(JTA) — A New York public university is standing by its decision to invite Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour to deliver a commencement address despite some opposition.
Sarsour, who stirred controversy last month by saying one cannot be part of the feminist movement unless he or she is critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, was chosen to address the graduates of the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy on June 1.
Sarsour, an organizer of January’s Women’s March on Washington and the International Women’s Strike, made the remarks during an interview with The Nation. She also was one of the organizers of a wildly successful online fundraiser to help repair a Jewish cemetery outside St. Louis that was seriously damaged in a vandalism attack labeled as anti-Semitic.
Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat and an Orthodox Jew, and the head of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, decried the CUNY decision to speak at the commencement. Klein in a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on him to rescind the invitation.
But Ayman A.E. El-Mohandes, the dean of CUNY’s School of Public Health, said in a statement that Sarsour would remain the speaker, adding that she opposes all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism.
Hikind said Sarsour “is someone who associates with radical Islamists; supports them; shows support for them,” according to WCBS-TV in New York. “She is someone who has said, clearly, she thinks throwing rocks at cars in Israel is a good thing. I mean, it’s just nuts. It makes no sense. It’s crazy to have this woman be the person who’s going to speak to the students.”
Hikind also suggested to WCBS that her support of Sharia, or Islamic law, made her an inappropriate candidate for speaking at a public-funded university.
Klein in his letter to Cuomo called Sarsour “a bigot and divider” and “extremist,” according to the New York Post. He also identified her as a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
Both Klein and Hikind pointed to several of Sarsour’s tweets against Jews and Israel as reasons for excluding her from the public forum, including one in which showed a photo of a Palestinian boy approaching an Israeli soldier clutching rocks above the caption “the definition of courage #Palestine,” and another which said “Nothing is creepier than Zionism.”
Klein also sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, calling on the New York Democrat to remove from her Twitter feed a photo and her praise of Sarsour, and to ask the CUNY school to cancel her appearance as commencement speaker.