CUNY anti-Semite defended by University for assaulting student wearing an IDF tee-shirt

Nerdeen Kiswani, a student of Palestinian descent at the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School, is a nasty piece of work. According to articles in the New English Review and stopantisemitism.org, Kiswani, as President of the anti-Semitic organization Students for Justice in Palestine, has celebrated terrorists who killed Israeli civilians, herself celebrated the death of those civilians, has been expelled several times from New York City Council meetings for disrupting them, and has issued a variety of statements that can only be interpreted as anti-Semitic, repeatedly decrying Zionism and chanting and tweeting statements like this:

“There is only one solution Intifada Revolution !! It is right, to rebel Israel, Go to hell We don’t want no two state We want ‘48.”

That, of course, means that she doesn’t want any Jewish state in the Middle East, but wants to return to 1948, when four Arab countries invaded Israel after the UN declared it a state the previous year. Both articles above document her history of anti-Semitic bigotry, hatred, and so on, and I won’t bother to repeat it, as it makes me ill.

What makes me more ill is this video of Kiswani recently threatening to set on fire an IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) sweatshirt—worn by a black student. You can hear her say, “I hate your shirt. I’m gonna set it on fire. I’m serious!” Fortunately, she didn’t set the guy on fire, but if this isn’t a threat, I don’t know what is.

Technically, this is assault, and it’s illegal.

Now Kiswani has the right to say what she wants at CUNY; it is, after all, a state school, and must abide by the First Amendment. But she should have the right at any school to spew her venom and anti-Semitism. And while you can argue about whether her extolling of terrorists who killed Israelis civilians, or her calling for the abolition of Israel, is simply criticism of a country or true anti-Semitism—I happen to think the latter—you can’t defend her threat to set someone on fire, holding a lit lighter, as “free speech”.

Yet that’s exactly what CUNY Law School Dean Mary Lu Bilek did. After first condemning anti-Semitism based on this incident, Bilek, having received pushback on social media from Israel-haters, retracting her condemnation, and then defended Kiswani’s act as freedom of speech. The Algemeiner reports Bilek’s reversal:

The law school initially condemned the incident, saying, “CUNY School of Law stands against hate and antisemitism.”

After an uproar from backers of Kiswani, however, CUNY Law School Dean Mary Lu Bilek subsequently issued a statement to all students withdrawing and apologizing for the initial denunciation, claiming that Kiswani had simply “exercised her First Amendment right to express her opinion.”

“In responding to this situation, we moved too quickly, which led to several mistakes,” Bilek asserted. “I apologize for taking these actions and for the words we used and for the harm they caused.”

She lamented the first statement’s failure to “communicate the school’s position or to support the student” — i.e. Kiswani.

“In that post, the header said that the Law School ‘stands against hate and antisemitism,’” Bilek continued. “I know the difference between opposition to Israel’s armed forces (or Israel’s policies towards Palestine) and antisemitism, and the student’s post was clearly expressing the former.”

“As a Law School with our values, this mistake is inexcusable,” she added.

She then announced that the university would make sure that it would “have the benefit of the Anti-Bias Response Team from the Race, Privilege, and Diversity Committee to help guide our response and ensure that it is consistent with our obligations, the law, and the Law School’s values.”

“We also will have the hard lesson learned from our mistake in this situation,” Bilek concluded. “We pledge to better foreground our support and restorative justice practices in our responses in the future.”

Look at all that penance and wokespeak, all claiming that Bilek was simply criticizing Israel’s armed forces. And then she says that the anti-bias response team will guide her response! (That’s like having a tiger guard a herd of goats.) The Algemeiner article also reports on the dozens of people who defended Nasreen’s act and claimed that the school had harmed her. That pushback is what made Bilek start flagellating herself.

