Foes of Muslim activist Linda Sarsour held a rally Thursday to decry her selection as graduation speaker at the City University of New York, accusing her of supporting terrorism and chanting, “Surely CUNY can do better!”
At a protest outside the CUNY building in Manhattan, New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind condemned as “outrageous” the decision to invite Ms. Sarsour to speak at June 1’s commencement at the Graduate School of Public Health.
“When CUNY invites Linda Sarsour to be the commencement speaker, that is something that is imposed upon the students,” said Mr. Hikind. “Freedom of speech is a precious commodity in America, and no one wants to take away anyone’s freedom of speech. But when CUNY imposes Linda Sarsour on the students, that’s outrageous. Shame on CUNY!”
Speakers at the rain-soaked rally used a microphone but still had to shout to be heard over the shouts and whistle-blowing of counter-protesters who gathered to support Ms. Sarsour.
Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which organized the rally, blasted the public university’s decision as “obscene,” describing Ms. Sarsour as a “pro-terror vicious anti-Semite” and punctuating her remarks with, “Surely CUNY can do better!”
CUNY president James B. Milliken has stood by the school’s decision to have Ms. Sarsour speak, even though she “might hold views that are controversial.”
“While one might disagree with the School of Public Health’s decision to invite Ms. Sarsour to speak at commencement, that difference of opinion provides no basis for action now,” he said in an April 26 statement. “Taking action because critics object to the content of speech would conflict with the First Amendment and the principles of academic freedom.”
Five CUNY professors defended the school’s decision to invite Ms. Sarsour in a Monday open letter, saying the selection committee decided she represented “the new activism of young people, women, immigrants and others speaking out against discrimination and intolerance.”
“Right-wing critics are quick to complain when college students protest inviting speakers like Betsy DeVos, Milo Yiannopoulos or Charles Murray to speak on campus, but feel justified in calling for limits on free speech when they disagree with speakers, a double standard that fundamentally misunderstands the First Amendment,” said the letter on Inside Higher Ed.
Ms. Geller insisted that “this is not about free speech,” given that “Linda Sarsour is free to speak on college campuses and does so frequently,” but rather with honoring her by providing her with a graduation platform.
“The idea of inviting her to keynote the commencement address—those invitations are bestowed upon people to enhance the college’s reputation,” said Ms. Geller. “Why would you hold her up as a role model?”
An advocate of Sharia law, Ms. Sarsour has become a political icon on the left, honored in 2014 by the Obama administration as a “champion of change” for her work in Arab-American communities.
She raised her profile this year as a national co-chair of the anti-Trump Women’s March in January and drew outrage by suggesting in a March interview that supporters of Israel cannot also be feminists because they don’t care about Palestinian women.
“Can you imagine if you defend Israel, if you support Israel, you cannot be a feminist?” asked Mr. Hikind. “My wife took that to heart, because she’s a feminist and she loves Israel.”
The rally was livestreamed on the YouTube page of conservative provocateur Yiannapoulos, who called Ms. Sarsour “a sharia-loving, terrorist-embracing, Jew-hating ticking time bomb of progressive horror.”
Referring to feminists who participated in the Women’s March, Mr. Yiannapoulos said, “They’re prepared to follow a woman who believes in sharia law while at the same time complaining about patriarchy. It’s genuinely ludicrous.”
He noted that Brandeis University in Massachusetts reversed its decision to give an honorary degree in 2014 to an activist on the other end of the spectrum, Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Mr. Hikind cited Ms. Sarsour’s April 2 appearance in Chicago with convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh, who has pleaded guilty to entering the country illegally and faces deportation. Ms. Sarsour said then she was “honored to be on the stage with Rasmea.”
The protest was held the day before the graduation speech in order to avoid Friday’s Jewish holiday.
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