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Jewish Groups Seek IRS Probe into CUNY Law School’s Tax-Exempt Status

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By: Hal C. Clarke

Two Jewish advocacy groups have called on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate whether CUNY Law School violated its tax-exempt status following a widely condemned commencement speech delivered by one of its graduates. The National Jewish Advocacy Center and the International Legal Forum wrote a letter to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel on June 2, urging a review of the school’s engagement in political or lobbying activities that may infringe upon its non-profit status, NY Post reeported

The controversy erupted when Fatima Mousa Mohammed, a 2023 law graduate, accused Israel of indiscriminate murder of Palestinians during her May 12 speech. Additionally, she criticized the NYPD as “fascist” and called for a “revolution” against the legal system’s perceived “white supremacy.” Mohammed’s speech drew widespread condemnation for its extremist rhetoric, divisive nature, and explicit display of anti-Semitism.

In their letter to Werfel, Mark Goldfeder, director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center, and Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO and lawyer of the International Legal Forum, highlighted the speech’s condemnation by numerous elected and civic leaders. They alleged that the CUNY law faculty’s unanimous endorsement of the “discriminatory” boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel on May 12, 2022, violated the school’s non-profit status, which prohibits substantial political or lobbying activities.

The advocacy groups asserted that CUNY has exhibited a pattern of hosting speakers who express anti-Israel sentiments or criticize Israeli policies, suggesting a systematic effort to influence public opinion and shape political discourse. They also criticized the school’s response, stating that the denouncement of the commencement address as “hate speech” by the CUNY Board of Trustees and Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez was not only belated but also grossly inadequate. The advocacy groups accused the school of a history of antisemitism.

While some CUNY Law professors have argued that Mohammed’s controversial address is protected under the First Amendment and have called for the administration to refrain from labeling it as “hate speech,” the advocacy groups have persisted in their call for an IRS investigation.

The advocacy groups’ request for an IRS probe follows demands from Republican state lawmakers for Governor Kathy Hochul to withhold taxpayer funds from any CUNY campus that permits incendiary rhetoric at school-sponsored events. The lawmakers expressed concern about what they perceive as a shift towards embracing radical and intolerant political viewpoints on CUNY and SUNY campuses, while acknowledging the importance of freedom of thought and expression in higher education.

When contacted, Mohammed declined to comment on her speech and expressed a desire not to be contacted further. The situation continues to stir debate and controversy, raising questions about the boundaries of free speech and the potential impact on the tax-exempt status of educational institutions like CUNY Law School.

Meanwhile Fox News reported:

A City University of New York (CUNY) professor criticized a graduating law student’s “horrifying” commencement speech that called for the dismantling of capitalism and Zionism, and called laws “White supremacy.”

“I have to say, it was the most disturbing commencement speech I’ve ever heard in my entire life, and I’ve been doing this a long time,” said Jeffrey Lax, who co-founded the group Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY. “To my ears listening to this, it was a blatant call for American insurrection.”

“Fatima Mohammad doesn’t stop at firing the typical anti-Semitic tropes against Israel and Zionist people. She actually asks for rage to be the fuel for the fight against capitalism … against Zionism.”

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