The National Lawyers Guild International Committee expresses our strongest solidarity with our colleague and fellow Guild member, future people’s lawyer Nerdeen Kiswani, a second-year law student at CUNY School of Law. In the past days, Nerdeen has been subjected to a targeted racist campaign not only threatening and attacking her with hundreds of messages and letters but further demanding she be expelled from her legal education.
We echo our NLG colleagues at the CUNY School of Law chapter in emphasizing that “NLG is an anti-imperialist, pro-Palestinian organization…We condemn the law school’s administration and the speed with which they abandoned a beloved colleague, student and human rights advocate to accommodate Pro-Zionist, Anti-Palestinian voices on social media.”
Anti-Palestinian organizations, including the Israeli government-funded and intelligence-linked anti-Palestinian app, act.il, misrepresented and weaponized an old social media protest video involving Nerdeen and her friend. In the video, Nerdeen objects to her friend wearing a sweatshirt with the logo of the Israeli occupation military, the “Israel Defense Forces.” Actor Michael Rapoport chimed in, sending private messages to Nerdeen and declaring that he would see her expelled from law school.
In response to this coordinated campaign of defamation against Nerdeen, a deeply committed law student and a distinguished activist for Palestinian rights who also chairs Within Our Lifetime – United for Palestine, the CUNY School of Law administration not only failed to protect their student from attacks but instead exposed her to further harm.
The administration made multiple social media posts, first condemning “hate and anti-Semitism” and then “hate and harassment.” While the CUNY administration later deleted these posts, the comment sections on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook were quickly filled with anti-Palestinian, racist rhetoric targeting Nerdeen. CUNY Law’s social media pages served as a host for these attacks on their own student.
While showing no regard at all for the perspectives, feelings, analysis or even fundamental safety of Palestinian students and the broader community in New York, the CUNY School of Law administration instead expressed sympathy for those who were “hurt” by an expression of protest toward an occupying military force responsible for the killing, imprisonment and wounding of thousands of Palestinians. The administration further failed to reassure Nerdeen that she would be protected from the disciplinary actions demanded by the right-wing, social media mob.
As the oldest, largest progressive bar association in the United States, committed to the principle that human rights and the rights of ecosystems are more sacred than property rights, we underline that Nerdeen Kiswani is exactly the type of law student and future people’s lawyer who is so deeply needed in our profession. We are committed to supporting Nerdeen and fellow students subjected to racist, right-wing attacks and protecting their entry into the profession.
CUNY School of Law prides itself on its reputation for social justice, and indeed, many NLG members are alumni of the university. However, the law school administration’s behavior toward its Palestinian students and its complicity in facilitating racist campaigns against them challenge any claim to a true commitment to social justice on the part of the CUNY administration.
The administration’s response to this racist campaign falsely conflated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and Judaism with Zionism. Further, it appeared to categorize the logos and symbols of an apartheid, colonial army as deserving of some type of protection and sanctity from protest, a deeply disturbing approach that serves only to silence, disappear and perpetuate further abuse against Palestinian students and the Palestinian people more broadly.
We join with the NLG chapter at CUNY School of Law and numerous organizations to demand that the law school administration immediately take down all social media postings related to this racist attack on our colleague and apologize for the harm they have caused. We further call on the administration to explicitly clarify that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism and that the logos and symbols of an apartheid state do not enjoy a special protected status. We further demand that the CUNY administration acknowledge the bad-faith, right-wing nature of the campaign, make clear that our colleague will not be subjected to disciplinary measures of any kind and take clear action to protect our colleague from further racist abuse and targeting.
Further, we note that the targeting of our colleague comes amidst a series of attacks on Palestinian scholars and scholars of Palestine in the academy, in which multiple university administrations have been complicit. Law students like our colleague, committed to principles of justice and human rights, are targeted for attacks in an attempt to blunt the impact of, silence and even criminalize their work. We further note that this targeting comes hand in hand with official measures taken by the Trump administration, such as the sanctions imposed on International Criminal Court prosecution team members, for continuing with investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetuated by Israeli and U.S. officials.
We expect to see the CUNY School of Law administration act promptly to rectify the harms that have already been caused and take action to prevent further harm to our colleague.