Sar­sour Speaks

Forward Magazine - - News - By Ai­den Pink Con­tact Ai­den Pink at pink@for­ward.com or on Twit­ter, @aiden­pink

Protests did not stop the Pales­tinian-Amer­i­can ac­tivist ad­dress­ing a CUNY school.

A speech by Pales­tini­anAmer­i­can civil rights ad­vo­cate Linda Sar­sour at the grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony of the City Uni­ver­sity of New York’s Grad­u­ate School of Pub­lic Health & Health Pol­icy was largely un­event­ful, de­spite the con­tro­versy that had sur­rounded Sar­sour’s se­lec­tion as speaker.

“I’m from Brook­lyn, and I came here to tell it like it is,” Sar­sour stated at the be­gin­ning of her June 1 speech, and she pro­ceeded to ex­hort the grad­u­at­ing stu­dents to be “righ­teously outraged” and to act against all forms of in­jus­tice, rather than be by­standers.

Lis­ten­ing to her speech was hon­orary de­gree re­cip­i­ent and New York City first lady Chirlane McCray, whom Sar­sour hugged af­ter speak­ing. McCray’s hus­band, Mayor Bill de Bla­sio, was also in at­ten­dance.

“The only way to do this is to or­ga­nize in­ter­sec­tion­ally and holis­ti­cally,” Sar­sour ar­gued, men­tion­ing racism, poverty, po­lice bru­tal­ity, Is­lam­o­pho­bia, anti-Semitism, ho­mo­pho­bia and other so­cial ills that must be con­fronted. She quoted the writer and ac­tivist Au­dre Lorde: “There is no such thing as a sin­gle-is­sue strug­gle be­cause we do not live sin­gle-is­sue lives.”

Sar­sour was one of the lead­ers of the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton in Jan­uary, and she helped raise tens of thou­sands of dol­lars to re­pair a van­dal­ized Jewish ceme­tery in Mis­souri. She also is a pro­po­nent of the boy­cott, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions move­ment against Is­rael; she once tweeted that “noth­ing is creepier than Zion­ism,” and she ar­gued that Zion­ists could not also be fem­i­nists.

Sar­sour largely stayed away from Mid­dle East geopol­i­tics, but she did men­tion her love of, and grat­i­tude to­ward, Amer­ica, the coun­try that took in her “Pales­tinian im­mi­grant par­ents who lived un­der mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion.” It is be­cause of her love of the United States, Sar­sour said, that she feels com­pelled to speak out against Amer­i­can so­ci­ety’s in­jus­tices. “Wrong is wrong, no mat­ter who does it or says it,” she said, quot­ing Mal­colm X. She added that she be­lieved “that dis­sent is the high­est form of pa­tri­o­tism [and] that si­lence is an en­dorse­ment of the sta­tus quo and makes us com­plicit in the suf­fer­ing of the most marginal­ized among us.”

More than 150 stu­dents grad­u­ated in the cer­e­mony, held at the his­toric Apollo Theater in New York City’s Har­lem. It was the first com­mence­ment cer­e­mony in the his­tory of the school, which was con­sti­tuted in its cur­rent form in 2015.

Some in the Jewish com­mu­nity crit­i­cized the de­ci­sion to have Sar­sour speak at the com­mence­ment; Zion­ist Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­ica Pres­i­dent Mor­ton Klein called Sar­sour “a bigot and di­vider,” and asked New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo to block her in­vi­ta­tion to speak. In re­sponse, more than 100 Jewish lead­ers, in­clud­ing prom­i­nent New York City rab­bis and the heads of the left-wing groups J Street and Bend the Arc, signed an open let­ter de­fend­ing Sar­sour.

Sar­sour was also de­fended at the be­gin­ning of the cer­e­mony, by the school dean Ay­man El- Mo­han­des. “Some dis­sent­ing voices from out­side our com­mu­nity at­tempted to in­ter­fere with our cel­e­bra­tion to­day,” El-Mo­han­des said, “and to those I say, free­dom of speech is only rel­e­vant when you are re­spect­fully lis­ten­ing to ideas that chal­lenge your own. Other­wise, what’s the point?”

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