I have a good excuse for not writing last week, since my daughter Yael Rebecca got married to Dani Miller, plus there was a week of sheva brachos. Now I may be able to get back to my regular routine.
This week, I could talk about Trump’s federal indictment, which is available online. I recommend that everyone read it before jumping to conclusions. There will be a time for that. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, nothing we say will matter. What will matter is the verdict of the 12 jurors. Thus, I wanted to address an issue where we all can make a difference.
I am referring to the speech made by CUNY Law School graduate Fatima Mousa Mohammed at the law school graduation ceremony recently. This was not the first time at a CUNY Law School graduation that the speaker made comments that were perceived to be anti-Semitic. In the past, people would complain about it while others defended the speaker. After Ms. Mohammed’s speech, there were the usual condemnations by Jewish groups and even by CUNY. The defenders included the law school, which is not surprising since she was asked to be the commencement speaker, despite, as reported, having a history of anti-Semitic comments. Moreover, her speech was well received by the students and by the faculty.
Some believe that it is time to take a new approach.
In order to be admitted to the bar to practice law, there are three requirements. First, you have to graduate law school. Second, you have to pass the bar examination. And third, the Committee on Character and Fitness must recommend that you be admitted to the bar. The applicant has to file an application with the Committee.
Ms. Mohammed made various comments that many would find offensive. I have chosen a few that are clearly relevant, as it relates to her fitness to practice law:
“The law is a manifestation of white supremacy that continues to oppress and suppress people in this nation and around the world… Systems of oppression created to feed an empire with a ravenous appetite for destruction and violence. That daily, brown and black men are being murdered by the state at Rikers.”
She also referred to a revolution by the masses, and she quoted Malcolm X that it should occur by any means necessary.
“May it be the fuel for the fight against capitalism, racism, imperialism, and Zionism around the world...” She advocated for the fall of these “oppressive” institutions. “For greater empires of destruction have fallen before, and so will these.”
These comments can reasonably be understood that she believes that the government, including the legal system as it exists, should be overthrown. One of the questions in the application for admission addresses this issue. Also, the application requires an oath to uphold the US and New York State Constitutions. Her comments seem to indicate otherwise.
CUNY trustees put out a statement: “The remarks by a student-selected speaker at the CUNY Law School graduation, unfortunately, fall into the category of hate speech as they were a public expression of hate toward people and communities based on their religion, race, or political affiliation.”
The CUNY trustees properly concluded that the speech was anti-Semitic. The best proof was her referring to Zionism around the world. If she was talking about Israel and not Jews in general, she would have limited it to Israel. The comment about “Zionism around the world” are buzz words for those who believe that Jews run the world.
This was not the first time that she made comments about “Zionists.” In a May 2021 tweet, Mohammed wished that “every Zionist burn in the hottest pit of hell.” In the same month, in response to a comment by Andrew Yang stating his support for Israel, she tweeted, “May you burn in the same fire the settler Zionist celebrated today and may every Zionist like yourself face the wrath of your injustice.”
Moreover, the speech contained falsehoods about Israel, Rikers, and the United States Military. For example, “As Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshippers, murdering the old, the young, attacking even funerals and graveyards, as it encourages lynch mobs to target Palestinian homes and businesses, as it imprisons its children, as it continues its project of settler colonialism, expelling Palestinians from their homes, carrying the ongoing Nakba that our silent – that our silence is no longer acceptable.” “The military, that continues to train IDF soldiers to carry out that same violence globally.”
These comments affect the speaker’s ability to practice law in a competent, ethical, or professional matter. This is the criteria listed in the application.
Her defenders will argue that these comments should be taken in context of the entire speech. Thus, before deciding how to proceed, it is important to listen to the entire speech or at a minimum read a transcript. Others believe that people should not be denied a career because of their beliefs, no matter how repugnant they are. I wonder if they would feel the same way if the statement was made at another law school graduation by someone who identified himself as a white nationalist and made racist, anti-Semitic comments and advocated for a white revolution.
Applications to the Committee on Character and Fitness are confidential. Thus, it is possible that Ms. Mohammed, if she passes the bar, could apply to any of the four departments. It most likely will be the Second Department, since she said she resides in Queens County, though it is also possible that it will be the First Department.
Contact information for the First Department is Veronica Guerrero, Counsel to the Committee on Character and Fitness, Appellate Division, First Department, 41 Madison Avenue, 26th Floor, New York, New York 10010; and for Second Department is Muriel L. Gennosa, Executive Director for Attorney Matters, Committee on Character & Fitness, 335 Adams Street, Suite 2404, Brooklyn, NY 11201.
I am not the first person to mention this approach. For example, City Council member Inna Vernikov and the Lawfare Project wrote a letter to the committee objecting to Ms. Mohammed being admitted.
There is a tendency to get upset when you hear comments that are anti-Semitic, do nothing, and a few weeks later forget about it. Inaction is the friend of those who make these statements. Nothing was done last year after the CUNY Law School graduation speaker’s speech. It just emboldens those like Ms. Mohammad to speak out even more forcefully. If we really believe that Ms. Mohammed’s statement was beyond the pale, we need to act by writing to the committee requesting that they reject her application. Ms. Mohammad and those like her who engage in such conduct need to know that there will be consequences.