Now imagine if the shoe was on the other foot, as the New English Review did:

And as a final thought, ask yourself the obvious question: If a non-Muslim male student at CUNY Law School had told a hijabbed girl that “I hate that thing you’re wearing. I’m gonna set it on fire. I’m serious!” while holding out a flaming lighter, what would have happened? All hell would have broken loose. Everybody — Dean Mary Lu Bilek, the Anti-Bias Response Team, the Race, Privilege, and Diversity Committee, the New York chapter of CAIR, would all be on him like a ton of bricks. He’d be expelled in a New York minute.

Indeed. Such is the hatred of the Left for Israel, its right to exist, and for Jews, that we embrace this kind of double standard.  But perhaps the sanest take on this incident came from lawyer David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy. Leaving aside whether Kiswani’s acts were anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-IDF, or something else, he simply declares this (my emphasis):

. . . it’s not Dean Bilek’s job to mediate between those who think that this incident reflects antisemitism and those who think it only reflects opposition to Israel or Israeli policy.

That said, it seems to me that the whole controversy misses the forest for the trees. Regardless of what one thinks of the antisemitism issue, a CUNY Law student threatened to burn someone’s sweatshirt with that person wearing it, while holding a lit lighter. She said she was serious. She posted the video stating that she almost burned the guy’s sweatshirt.

Was she really serious? Maybe not. But in legal parlance, what she did was an assault, generally defined as “intentionally putting another person in reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.” This is a criminal act, and is not protected by the First Amendment. And thus not only is there no reason for Bilek to “support the student,” if the law school is going to make any official comment at all, it should be criticizing the student for using a threat of violence in the guise of expressing her opinion.

Back in 2018, writing about Bilek’s failure to investigate, much less punish, students who disrupted Josh Blackman’s talk at CUNY Law, I wrote a post entitled CUNY Law Needs to Fire its Dean. I can’t say the recent incident has changed my opinion.

I’m a big fan of free speech, but not of violence or the immediate threat of violence shown above. When a University defends the latter, it’s truly lost its way.

27 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Jonathan Dore
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I hope the student wearing the shirt goes to the police and presses charges.

    • Posted October 6, 2020 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      And then sues CUNY for its failure to provide him with safe space due to its failure to discipline the student who threatened to burn him.

    • Posted October 6, 2020 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      I’m thinking the same!

    • jezgrove
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      Yes, definitely the way to go on this one.

  3. lesliefish
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    For threatening a student, she should be fired at the very least.

  4. Matt Young
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Right under the picture you wrote NYU, where I think you meant CUNY. NYU is not a state school.

    I too think the student should press charges.

    • Historian
      Posted October 6, 2020 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Also, CUNY (City University of New York) is per Wikipedia “the public university system of New York City. It is the largest urban university system in the United States, comprising 25 campuses: eleven senior colleges, seven community colleges, one undergraduate honors college, and seven post-graduate institutions.” In other words, students attend a constituent institution under the CUNY umbrella. Finally, CUNY is run by New York City, not New York State.

      • Matt Young
        Posted October 6, 2020 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Nu? I said that NYU is private.

  5. Malgorzata
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    sub.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I know what I would have done with that lighter. It’s odd that guy just stood there while she was putting it next to his shirt?

    • boudiccadylis
      Posted October 6, 2020 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      I agree with the sentiment. I think I would have been a bit more aggressive in response. Something in the line of collecting part of her garment th the intended fire zone or even more having a container of pepperspray near to waive. Should have at least put some thought back into her biased thinking

      • boudiccadylis
        Posted October 6, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        And as far as all the apologists go someone should put a hold of 23-48 hours before they can perform their weeping.

  7. Posted October 6, 2020 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Hmm. Publishing an editorial by a sitting US Senator from Arkansas makes it “unsafe” for Manhattan news staff to return to the their Midtown office, but holding a lit lighter one inch from someone’s chest while threatening to set him on fire passes the “safe speech” test. God help us when the woke regressives complete their speech code takeover.

    • Max Blancke
      Posted October 6, 2020 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      Conservative speech is violence.
      Progressive violence is speech.

