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Brooklyn College BDS Event: Just One Example of ‘Hostile Environment’?

The letter lays out a litany of concerns regarding the intimidating atmosphere for students within Brooklyn College's political science department
Brooklyn College

Brooklyn College

Tonight’s anti-Israel event sponsored and endorsed by the Brooklyn College political science department will take place on that school’s campus, but it now appears certain that the atmosphere of intimidation and distrust generated by that academic department did not begin, and will not end, with this event.

The BDS program tonight will be a one-sided session in which two leaders of the economic and political warfare movement known as BDS (Boycott of, Divestment from, and Sanctions against Israel), will promote that effort as a force for good.

Brooklyn College’s chapter of the anti-Israel organization Students for Justice in Palestine is the organization that brought the event to campus, but despite the disingenuous claim by the head of the BC political science department Paisley Currah, his department is not only co-sponsoring the event, it has endorsed it.

The school’s administration has steadfastly supported the event by describing it as the right of the students and the political science department’s exercise of “academic freedom.”  Brooklyn College’s president, Karen Gould, defined that concept in a letter she sent to the school community.  It is unclear how tonight’s one-sided event fits her definition.  She wrote,

As an institution of higher education, it is incumbent upon us to uphold the tenets of academic freedom and allow our students and faculty to engage in dialogue and debate on topics they may choose, even those with which members of our campus and broader community may vehemently disagree. As your president, I consistently have demonstrated my commitment to these principles so that our college community may consider complex issues and points of view across the political and cultural spectrum.

The head of the undergraduate student government rejected the administration’s understanding of the term.  Abraham Esses explained in an open letter to the BC community, that just as “the right to free speech, academic freedom rights are not unbounded; the department has basically yelled “fire” on campus, and locked the doors to their department after doing so. By doing so, it has failed to accomplish one of the main benefits of academic freedom rights, that is, the approach of all ideas and issues with an open mind. Such a failure constitutes a gross abuse of such rights.”

In an entry in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Currah rejects the notion that two sides to a story needs be presented in order to satisfy the rigors of academic freedom.  His view is that “debates have their place, but thoroughly understanding an argument requires sustained and concentrated attention.”  And just to be clear about where he and his department stands, Currah encouraged other academics to fight against full picture presentations, writing that “it’s important to argue against mandates that both sides (or all sides) of an issue be represented simultaneously.”

The anti-Israel event has been a magnet for commentary beyond the school community as well.  One practically needs a score card to keep all the players and their positions straight.

There are three main positions: first, that the event can take place on campus and the political science department’s sponsorship and endorsement is fine; second, that the event is permissible and can take place on campus but there should not be an endorsement of or sponsorship by an academic department; and third, the event should not take place on this publicly funded university at all.

In the first category we find the BDS event co-sponsors, endorsers and the school administration, as well as the broader BDS world.  Add New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to this group, as well as the New York Times, and of course the ubiquitous circus act Max Blumenthal.

The second category’s supporters reject the overt participation of and endorsement by the BC political science department.  In their view that endorsement and sponsorship creates an inappropriate and perhaps hostile environment for BC students who support the existence of Israel.  In this category are the BC student government leadership and thousands of students who signed an on-line petition, Prof. Alan Dershowitz, and the Anti-Defamation League. Also in this group is the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which  issued this strongly worded statement last week:

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York strongly condemns the decision of Brooklyn College’s Political Science Department to lend its name and imprimatur to an event featuring individuals who espouse extremist and hostile views. While we vigorously defend academic freedom, we believe that these freedoms do not extend to faculty and academic bodies exploiting their association with the university to enhance their biased and hateful agenda. At the very least, academic integrity requires a balanced forum representing diverse views. Since that is not the case, we call upon the Political Science Department to remove its name from this one-sided propaganda event.

Pro-Israel student activist Chloé Simone Valdary is also in this category, but she is calling upon the students and the larger community to speak out against tonight’s event in a cri de coeur, here.

The third category believes hosting such an event is inappropriate at a public university which operates using community funds.  In this category we have many of those directly or indirectly responsible for the distribution of those funds, City University of New York trustee Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, and a majority of the New York City Council.

Although it appears certain that the BDS event will take place tonight as scheduled, the controversy over this matter may continue.

The Jewish Press obtained a letter sent by the Center for Law and Justice of the Zionist Organization of America to Brooklyn College President Gould.

That letter lays out a litany of concerns regarding the intimidating atmosphere for students within Brooklyn College’s political science department, as described to ZOA by BC students, including the department’s sponsorship of the BDS program.  The ZOA has recommended a series of steps “to remedy the hostile environment” within the political science department, “in accordance with Brooklyn College’s legal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.”

The spokesperson for Brooklyn College, Jeremy Thompson, told The Jewish Press prior to this article’s publication that a formal response to the ZOA letter had not yet been prepared.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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27 Responses to “Brooklyn College BDS Event: Just One Example of ‘Hostile Environment’?”

