National Jewish Advocacy Center director Mark Goldfeder and International Legal Forum CEO and lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky on June 2 sent the IRS a letter asking for a probe of CUNY Law School to find out whether it violated its tax-exempt status when one of its graduates delivered a commencement speech riddled with hate in early May (18 Days Later, Rage Erupts over CUNY’s Choice of Hate-Spitting Arab for Commencement Speech).
According to the NY Post, Goldfeder and Ostrovsky asked IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel to review whether CUNY Law is engaging in political or lobbying activities––which would violate the school’s non-profit status.
Ostrovsky tweeted on Monday: “Enough is enough! Time to hold CUNY Law School accountable for their systematic antisemitism, Jew-hatred, and promotion of BDS – which is a clear violation of their tax-exempt status!”
Fatima Mousa Mohammed’s CUNY Law School’s commencement speech on May 12 included gems like American law is a “manifestation of white supremacy,” and kudos for CUNY Law’s endorsement of BDS, helping students in fighting “Israeli settler colonialism,” while 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.”
She also said she wished that the reaction to her speech would become “the fuel for the fight against capitalism, racism, imperialism, and Zionism around the world.”
Well, it’s becoming the fuel for something.
Goldfeder and Ostrovsky told IRS Commissioner Werfel that when the CUNY law faculty unanimously voted in favor of a discriminatory boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel, on May 12, 2022, it directly violated the school’s non-profit status that “prohibits engaging in substantial political or lobbying activities.”
“CUNY’s clearly identifiable pattern of hosting speakers who express anti-Israel sentiments or criticize Israeli policies reveals a systematic effort to influence public opinion and shape political discourse,” the letter states, noting that Mohammed mentioned CUNY faculty’s endorsement of BDS in her speech,” the two advocates wrote.
After the media at large became aware of Mohammed’s incendiary speech, School Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez and the CUNY Board of Trustees issued a statement saying, “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.”
But according to Gothamist, CUNY Law professors are calling on the administration to retract the statement, insisting Mohammed’s remarks are protected under the First Amendment, and warning that the statement that condemns speech, any speech, would have a chilling effect. The CUNY Law faculty are demanding the board apologize to Mohammed, noting that she is the target of “death threats and Islamophobic harassment.”
There is no doubt that Mohammed was entitled to carry her speech – we all live by the First Amendment. However, the IRS is not in the business of blocking free speech, only enforcing a policy that if you’re a non-profit university, you can’t promote political views.
Goldfeder and Ostrovsky acknowledged in their letter to the IRS Commissioner that “the freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression at our institutions of higher education is a value that most Americans hold dear. However, we are deeply troubled by what appears to be a misguided and potentially destructive shift toward enabling, embracing and even celebrating radical, intolerant, and hate-filled political viewpoints on our CUNY and SUNY campuses.”