Congressmen Call On CUNY to Revoke Invite to Anti-Israel Linda Sarsour

Lawmaker: Taxpayer-funded university's commencement speaker 'embarrassing'

Linda Sarsour / Getty Images
May 5, 2017

United States congressmen are turning up the heat on the City University of New York (CUNY) over its decision to have anti-Israel activist Linda Sarsour deliver its commencement address next month.

Reps. Daniel Donovan (R., N.Y.) and Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.) are both urging CUNY to revoke its invitation to Sarsour, citing numerous inflammatory comments directed towards Israel and arguing that students and their families should not be subjected to this type of speaker on graduation day.

Donovan, who was born in New York City, sent a letter to CUNY chancellor James Milliken earlier this week calling the taxpayer-funded university's decision to honor Sarsour an "embarrassment," citing her history of anti-Semitism and sexist remarks.

"I could not disagree more with the CUNY administration's decision," Donovan wrote in his letter. "It is, in my opinion, an embarrassment to the university to host a speaker with a history of derogatory, sexist, and anti-Semitic remarks to deliver the 2017 commencement address."

Donovan argues in his letter that it would be different if Sarsour was invited to speak at CUNY for an academic event, but inviting her to headline what is supposed to be a celebratory event is crossing a line.

"A distinction exists between a university allowing those with alternative—even incendiary—viewpoints to express their positions free from obstruction, and actively embracing deeply controversial positions by forcing hateful rhetoric upon students who wish to attend their graduation ceremony," Donovan wrote.

"Academic institutions have an obligation to permit intellectual exploration, and that includes allowing speakers to peacefully express their ideas," he wrote. "But commencement speeches are flagship events representing the culmination of years of studies for students and their families."

"In my opinion, it is disrespectful to taint an otherwise celebratory event by subjecting students who wish to take part in their own graduation ceremony to such a vitriolic and disparaging speaker."

"The invitation for Linda Sarsour to be the CUNY commencement speaker should be revoked," Zeldin told the Free Beacon. "This is an individual who has called Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu 'a waste of a human being,' and has encouraged terrorism, among many more controversial and disgusting statements."

"This is a special and very hard earned day for the graduates and their families and to force all of them to listen to someone so controversial and objectionable shows an extreme lack of concern on the part of the university," Zeldin said.

Donovan pointed in his letter towards Sarsour's embrace of convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh, who spent 10 years in Israeli prison for killing two in a bombing but was released in a prisoner exchange. Sarsour said it was an "honor and privilege" to share a stage with Odeh.

Donovan also directed Milliken towards Sarsour's statements that genital mutilation victim Ayaan Hirsi Ali deserved to have her vagina taken away, and that it is impossible for anybody to be both a feminist and a supporter of Israel.

CUNY representatives did not return requests for comment on the messages from the congressmen.

Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America and a leading Jewish voice, argued similarly that CUNY is misrepresenting the issue as one regarding free speech in its defense of inviting Sarsour.

"CUNY is promoting the lie that this is an issue of free speech and academic freedom," Klein said. "CUNY is not obligated to invite Linda Sarsour or anybody else as its commencement speaker."

Klein, who describes Sarsour as a "horrible person, a Jew-hater, and an Israel basher," said that it should be troubling for Jews across the country that "outright Jew hatred" is becoming an acceptable stance to institutions such as CUNY.

"It's the height of insensitive, especially in a city like New York, to invite a woman who promotes hatred towards Jews and Israel and promotes radical Islamic terrorism by praising Jew-killers by name, by praising the Arab terror war against Israel," Klein said.

"Her speaking at CUNY, frighteningly, is helping to legitimize and mainstream anti-Semitism and radical Islamic terrorism."

CUNY has stood by its decision to invite Sarsour, with one of its deans, Ayman El-Mohandes, stating that the intention is to "celebrate women in leadership."

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

Chancellor Milliken has attempted to distance himself from Sarsour's views, such as her support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, while at the same time defending his decision not to revoke his invite for her to speak.

"CUNY's leadership and I personally have been a strong and consistent opponent of BDS, a movement Ms. Sarsour reportedly supports," Milliken said. "But the fact that Ms. Sarsour might hold views that are controversial cannot be the basis for withdrawing an invitation to speak."

Sarsour is scheduled to deliver her speech at CUNY on June 1.