What if the Country Mentioned was Russia?


By Stanley Heller


The CUNY Law Board of Trustees gave out a statement saying that Fatima Mohmmed’s address to graduating law students was “hate speech”.  As an experiment I took out references to Israel in the speech and put in Ukraine and Russia instead and put them in red so you can find them easily.   I added two words in one sentence and changed reference for Shireen Abu Akleh to Brittney Griner.


I’m not saying that the situations are exactly the same.  I am saying that no one except Putin would regard the following as “hate speech”.



Hello everyone. Thank you, Dean Setty for that introduction. I want to start by greeting you all with the greeting I know best: Dobry Den’ (hello). My name is Fatima Mousa Mohammed, and I come to you all from the rich soil of Ukraine raised by the humble streets of Queens.


It is my honor, and I'm humbled to be standing before you all as a selected class speaker— daytime speaker—of the class of 2023.


To all our loved ones, our parents, grandparents, siblings, partners and friends, our comrades, aunts and uncles, and all the little kids in the crowd. Those who made it, and those who couldn't. We wouldn't be here without you. Thank you for your unwavering love. My mom's crying so [inaudible] …. Thank you for your unwavering love and support. This celebration is yours. This is a moment for those who paved the way for us to be here. Those who wiped out our tears, those who are waiting ahead, and to those we now must open the doors. And now to the graduating class of 2023. Before I begin I want to tell you all that my grandparents are in Ukraine right now and they assured me that there are fireworks lighting up the city of Kyiv, in celebration of all of us. So just know that oceans away, there's a whole city on the other end of the earth, it feels like, celebrating you all.


To the class of 2023, the moment we have all been waiting for is finally here. The class that began this journey during a season of grief, a season where ambulance trucks were the only noise in town and our neighborhoods became sort of ghost towns. Where we watched our immigrant parents keep the city on its feet as they saw bodies packed into refrigerated morgue trucks. The class that saw nothing but black zoom square boxes for the first two years—there's a lot I can say about the loss and the pain we've all endured over the last few years, but I am reminded of Frantz Fanon's words. "Things get bad for all of us almost continually, and what we do under the constant stress reveals who and what we are."


So I'm here to celebrate who and what we are, who you are. Like many of you, I chose CUNY School of Law for its articulated mission to the law in the service of human needs. One of 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. We joined this institution … [applause] we joined this institution to be equipped with the necessary legal skills to protect our communities, to protect the organizers fighting endlessly, day in and out, with no accolades, no cameras, no votes, no PhD grants, working to lift the facade of legal neutrality and confront the systems of oppression that wreak violence on them. 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. In this moment [applause] …


In 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.


That this … [applause] that 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. That as Russia 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 Ukrainian homes and businesses, as it imprisons and deports its children, as it continues its project of settler colonialism, expelling Ukrainians from their homes, carrying the ongoing catastrophe that our silent—that our silence is no longer acceptable.


We are … 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 Ukraine can no longer be the exception to our pursuit of justice, that our morality will not be purchased by investors. We are the class … We are the class that fought for incarcerated clients and zealously filed for their clemency applications with nearly zero institutional support. We are the class that fought for clients to get asylum, that went to court to reunite families torn apart by ACS and the family surveillance. We are the class that organized against using LEXIS, a legal research company contracted with ICE.


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. That as we embark on our legal careers, we must practice a discipline of truth and courage and hold ourselves true to the mission statement we came to this school for. So today, I celebrate the courage and bravery that got us here, and I celebrate every moment of resilience that sets us apart as the number one leading public interest school in this nation.


I see … I see before my eyes, brilliant future public defenders. I see brilliant immigration attorneys, housing attorneys, business attorneys, civil rights attorneys and movement lawyers. I see professors and librarians. I see before me future practitioners who will work on contracts to end partnerships with ICE and not intellectual property contracts to secure designs for the newest drone technology murdering children. I see future lawyers who will defend tenants in court and not those that dispossess our communities from their homes. 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. Future lawyers who will fight to keep families together and not tear them apart. I see future lawyers who will work to make this world a better place, one person, one movement at a time. I see a class to be rejoiced, a class to be celebrated, a class to be remembered today and in the years ahead. And as we celebrate who we are today, let us actively fight against the collective amnesia and cognitive dissonance that limits our understanding of the world to what is only directly before our eyes.


Let us remember … Let us remember that Kherson, just this week, has been bombed with the world watching. That daily, brown and black men are being murdered by the state at Rikers. That there are Ukrainian political prisoners like HLF in US prisons, that there are refugees at the southern border still locked up. That yesterday marked one year since  the imprisonment of Brittney Griner and that the murder of black men like Jordan Neely by a white man on the on the MTA is dignified by politicians like Eric Adams and Senator Chuck Schumer.


We leave our classes and we leave the school to a world that so desperately needs us to stand alongside those who have given up, for the sake of liberation, far more than we could imagine. 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 Vinnytsia, Ukraine, and Yemen, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and 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.


No one person will save the world. No single movement will liberate the masses. Those who brunt the ferocity of the violence, those who carry the revolution. The people, the masses, those who brunt the ferocity of the violence, those who need our protection, they will carry this revolution. The revolution that lives so loudly despite not being televised. No longer are we going to capitulate to oppressors. No longer are we going to put our hope in their depraved consciousness. And, 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 into existence by any means necessary."


So one client at a time, one case at a time, one hearing at a time, we will show up for communities. We will show up for ourselves. And we will protect the fight that brings us all closer to the fall of all oppressive institution. A reality that is only myopic and unrealistic to the oppressors, but is the inevitable future for the oppressed, for oppressed people everywhere. For greater empires of destruction have fallen before and so will these. So to the class of 2023, the fight begins now.

- End -

One last point.  In their statement the Board of Trustees at CUNY said "hate speech" included an "public expression of hate" towards those with a certain "political affiliation".  Presumably that is how they can  designate anger toward the ideas and organizations of Zionism as "hate".  Good grief.  Can't we express anger at the Ku Klux Klan,  the Proud Boys or the followers of Joseph Stalin?   Is fury and denunciation against Nazis "hate"?


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