National Lawyers Guild: We support Fatima Mohammed #WeStandWithFatima

The National Lawyers Guild expresses its strongest support for Fatima Mohammed, the commencement speaker, elected by the student body, at the CUNY Law School 2023 graduation. CUNY Law School is known for its progressive reputation; it is a school that has birthed the careers and life work of many public defenders and people’s lawyers – and many Guild members – in New York and throughout the country. Fatima Mohammed’s principled speech at the 2023 graduation, and her expression of her aspirations for the practice and study of law, represent this tradition of people’s lawyering with which we as a Guild are proud to align ourselves. 

The attack on Fatima is part of a broader trend of repression, censorship and racism across CUNY. Rather than protecting students and workers, the CUNY administration has repeatedly aligned itself with internal and external right-wing and Zionist forces.

Fatima’s clear positions on racism and white supremacy, policing and the harms it causes to oppressed communities, and justice for the Palestinian people were not only precise and accurate, they were supported by her fellow students, who elected her as graduation speaker in respect for the work that she does on campus to make CUNY Law School a safer, more progressive and more just space on a daily basis. 

Following her speech, Fatima has been relentlessly attacked by an array of right-wing politicians and Zionist organizations, from proudly PBA-aligned NYC mayor Eric Adams to Texas senator Ted Cruz. She has been subjected to a barrage of hateful, misogynistic, racist and Islamophobic commentary and even threats by an array of commenters online. 

Rather than taking a stand to defend Fatima, CUNY administration has seen fit to issue a statement deeming her speech to be “hate speech”. This is a statement that places Fatima at further risk, particularly as a new law graduate – an outrageous and defamatory allegation that has no basis in reality. CUNY administration refers to “hate speech” related to “political affiliation.” This claim draws into sharp relief the underlying agenda of CUNY officials, in league with right-wing politicians and lobby groups,  to suppress legitimate political debate by designating divergent political positions as impermissible. By referencing “religion or race” in the same statement, they attempt to smear Fatima’s reputation rather than protect their own student under attack by an array of white supremacist and racist organizations and right-wing politicians. Rather than being a message of hate, Fatima’s speech was a message of justice, and one that is particularly important for law students entering the profession in order to defend the marginalized rather than those in power.

Further, the administration’s actions read as a form of retaliation against Fatima for her leading role in working to pass resolutions supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israeli apartheid and colonialism—resolutions that passed both the faculty and student body of CUNY School of Law but have been repeatedly ignored and suppressed by the CUNY administration. According to CUNY 4 Palestine

Just in the past year, we have witnessed the John Jay College administration’s decision to effectively cancel the Palestine Lives 2022 conference on May 14th, the CUNY administration’s failure to protect Kiswani against the multiple anti-Palestinian racist attacks and incidents of defamation against her, the censorship and online attacks on the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) Social Justice & Equity Centers (SJEC) after uplifting the Palestinian struggle through an educational event series, and the Hunter administration’s attempt to censor adjunct faculty member, Shellyne Rodriguez, for her Palestine solidarity work. 

This statement came after CUNY attempted to bar Nerdeen Kiswani, Palestinian activist, chair of Within Our Lifetime, CUNY alumna and last year’s CUNY Law graduation speaker from appearing at an event at Hunter College, her undergraduate alma mater.

The attack on Fatima has come as CUNY has launched campaigns with Zionist organizations, and CUNY Chancellor Felix V Matos Rodriguez traveled on a university junket to Israel. Chancellor Matos Rodriguez has repeatedly and falsely attempted to link the burgeoning BDS and Palestine solidarity movements on the CUNY campuses with antisemitism. He has now issued a statement attacking his university’s own alumna at the behest of politicians and lobby organizations.

Fatima Mohammad’s graduation speech represents the best traditions of the legal profession, too often suppressed. We urge all lawyers, law students, legal workers and legal organizations to speak out in defense of Fatima and denounce this attack by university administration. We join Within Our Lifetime, CUNY For Palestine, the CUNY Jewish Law Students Association, and others in demanding that Matos Rodriguez and all CUNY college presidents: 

  • Rescind and apologize for the statement of May 30, 2023 attacking Fatima and falsely labeling her speech as “hate speech.”
  • Protect the rights of all CUNY community members to speak out for Palestinian liberation without censorship, threats or intimidation, including the right to advocate for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
  • Cut ties with all Zionist/pro-Israel groups on and off campus
  • Denounce blacklist websites and politicians that target CUNY students, such as Canary Mission, which use false claims of antisemitism to attack supporters of Palestine within CUNY.

Support Fatima: Sign on to the Within Our Lifetime statement and call to action

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