  8. Posted October 6, 2020 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    This is not a matter for the University. A crime was committed and it’s a matter for the police. Note that I feel the same way about claims of sexual assault on campus; the universities should have nothing whatsoever to do with adjudicating them. Why do students have a separate criminal justice system?

  9. Jon Gallant
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Surely the Race, Privilege, and Diversity Committee will explain on behalf of Ms. Kiswani that the threat of setting something on fire is not only protected speech, it is Progressive speech, as is actually
    setting certain wicked things on fire. The things inviting combustion, beside pro-Israel sweatshirts, include police precincts, some
    stores, and many statues, even including a statue of an elk in downtown Portland. The live elks of Multnomah County will soon issue
    a self-protective statement of fealty to the Portland protest movement, and an apology for any past systemic racism by Artiodactyls.

  10. Posted October 6, 2020 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I am sure others up there are saying this: Why the hell is this being contained within the broken laws of CUNY? The city or another agency needs to take over and see about possible charges.

  11. Leigh
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Why hasn’t this person been arrested, especially if there are videos of the incident that provide evidence of the threat?

  12. Brujo Feo
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I wrote a short letter to Ms. Bilek, one lawyer to another.

    I was not polite.

  13. Richard Sanderson🤴
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I noticed a few days ago that quite a few far left “anti-racist” types were all expressing “solidarity” with this woman.

    The same people who believe in all manner of “microaggressions”, naturally.

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    There is a certain situational irony, I suppose, in CUNY being associated in any way with anti-Semitism, given that CUNY’s founding institution, the City College of New York, was, back in the day, the higher-learning institution “of choice” for very bright Jewish students. (By “back in the day” here, I mean essentially back in the days preceding the end of World War Two; and those semiotic quotation marks encasing “of choice” are there because, back in the day, even the brightest of the bright Jewish students were largely foreclosed from attending Ivy League schools by dint of the old “quota” system that severely limited the enrollment of Jews and, to a lesser extent, Catholics (thereby earning City College the sobriquet “the Harvard of the proletariat”).

    City College was also the primary breeding ground for the so-called “New York Intellectuals,” a loose affiliation of, primarily, writers and literary critics — most of them Jewish, nearly all of them Leftists, and some of them Trotskyists — centered around the so-called “little magazines” of the era, low-circulation journals publishing quarterly or, at most, monthly, built upon a dual passion for literature and politics, such as Commentary and Dissent, The Public Interest and Partisan Review.

    The “New York Intellectuals” set split apart along it seems (with all the ensuing rivalries and feuds, literary and otherwise, one might expect) in the 1960s, when several prominent members — among them Irving Kristol (and his wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb), Daniel Bell, and Norman Podhoretz (who is still alive and was a bit younger than the others, thus enabling him to escape the old quota system and attend Columbia) — abandoned their Leftism and tergiversated to the Right, forming the initial core constituents of (and providing the intellectual heft for) neoconservatism.

    • Historian
      Posted October 6, 2020 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      Yes, through the mid-1960s, CCNY (as distinguished from CUNY) was known as the proletarian Harvard. After that the description was no longer applicable as admission standards changed.

      For the past years few years there has been an assault on NYC’s elite high schools. They require an admission test to get in. The argument against admission tests is what you would expect: they are discriminatory and racist. Over the past half century the composition of these schools has transitioned from overwhelmingly Jewish (I believe) to overwhelmingly Asian. The Asian community and alumni have so far resisted successfully any change in the admission process. As I recall, it would take state approve to change it. We will have to see if whether this particular attack on the supposed ill effects of meritocracy ultimately succeeds.

  15. rickflick
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    The academic community lacks guts. I don’t think anything like this would have happened back in my day.

  16. Posted October 6, 2020 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    That lawyer got it just right. It boils down to the “right to swing my fist ends where someone else’s nose is”, or however you paraphrase it (I’ve heard a dozen diff versions).
    They’re twisting it into some equal points argument. Uh, no, someone threatened physical violence and in their close proximity, not some ham-fisted trolling on the internet. Big difference, and videoing it? Uh, how the hell can the school not see that?


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