On June 5, 2023, a group of City University of New York (CUNY) community organizations protested a Board of Trustees meeting at CUNY Central to draw attention to the role of the administration in the increased racism, repression and censorship that students and workers have been subjected to. Protesters highlighted the CUNY Law Graduate Fatima, who has been under sustained attacks after delivering a speech, to her classmates applause, against Israeli war crimes, settler-colonialism and racist police violence as the class-elected commencement speaker at the Law School’s graduation on May 12, 2023. “Rather than defending a student from this barrage, the Chancellor and Board of Trustees threw Fatima and the entire CUNY Law community under the bus and labelled her speech as “hate speech”. Once again CUNY has exposed students to violent Islamophobia and anti-Arab hate with no condemnation the attacks they face” – Nerdeen Kiswani, Within Our Lifetime.
In recent days, attacks against Fatima have flooded in from both sides of the U.S. political establishment. Democratic NYC Congressman Ritchie Torres and Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz attacked Fatima’s speech on Twitter and painted a target on her for national harassment. NYC Mayor Eric Adams has joined the attack with a tweet, accusing her of “negativity” and “divisiveness”. Former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly went on national television to reprimand her in an interview on Fox Business. Multiple front page stories by the tabloid paper the New York Post led the smear campaign against Fatima. Protesters pointed out that zionist organizations, politicians and publications like the Post targeted Fatima, similar to how they targeted Nerdeen following her commencement address in 2022. After back-to-back front page stories causing further harm towards the CUNY community, they have called for a boycott of the New York Post.
“The CUNY administration has followed what is now a predictable pattern of staying silent, allowing outside groups to attack their students unabated, and issuing defamatory statements condemning their own students, letting cowardice reign over their obligation to protect and serve the CUNY community. In addition, they enable right-wing calls to privatize CUNY, making education further inaccessible to those in New York City.” Says Erica Calabrese – CUNY student and member of John Jay Students for Justice in Palestine.
Corinna Mullin, a CUNY professor added “CUNY is the largest working class, Black and Brown public university system in the country and has a long tradition of organizing people power as a popular base for various emancipatory movements. Time and again CUNY students and workers have demonstrated their opposition to racist gentrification, worker exploitation, settler colonialism, structural racism and solidarity with the liberation of Palestine and all oppressed people.”
The protesters handed out a flier that detailed the sordid backgrounds of several BOT members. Including Chairman of the CUNY Board of Trustees William C. Thompson who during his time as city comptroller, was responsible for Purchasing $5 million in State of Israel LIBOR floating rate bonds for the New York City Teachers’ Retirement System (2003). And Purchasing $15 million of State of Israel fixed rate bonds for New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS) (2008).
The protesters demand that the Chancellor and BOT rescind and apologize for their defamatory statement against Fatima. Furthermore, they call for the resignation of the BOT members.
Image: Alex Irklievski / The Graduate Center building located at 365 Fifth Avenue, between 34th and 35th Streets / public domain