CUNY Defends Decision to Host Anti-Israel Activist as Commencement Honoree

Linda Sarsour will deliver commencement at taxpayer-funded school

Linda Sarsour

Linda Sarsour / Getty Images

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The City University of New York (CUNY), a taxpayer-funded institution, is doubling down on its decision to host a leading anti-Israel activist who has been accused of anti-Semitism as its honored commencement speaker next month, a move that has generated calls for New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to step in and cancel the address.

CUNY is set to host Linda Sarsour, a leading voice in the anti-Israel movement who has been condemned by human rights groups for her rhetoric and promotion of terrorism against the Jewish state.

Sarsour, a Palestinian American and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, is scheduled to give the commencement speech for CUNY's Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.

Local lawmakers and pro-Israel activists have expressed outrage over the decision, calling on CUNY to cancel Sarsour's appearance. CUNY leaders have continued to praise Sarsour and maintain the speech will take place as scheduled.

Sarsour has earned a reputation as one of the country's most virulent anti-Israel activists. She has attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a "bigot" and routinely condemns the Jewish state as racist. Sarsour attracted outrage in 2015 when she tweeted out a picture of a Palestinian child with a rock in his hand accompanied by the caption, "the definition of courage."

Sarsour became a darling of the activist left as a participant in the Women's March against President Donald Trump and other demonstrations. She also has embraced and partnered with Rasmea Odeh, an anti-Israel activist and convicted terrorist who was recently found guilty of immigration fraud in the United States for failing to disclose her ties to terrorism.

Dov Hikind, a New York City assemblyman and pro-Israel advocate, told the Washington Free Beacon that Americans across the country should be outraged that a taxpayer-funded school is celebrating an individual who once praised child terrorism.

"This is a woman who not so long ago put out a tweet with a picture of a young child holding rocks in his hand and Linda Sarsour put in that message, ‘the definition of courage,'" Hikind said in an interview with the Free Beacon.

"The idea this woman would get this honor at a CUNY commencement, a place my tax dollars pay for, is unbelievable audacity."

Sarsour "is someone who is an apologist for terrorists, and that's who we need to be an example for graduate students at a tax-funded university here in New York?" Hikind asked. "How do you justify in any way [these views]? People should speak out everywhere. This should be a no brainer."

While Hikind and other pro-Israel voices have spoken out against Sarsour's appearance at CUNY, Cuomo and activist voices such as the Anti-Defamation League have remained silent.

"The ADL speaks out 24/7 on defamation of the Jewish people and nothing can be more defamatory than Linda Sarsour's statements about Jews and her glorification of Arabs throwing rocks at Israelis," Hikind said in a statement. "But following the invitation from CUNY for Sarsour to address their graduates, the ADL's silence has been deafening and shameful."

One senior official at a national Jewish organization told the Free Beacon that Sarsour's appearance at CUNY demonstrates that anti-Israel activism is still being mainstreamed.

"Linda Sarsour advocates a version of feminist intersectionality that, by design, excludes liberal Jews who support Israel but welcomes radical Muslims who deny women's rights," said the official, who was not authorized to speak on record. "In that sense she's perfect for today's upside-down academy. That doesn't make what she says or what CUNY's doing any less disgraceful. It makes the whole thing more disgraceful."

CUNY has defended its decision to host Sarsour, telling students in a community message it is committed to all types of free speech.

Ayman El-Mohandes, the dean of CUNY's Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, said in a statement that CUNY is committed to academic freedom.

"I hope you all join me in my firm view that a diversity of viewpoints and an open exchange of ideas is at the heart of our country's strength, and our university's strength," El-Mohandes said in a statement. "It is why we at CUNY are so committed to academic freedom, a bedrock principle of our university."

"This will be a very special and meaningful commencement for all of us," El-Mohandes added. "I hope to see you all there to celebrate women in leadership."

Update 4:45 p.m.: Following publication of this article, CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken distanced the school from Sarsour's anti-Israel activism, but said her invitation to speak at graduation would not be rescinded.

"CUNY’s leadership and I personally have been a strong and consistent opponent of BDS, a movement Ms. Sarsour reportedly supports," Milliken said. "Obviously, it cannot be said that CUNY endorses her view on this matter; we continue to believe BDS is anathema to the values of higher education. But the fact that Ms. Sarsour might hold views that are controversial cannot be the basis for withdrawing an invitation to speak.  "

Adam Kredo   Email Adam | Full Bio | RSS
Adam Kredo is senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Formerly an award-winning political reporter for the Washington Jewish Week, where he frequently broke national news, Kredo’s work has been featured in outlets such as the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Politico, among others. He lives in Maryland with his comic books. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is kredo@freebeacon.com.

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