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Linda Sarsour’s CUNY Speech Splits American Jews

After weeks of debate, Linda Sarsour is finally speaking at CUNY’s commencement. Sarsour, whose profile rose as a co-organizer of the Women’s March held in January, is a Palestinian activist who has made controversial statements about Israel and Zionism in the past. While some view such statements and positions as disqualifying her from speaking at CUNY’s commencement, others have defended Sarsour’s right to speak.

Brad Lander, The Forward:I’m A Zionist And A Feminist. I Stand With Linda Sarsour

“I do not agree with Linda on every issue. We both have strong, and divergent, views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I oppose the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) movement. She supports it. This does not make me an Islamophobe. And it does not make Linda an anti-Semite.”

Lander, a member of the New York City Council who knows Sarsour, pushes back on the explosive claims of anti-Semitism and bigotry thrown against her. Though he disagrees with BDS, he sees this as a simple political difference, not an indictment on Sarsour’s character. He discusses the years Sarsour has spent building coalitions with Jewish organizations and even raising money for the vandalized Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis.

Jeffrey S. Weisenfeld, The Forward: “Linda Sarsour’s CUNY Speech: A Moral Disaster

“Claims of free speech in these matters are nonsense and amount to deliberate obfuscation by elected Democratic officials who have placed their chits with the radical left — to the detriment of Jews.”

Weisenfeld, a former trustee at CUNY, passionately rebuts Lander’s “delusional” defense of Sarsour. Rather, Weisenfeld frames Lander’s advocacy for Sarsour as evidence of liberal Jews’ systematic support for progressive causes “inimical to Jewish survival.” This perversion of Jewish values results in what he calls “Tikkun olam for thee, but not for me.”

Rabbi Barat Ellman and Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, New York Daily News:Linda Sarsour Is A Friend To Jews

“We are rabbis in Brooklyn who have worked with Sarsour for more than a decade and, even if at times we do not entirely agree with her, we stand with her as friends and allies to support her and refute the false claims against her.”

Rabbi Ellman and Rabbi Lippmann take issue with multiple claims made against Sarsour. They discuss her efforts to foster interfaith dialogue as evidence she does not hate Jews, and they frame her positions on Zionism as understandable coming from her perspective. They dismiss any claims that Sarsour supports terrorism as absurd and “reek[ing] of anti-Muslim bias.”

Emily Shire, The Washington Post:I”m A Zionist. I Think CUNY Should Let Linda Sarsour Speak

“Championing Sarsour’s right to freedom of expression may just be the best way to show how misguided BDS-style methodology is, and to open up the conversation about Israel, Palestine and Zionism to a new generation of thinkers.”

Bustle editor Emily Shire first made waves in March with her New York Times’ piece questioning the anti-Zionist position in the Women’s March platform co-written by Sarsour. Although she disagreed with Sarsour then and still does, Shire believes Sarsour should be able to speak — though not based on the merit of her ideas. Shire uses the commencement controversy as an opportunity to attack the merits of BDS, which Sarsour supports. Shire views “honoring Sarsour’s right to freedom of expression” as “an essential lesson to anti-Zionist critics.” Sarsour’s support for BDS, says Shire, endorses an anti-intellectual position that impedes the same real dialogue Sarsour’s defenders are advocating for.

Steven Davidson is an editorial fellow at The Forward.

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