White House Hires Anti-Israel Professor From University Engulfed in Anti-Semitism Controversy

CUNY professor Ramzi Kassem says 9/11 terrorists were not driven by 'intrinsic evil'

White House adviser Ramzi Kassem (YouTube)
June 27, 2023

The White House's newest hire is a City University of New York (CUNY) professor who has accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing" and "systematic genocide," a move that is raising alarms among the many people who are already concerned about the Biden administration's failure to combat anti-Semitism on America's college campuses.

Ramzi Kassem, a professor at CUNY's law school, was tapped to serve as a senior policy adviser for immigration in the White House's Domestic Policy Council. Kassem is a vocal Israel critic who spent a portion of his time as an undergrad at Columbia University writing scathing criticisms of the Jewish state, a Washington Free Beacon review found. Kassem, who helped defend terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, charged the Jewish state with genocide and decried "unconditional" support for Israel.

Kassem's hiring comes as the Biden administration fights the perception it is feeding Israel's opponents. A closely watched White House plan on combating anti-Semitism, for instance, was recently watered down by anti-Israel activists. The State Department admitted on Monday that it is boycotting research partnerships with certain Israeli organizations.

CUNY announced that Kassem "will work to support the Biden-Harris agenda across a range of immigration issues" using his expertise as "a national leader on progressive immigration reform." Kassem enters the White House after working for more than a decade at CUNY, which has repeatedly found itself in hot water for promoting anti-Semitic hate speech and, in some cases, subjecting Jewish students to "severe and persistent anti-Semitic harassment." CUNY's law school, in particular, promotes anti-Semitic boycotts against Israel and recently featured a graduation speaker who accused Israel of sending "lynch mobs" after Palestinians.

Kassem's past writings strike a similar note. In an April 1998 article, the White House adviser claimed there is "sufficient evidence" implicating Israel in a "systematic genocide" against the Palestinians. The Jewish state's behavior, Kassem wrote in the Columbia Spectator, is "a clear-cut case of ethnic cleansing." In another April 1998 article, titled "Zionism Impedes Middle Eastern Peace," Kassem claimed European Jews came to the Middle East "with the intention of conquering the land." A two-state solution between the parties "is not viable, nor is it desirable," he insisted.

Kassem also maintained that peace will only be achieved if Israel affords Palestinians the "right of return," a long dormant policy proposal that would erase Israel's Jewish majority.

"It doesn't make sense that Jewish Americans living in Brooklyn have more rights to the land than Palestinians who live in Lebanon and can't return to their historical land," Kassem was quoted as saying in a November 2000 Spectator interview.

In a separate piece authored in October 2000, Kassem claimed that Israel has no business defending Jews from terror attacks in Nablus, a Palestinian city where militants frequently clash with Israeli security forces.

"The fact that Israel has no internationally recognized right to be there in the first place is conveniently omitted, and never mind that the citizens in question happen to be illegal settlers armed to the teeth by the Israeli military and heavily subsidized by their government," Kassem wrote in that Spectator article, which includes several other bylines.

Kassem also decried "unconditional" U.S. support for Israel, saying in the November 2000 interview with the Spectator that "the power of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee and other lobbying groups has allowed Israeli 'ethnocracy' to flourish."

Kassem's role at the White House is generating scrutiny among pro-Israel advocates already upset by the Biden administration's efforts to undermine the current Israeli government.

"The peril lies in the White House's choice to enlist an individual who has espoused profoundly offensive and injurious rhetoric concerning Israel and Jews," Hen Mazzig, a senior fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute, which combats anti-Semitism, told the Free Beacon. "History has shown us that individuals harboring anti-Israel notions may attempt a performative transformation upon assuming public office, yet their stand remains the same within."

"Were any other marginalized community at stake," Mazzig said, "unequivocal consensus would swiftly denounce the wisdom of appointing such a person with employment."

Kassem also took issue with Columbia University's 1999 decision to call one of its sandwiches an "Israeli wrap," writing in a letter to the editor of the Spectator that the term is offensive to Muslims and Arabs.

"The hiring of an anti-Israel college professor from CUNY Law, a school riddled with anti-Semitism, to the highest levels of the United States government is incredibly concerning," executive director Liora Rez told the Free Beacon. "With anti-Semitism skyrocketing across the country, the last thing we need are bigots with anti-Semitic views advising the president on immigration policy. Kassems hiring is antithetical to the White House's anti-Semitism strategy , which has already been watered down plenty by anti-Israel groups that share his values."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and recently appointed chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said that Kassem should commit to upholding the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's widely recognized standard definition of anti-Semitism.

"There is only one question I would ask Ramzi Kassem: 'As a senior policy White House adviser do you endorse and will you apply the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism?'" Cooper told the Free Beacon.

In addition to his anti-Israel advocacy, Kassem has sought to downplay the impact of the 9/11 terror attacks, writing in September 2001 article that the attackers were not evil.

"The perpetrators were probably not driven to their actions by some intrinsic evil or inherent hatred of the good United States. These acts of violence were gratuitous only in the sense that they wantonly and indiscriminately targeted innocent civilians," Kassem wrote. "The resentment these terrorists felt towards the United States was rooted in political realities shaped by our country's policies."

As a law professor and CUNY employee, Kassem has helped free several accused terrorists from prison, according to his online profile. He is also the founding director of CUNY's CLEAR program, a legal advocacy group that helps Muslims and other communities pursue allegations of unjust surveillance by local authorities.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. An request for comment sent to Kassem's CUNY email address returned an auto-response saying he is on leave.

Update 11:09 p.m.: This piece has been updated to include comment from executive director Liora Rez.