#WeStandWithFatima: Defend Palestine, Resist Zionist Attacks, Organize for Liberation

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Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes Fatima Mohammed, the graduate of CUNY Law and elected student speaker whose powerful words of social justice and revolutionary conviction have drawn threats, racist attacks and demands for repression from Zionist organizations and an array of right-wing media and politicians. We are proud to stand with Fatima and her fellow students, who elected Fatima to represent them as the speaker at their law school graduation, and denounce in the strongest terms the actions of the CUNY administration for their complicity in smearing and attacking Fatima.

It is clear from the malicious and defamatory attacks upon Fatima, the attempts to smear her name, the threats against her, the hostile media camping outside her house, the full-scale right-wing press and the denunciations by politicians from Eric Adams to Richie Torres to Ted Cruz that what truly frightens these forces is the vociferous support with which she was met by her fellow students. The support for Fatima makes clear that Palestine is popular, anti-imperialism is a mass demand and revolution can be a reality. 

It is the words of Fatima that fill the hearts and minds of youth graduating from law school today, while pro-cop politicians like NYC mayor Eric Adams are roundly booed by the student body at the same event. This is the inconvenient reality that these politicians, Zionist organizations and right-wing forces wish to suppress.

Fatima was instrumental in the adoption of a boycott, divestment and sanctions resolution against the Zionist regime by the student body of CUNY Law School, which was followed by a similar resolution adopted by the law school’s faculty. It is in this context that the CUNY Board of Trustees and chancellor issued a shameful, false and defamatory statement on 30 May 2023 labeling Fatima’s profound words “hate speech.”

We join the demand that the CUNY administration immediately retract and apologize for the defamatory statement about Fatima’s speech and instead act to sever their ties with Zionist organizations both on and off campus. It is time the CUNY administration act to protect students and workers, rather than allying with right-wing politicians and participating in junkets to the Zionist colonial project. 

Fatima’s powerful speech also came just one year after Nerdeen Kiswani, fellow CUNY Law School alumna and chair of Within Our Lifetime, was elected student speaker for graduation and also delivered an inspiring address for Palestinian and international liberation, which drew yet more Zionist attacks and slander.

The election of Fatima reflected the student body’s wishes and perspective: that they would not allow politicians, capitalists and Zionists to silence voices for justice, in Palestine and everywhere.

Indeed, since the attacks on Fatima began, her fellow students, workers and faculty at CUNY have spoken up in support, including: CUNY Jewish Law Students Association, CUNY Law Students for Justice in Palestine, CUNY Law OUTLaws, CUNY Law Indigenous Americans and the Law Student Advocates, CUNY Law Student Government, CUNY Law Labor Coalition, CUNY4Palestine, CUNY Law Environmental Justice Coalition, CUNY Law Formerly Incarcerated Law Student Advocacy Association, CUNY National Lawyers Guild, CUNY Law Housing Rights Project, CUNY Public Interest Law Association, CUNY Law Women of Color Collective, and CUNY International Law Society.

Throughout her speech, Fatima referenced the forms of imprisonment used as a mechanism of colonial control and suppression of resistance.:

“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 silence is no longer acceptable…I see future attorneys who will protect the communities terrorized by the surveillance state and not protect the agents of oppression that carry out that terror…Let us remember that it was just this week, Gaza has been bombed with the world watching. That daily, Brown and Black men are being murdered by the state at Rikers; that there are Palestinian political prisoners like the Holy Land Foundation [5] in US prisons, that there are refugees at the southern border still locked up.”

Fatima’s speech in many ways anticipated the repression and attacks to come:

“Like many of you, I chose CUNY School of Law for its articulated mission to be law in the service of human needs, one of a very few legal institutions created to recognize that 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; institutions created to intimidate, bully and censor and stifle the voices of those who resist. And at this moment of celebrating who we are, I want to celebrate CUNY Law as one of the few, if not the only law school to make a public statement, defending the right of its students to organize and speak out against Israeli settler colonialism. This is the law school that passed and endorsed BDS on a student and faculty level. Recognizing that, absent a critical imperialism/settler-colonialism lens, our work and the school’s mission statement is void of value… We are the student body and faculty that fought back when investor-focused admin attempted to cross the BDS picket line saying, loud and clear, that Palestine can no longer be the exception to our pursuit of justice; that our morality will not be purchased by investors….And we did all of this in spite of the racism, in spite of the selective activism, the self serving interests of CUNY Central, an institution that continues to fail us, that continues to train and cooperate with the fascist NYPD, the military that continues to train IDF soldiers to carry out that same violence globally, a larger institution committed to its donors, not to its students. I am here to remind us all that our existence on its own today in this room is revolutionary.”

