Jewish groups, allies demand CUNY Law lose funding after student’s ‘vile’ anti-Israel commencement speech

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Jewish groups and allies are demanding that funding be withdrawn from the City University of New York (CUNY) Law after a student’s “vile” anti-Israel commencement speech. This comes after a student named Lara Kiswani gave a speech during CUNY Law’s virtual graduation ceremony, during which she reportedly made several deeply disturbing anti-Israel comments.

In Kiswani’s speech, she referred to Israel as a “settler-colonial state” and accused it of “ethnic cleansing.” She also made comments that were interpreted as being sympathetic to terrorism and violence against Israelis. According to reports, Kiswani’s speech was met with a mixture of applause and silence from the audience.

Following the incident, multiple Jewish groups and allies have called for CUNY Law to lose its funding. In a statement, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York stated that Kiswani’s speech was “not only hateful, but it crossed the line into anti-Semitism.” The statement further called for the university to “take swift action to condemn the speech and prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.”

Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has also weighed in on the controversy. In a statement, the organization expressed deep concern about the anti-Semitic undertones of Kiswani’s speech. “Anti-Israel rhetoric is understandable when it is rooted in legitimate political criticism,” the statement read. “But when it crosses the line into hatred and demonization, it creates dangerous and divisive divides.”

The controversy has sparked a broader discussion about the role of free speech on college campuses. While many advocates of free speech argue that it is important to allow individuals to express their opinions, regardless of how unpopular they may be, others argue that hate speech has no place in academia.

Critics of Kiswani’s speech point out that her comments were not only deeply offensive to Jewish students and community members, but also potentially harmful. Remarks that seek to justify terrorism or violence against a particular group can create a hostile and unsafe environment for those who are part of that community.

At the same time, however, proponents of free speech have argued that it is important to allow individuals to express controversial or unpopular opinions, even if they are offensive to some. Some have pointed out that Kiswani’s speech was given during a private ceremony, rather than a public event open to everyone. This, they argue, suggests that the university was not endorsing her views, nor was it promoting them to a wider audience.

Regardless of where one falls on the spectrum of free speech and hate speech, it is clear that the controversy surrounding Kiswani’s speech has ignited a meaningful conversation about the importance of respect and tolerance in academia. Universities have long been regarded as bastions of intellectual freedom, where individuals can explore ideas and express themselves without fear of censorship or repression. But, as this case shows, that freedom comes with responsibilities.

Colleges and universities must work to foster an environment of mutual respect, where students and faculty members can express their opinions and beliefs without fear of recrimination. This includes creating a culture of tolerance, where individuals are encouraged to listen to differing viewpoints and engage in civil discourse, rather than resorting to name-calling or bullying.

At the same time, universities must also be vigilant about protecting their students from hate speech and threats of violence. Institutions that allow hateful or extreme speech to go unchecked risk creating a hostile and dangerous environment, where certain groups feel unwelcome and unsafe.

In the case of CUNY Law, the outcry over Kiswani’s speech has been swift and harsh. Jewish groups and allies are demanding that the school lose its funding, and that action be taken to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future. It remains to be seen how the university will respond to these demands, but it is clear that the issue of free speech and hate speech will remain a contentious and deeply divisive issue for some time to come.

Ultimately, though, the most important thing is that we continue to have these difficult conversations, and that we work together to find a middle ground that balances the right to free speech with the need for safety and respect on college campuses. Only by doing so can we ensure that our institutions of higher learning remain places of intellectual freedom and academic excellence, where students and faculty members are free to explore ideas and engage in civil dialogue without fear of censorship or intimidation.