Student accused of "hate speech" for anti-Israel speech at CUNY


02 June, 2023

A graduation speech from two weeks ago that was approved beforehand at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law is now facing backlash, over what some critics are calling “hate speech” due to criticism of Israel.

Fatima Mousa Mohammed, a Yemeni American, took to the stage in her graduation ceremony to present a speech in which she criticised systems of oppression – including against Palestinians – and extolled the virtues of free speech in resisting these systems.

At the time, she was praised by students and faculty for her words. By the end of May, critics had spread their disapproval on social media, leading to international news coverage and even statements by New York Mayor Eric Adams, Senator Ted Cruz, and by members of the US Congress.

Criticism of the speech led to calls for defunding the university, whose tuition is mainly covered by taxpayer money. The pressure saw CUNY’s board of trustees this week put out a statement of condemnation which said: “Free speech is precious, but often messy, and is vital to the foundation of higher education. Hate speech, however, should not be confused with free speech and has no place on our campuses or in our city, our state or our nation.”

However, not everyone denounced Fatima’s speech. Some politicians pushed back against the onslaught of criticism, renowned Palestinian activist and writer Mohammed el-Kurd shared Fatima’s speech with glowing approval, and multiple student groups – led by the CUNY School of Law Jewish Law Students Association – wrote in a joint letter that they stand “in solidarity with our friend and classmate Fatima, who is currently being targeted by a racist hate campaign from external organizations after delivering a commencement speech that addressed the struggle for Palestinian freedom.”