The attack on Fatima is not taking place in a vacuum. As Within Our Lifetime notes,

“It is important we contextualize these developments not as individual viral sensations or disorganized backlash, but as part of a proactive, coordinated campaign that has been shaping CUNY as a battleground for decades, and increasingly over the past two years. This is a campaign of racialized militarization and privatization – which, in recent years, has manifested itself through the hiring and lauding of war criminals like David Petraeus and Colin Powell, the return of the ROTC, tuition hikes, tightening admission standards designed to attract wealthy out-of-state students, an exploitative multi-tiered labor system and increased precarity for the majority of CUNY workers. Repression against Palestinian student organizers is one part of this wider landscape.”

At CUNY, just in recent incidents noted by CUNY For Palestine, the university attempted to ban Nerdeen Kiswani from addressing a Nakba commemoration at Hunter College, her undergraduate alma mater; launched an anti-Palestinian “partnership” with Zionist foundations backed by settlement-funder and football owner Robert Kraft; cancelled the Palestine Lives conference in May 2022; and collaborated with an anti-Palestinian witch hunt at the NY City Council attacking Kiswani, Within Our Lifetime, and the movement for Palestine more broadly. Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez joined a propaganda junket to promote Zionist universities after the faculty and students of CUNY Law adopted a boycott resolution, including academic boycott.

This is also taking place in the context of increasing repression targeting the Palestinian and Arab communities in exile and diaspora and the Palestine solidarity movement throughout the Western imperial core, amid the growing strength of Palestinian resistance action. As Fatima noted, the Palestinian cause is an anti-imperialist cause, and resisting imperialism is central to our struggle here.

As these anti-imperialist links have strengthened, we see not only the attack on the students and workers of CUNY — and the mass movement in New York City — but also the criminalization and banning of Palestine organizing, anti-fascist organizing and other revolutionary struggles in Germany, including the targeting of Samidoun Deutschland; the persecution of demonstrators challenging Zionist presence in universities in Spain; the imprisonment of 9 Palestine Action activists in Britain; the attempt to ban the Collectif Palestine Vaincra in France. Of course, this repression operates hand in hand with the use of “terror” designations to criminalize resistance movements in Palestine, Lebanon, the Philippines and around the world and interrupt solidarity — not to mention the use of bogus “domestic terror” charges to repress Indigenous sovereignty organizing, the Black liberation movement and the fight to stop “Cop City” in Atlanta.

All of these are signs of the growing crisis and desperation of Zionism and its imperial backers, and a recognition of the increased power of the resistance, particularly following the 2021 Unity Intifada/Battle of Seif al-Quds. The thunderous applause, standing ovations and cheers of support greeting Fatima’s speech made clear that the perspective she represents is in fact the perspective of the future.

“So may the joy and excitement that fills the auditorium here, may the rage that fills this auditorium dance in the hallways of our elementary schools, in our home villages of Sheikh Jarrah; Aden, Yemen; Haiti; Puerto Rico; the Philippines, may we  rejoice in the corners of our New York City bedroom apartments and dining tables, may it be the fuel for the fight against capitalism, racism, imperialism and Zionism around the world….as the great Malcolm X said, we declare our right on this earth, to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary… For oppressed people everywhere, for greater empires of destruction have fallen before and so will these.”

Let us make our voices heard: CUNY must immediately rescind the defamatory statement attacking Fatima; further, it must take action to protect students and faculty who speak out in favor of Palestinian liberation – without censorship, threats or intimidation – including their right to advocate for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS); it must cut its ties with all Zionist/pro-Israel groups on and off campus, including its “partnerships” with large Zionist foundations; and it has a responsibility to denounce blacklist websites, such as Canary Mission, and politicians that target CUNY students using false claims of antisemitism to marginalize support for Palestine within CUNY.

Within Our Lifetime, together with CUNY for Palestine, is leading a campaign to defend Fatima and CUNY organizing more broadly, as part of the Palestinian liberation cause. Read more and get involved at the following links: