Hate Speech at CUNY Demonstrates the Hole in Biden Plan to Fight Antisemitism

If President Biden is serious about fighting antisemitism, he has to decide what’s more important to him – alliances with groups like CAIR – or fighting an ancient hatred – as it exists today.
June 6, 2023
Screenshot from YouTube of CUNY Commencement Speaker Fatima Mousa Mohammed

On May 25, 2023, the Biden Administration published its much anticipated “U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.”

Much anticipated, in large part because of the alarming and well-documented rise in antisemitic attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions, particularly in New York City where hate crimes targeting Jews had increased by 39% from 2021 to 2022, and where 94% of those victims were visibly Jewish Orthodox Jews who were almost always (97% of the time) attacked by members of other minority groups.

To the Biden Administration’s credit, this rise in antisemitic attacks led to the White House investing considerable resources to shape and create its 60 page “National Strategy.”

Before the plan was released, practically every mainstream Jewish organization had urged the White House to use the definition of antisemitism that is the most accepted and widely used definition by both democratic governments and Jewish institutions around the world, the IHRA definition. After all, it’s common sense that before one can solve a problem, one has to define it. A famous quote widely attributed to Albert Einstein is that if he was given an hour to solve a problem, he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it.

The reason the IHRA definition is so important is that it captures how antisemitism has evolved over the last 100 years to include not only irrational xenophobic hatred for the Jew as an individual, but also irrational xenophobic hatred for Jews as a nation. This is the hatred of Israel; the hatred of the Jewish national rights movement, Zionism.

The late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks defined antisemitism as:

“Denying the right of Jews to exist collectively as Jews with the same rights as everyone else. It takes different forms in different ages. In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century they were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, the state of Israel. It takes different forms but it remains the same thing: the view that Jews have no right to exist as free and equal human beings.”

More importantly, Rabbi Sacks noted how the 21st century version of antisemitism has mutated in a way so haters can deny the hate:

“The new antisemitism has mutated so that any practitioner of it can deny that he or she is an antisemite. After all, they’ll say, I’m not a racist. I have no problem with Jews or Judaism. I only have a problem with the State of Israel. But in a world of 56 Muslim nations and 103 Christian ones, there is only one Jewish state, Israel, which constitutes one-quarter of one per cent of the land mass of the Middle East. Israel is the only one of the 193 member nations of the United Nations that has its right to exist regularly challenged, with one state, Iran, and many, many other groups, committed to its destruction.”

This dramatizes the value of the IHRA definition, which recognizes that: (1) under antisemitism’s previous mutations Jews were regularly demonized as bloodthirsty baby-killers; (2) with antisemitism’s current mutation, which incorporates anti-Zionism, antisemites regularly demonize the world’s only Jewish state as a uniquely bloodthirsty predator-state and baby-killer; (3) during antisemitism’s earlier mutations, antisemites regularly demonized Jews as controlling banks, the media, and governments; and (4) during the 21st century, the “I am only anti-Zionist” antisemites regularly demonize Israel or Zionists as controlling banks, the media, and foreign governments.

Which brings us back to the Biden Administration’s big announcement on May 25th. With tremendous fanfare, and to the disappointment of many Jewish groups, the Biden National Strategy not only referenced the IHRA definition, but also commended the Nexus definition, which only served to dilute the IHRA definition. Not to better define it, but by its plain language, to more narrowly define it.

For example, the Nexus definition provides that: “[p]aying disproportionate attention to Israel and treating Israel differently than other countries is not prima facie proof of antisemitism.”

The problem with that condition is that today’s insidious mutation of antisemitism is precisely about “disproportionate attention to Israel and treating Israel differently.” Adding a qualifier like “not prima facie proof” does nothing to diminish that reality.

Many Jews were dismayed to learn that Biden’s National Strategy included the Nexus definition, as well as a nod to “other definitions” besides IHRA, the consensus definition of the Jewish community. But that dismay was coupled with significant and justifiable concern when the Jewish community learned that one of the Biden Administration’s partners in “fighting antisemitism,” according to talking points in the National Strategy, was going to be CAIR (the Council on American Islamic Relations).

This is a justifiable concern because CAIR is a leading purveyor of antisemitism as it is defined by IHRA and most of the world’s Jews, which includes being obsessed with Israel, demonizing Israel, and treating Israel differently than one treats all other countries.

The prescience of that concern was demonstrated shortly thereafter, when a hate-filled rant was made public by CUNY (the City University of New York) on YouTube. In that May 12, 2023 speech, Commencement Speaker Fatima Mousa Mohammed said the following demonizing lies about Israel, which plainly tap into the trope of the bloodthirsty Jew: “Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshippers, murdering the old, the young, attacking even funerals and graveyards, as it encourages lynch mobs to target Palestinian homes and businesses, as it imprisons its children, as it continues its project of settler colonialism, …”

And in a speech she gave to her fellow CUNY Law students and others prior to their graduation Fatima Mohammed said: “Zionist professors [must] be banned from college campuses,” and that “Zionist students [should] not be allowed in the same spaces as Palestinians” and that “Zionism is a genocidal threat.”

Fatima Mohammed’s demonizing claims in her speech plainly ignore the tremendous efforts Israel takes to avoid civilian casualties as well as erase the deep Jewish ancestral relationship with the land of Israel. Comments, which are textbook antisemitism under Rabbi Sack’s and the IHRA definition. The tropes employed by Ms. Mohammed stem from her clearly deep obsession with the one Jewish state, an obsession the IHRA definition accurately defines as grounded in antisemitism, and which the Nexus definition excuses.

A few days later, on May 31, after the CUNY Board of Trustees rightfully characterized Ms. Mohammed’s “commencement address” as hate speech, CAIR demonstrated in one tweet why the NEXUS definition’s inclusion in the Biden National Strategy is so problematic in the fight against antisemitism:

Under the IHRA’s comprehensive definition of antisemitism, it is clear that Fatima Mohammed’s speech, as well as the conduct of those encouraging and defending it (like CAIR) are examples of antisemitism. And any National Strategy to fight antisemitism that can’t make that distinction is doomed to fail.

So if President Biden is serious about fighting antisemitism, he has to decide what’s more important to him – alliances with groups like CAIR – or fighting an ancient hatred – as it exists today.

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