backs on him and heckled him when he spoke. He said he was not present for Mohammed’s address.
“If I was on that stage when those comments were made, I would have stood up and denounced them immediately, because we cannot allow it to happen,” he said in his speech Wednesday night.
Mohammed has received support from pro-Palestinian organizations, as well as groups of students and faculty at the school. The law school’s Jewish students’ association, which is known as a vocal supporter of pro-Palestinian advocacy, criticized “external zionist organizations” in a May 21 statement backing Mohammed, and said that attacks on her speech had come from groups that were spreading “false claims” about her.
“The organizations currently attacking Fatima and the rest of CUNY Law’s student body, with absurd and false claims of antisemitism, are doing so against the wishes of the majority of CUNY Law’s Jewish students, who wholeheartedly stand with Fatima and have been grateful to have her as our classmate throughout law school,” the group said in the statement, which was also signed by 18 other student groups.
And following the statement from the chancellor and board, 40 members of the CUNY School of Law faculty called for the statement to “be withdrawn immediately,” and requested that “an apology be issued to the student speaker and to the students that make up the law school Class of 2023.”
“No reasonable interpretation of the student speaker’s remarks would suggest it was ‘hate speech,’ given that none of the student’s comments attacked any persons or protected classes, but at most commented on nations and state institutions that are incontrovertibly causing harm to people domestically and internationally,” the faculty letter said.