IRS Pressed to Revoke CUNY’s Tax-Exempt Status Following Anti-Semitic Hate Speech

Fatima Mousa Mohammed (Twitter/@SAFECUNY)
June 2, 2023

A legal advocacy group is calling on the IRS to revoke the City University of New York’s (CUNY) tax-exempt status following an anti-Semitic commencement speech that drew widespread condemnation from city officials and Jewish advocacy groups.

The International Legal Forum and National Jewish Advocacy Center say that CUNY’s promotion of anti-Semitism and support for Israel boycotts violates federal regulations that bar tax-exempt organizations from promoting political ideologies.

"CUNY's repeated engagement in activities that institutionally promote a specific political viewpoint against Israel, including hosting multiple speakers, attempting to remove Jewish educators from senior leadership, and unwavering support of the [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] movement, constitutes excessive lobbying and potentially jeopardizes its tax-exempt status," the groups wrote in a letter sent Friday to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

CUNY’s public law school came under fire last month for hosting a commencement speaker who accused Israel of sending "lynch mobs" after Palestinians and called on students to protest "Zionism around the world." The speech drew widespread condemnation from Jewish leaders, who accused the speaker, graduating student Fatima Mousa Mohammed, of "trading in anti-Semitic tropes." CUNY's Board of Trustees and chancellor also condemned the speech.

The International Legal Forum and its partner organizations want the IRS "to conduct a thorough investigation into the tax-exempt status of CUNY Law School" to authoritatively determine "whether their endorsement of BDS initiatives is a violation of federal law and regulations," according to the letter.

CUNY’s law school has repeatedly endorsed anti-Israel speakers and is facing a state probe over its adoption of a resolution supporting the BDS movement, an anti-Semitic campaign that wages economic warfare on the Jewish state. The public school’s promotion of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist speakers should make it ineligible for tax-exempt status under federal law, according to the two advocacy groups.

"CUNY's clearly identifiable pattern of hosting speakers who express anti-Israel sentiments or criticize Israeli policies reveals a systematic effort to influence public opinion and shape political discourse," the organizations write. "By repeatedly inviting and supporting such speakers, CUNY actively promotes a particular viewpoint that aligns with the BDS movement."

"When considered in aggregate," the groups write, "these activities form a substantial part of CUNY's overall operations."

In addition to hosting Mohammed’s inflammatory commencement speech, CUNY’s law school hangs pictures across its building that "incite students to take action against Israel," according to activities detailed in the letter. Students also are given credit for watching anti-Israel films, and there have been numerous accusations that the school has tried to remove Jewish educators from leadership positions due to their pro-Israel views.

"Such a focused and persistent lobbying effort goes beyond the permissible limits set by the IRS, making it highly likely that CUNY's tax-exempt status could be at risk," the advocacy groups wrote.

If the school’s behavior is found to be in violation of IRS regulations, it would "necessitate an automatic suspension of their tax-exempt status."