  1. I AM CALLING FOR A NATIONAL BOYCOTT BY JEWS OF ANY INTERFAITH HOLOCAUST PROGRAM WHERE HATIKAVAH IS INTENTIONALLY EXLUDED DUE TO MUSLIM PRESSURE OR CLERGY WHO SUPPORT THE PALESTINIAN CAUSE. PLEASE GET THE WORD OUT. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG. I have bowed out of the local interfaith Holocaust service, because it was a custom to include Hatikvah at the end, but now some Christian groups object as they support the Palestinians and the Muslim Imams would either sit or leave during the Hatikvah. Perhaps interfaith Holocaust programs no longer make sense, at least to me. I do not need the stress of seeing disrespect being afforded to Israel and nor do I wish to compromise by leaving Hatikvah out. This is a personal choice and I DO NOT ADVOCATE ANYONE NOT PARTICIPATING IN ANY INTERFAITH HOLOCAUST SERVICE. I INTRODUCED INTERFAITH HOLOCAUST SERVICES IN 1974 AND WAS ONE OF THE FIRST IF NOT THE FIRST TO DO SO. This was a difficult decision for me based on personal principle. The interfaith Holocaust memorials started as well intentioned way for the Jewish people and other groups to pause and reflect on man's capacity to perpetuate unbelievable cruelty against his fellow and to commiserate as a group and oHolocaust survivors and athers, with the Jews and hopefully prevent this nightmare from reoccurring. Over the years it was understandably modified to include other victims of genocidal mass killings, though these mass killings were not really analogous, as the Nazis were obsessed at not just killing Jews as a competing group, but Hitler desired to eliminate our creed and it's pervasive influence on humanity, particularly Christian doxy. As a result of Muslim participation and twisted liberalism, this is morphing into a twisted canard where Israel is being blamed for perpetuating ethnic killings against the Palestinians as the Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis. One can understand the Islamo-Nazis belief system with a quote from the Talmud. We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG, CHILD OF refugee born in a D.P. camp.

  2. Robbie Goldstein says:

    Should any Jewish student get hurt as a result of this, the school and those of its administration who approved, and were involved in allowing it to take place, should be held legally responsible and sued.

  3. Robbie Goldstein says:

    Should any Jewish student get hurt as a result of this, the school and those of its administration who approved, and were involved in allowing it to take place, should be held legally responsible and sued.

  4. Nanette CohenRayman says:

    yes, if a Jew gets hurt because of this, the administraton should be sued.

  5. Nanette CohenRayman says:

    yes, if a Jew gets hurt because of this, the administraton should be sued.

  6. Charlie Hall says:

    "The second category’s supporters reject the overt participation of and endorsement by the BC political science department. In their view that endorsement and sponsorship creates an inappropriate and perhaps hostile environment for BC students who support the existence of Israel."

    Put me in that category. And given the disingenuous propaganda put out by the BDSers, endorsement reflects negatively on the department based on the kind of standards academic is supposed to use to self-rate itself.

    "The third category believes hosting such an event is inappropriate at a public university which operates using community funds. "

    This is simply and plainly incorrect. If a public university allows student groups to use university facilities for events, it can't engage in discrimination on the basis of the ideology of the people sponsoring the event. That is what the First Amendment is about.

    "intimidating atmosphere for students within Brooklyn College’s political science department".

    If the allegations of an intimidating atmosphere are in fact correct, it indicates that there is a serious problem within that department and that outside intervention is needed to set things straight.

  7. This is inexcusable,and inappropriate. Hateful programs against foreign countries,cultures,people at US colleges should not be happening,let alone one against Israel and the Jewish people. When they attack the right of Israel's existence they attack the Torah and the Jewish faith. This is not a protest about borders!

  8. Charlie Hall says:

    In a free country people have the right to be hateful.

    They do NOT have the right to be hateful with government endorsement!

  9. He, Paisley Currah [sic!] is a degenerate antisemitic bigot who has absolutely no place among healthy people let alone students wanting to learn in a school so as not to destroy their mental integrity or worse.. I'm typing these short lines at 2:11 am in Budapest, Hungary, East-Central Europe.

  10. Mayor Bloomberg & the New York Times Got It Wrong on What Constitutes Academic Freedom http://wp.me/p1Jt6N-XF.

  11. Steve Klein says:

    Currah encouraged other academics to fight against full picture presentations, writing that “it’s important to argue against mandates that both sides (or all sides) of an issue be represented simultaneously.”.

    Only when the "right" side is presented – on conservative talk radio for example – does the left demand that both sides of the issues be presented simultaneously.

  12. Martine Eckerling says:

    In 1938

  13. It is not academic freedom when your position is to misrepresent and slander other people. It is malicious gossip and should NEVER be tolerated in any academic institution. IN fact, such hatred has no place in America.

  14. Alan Kardon says:

    Why is nobody setting up a rally for the support of Israel?

  15. It is up to the pro Israel community, of which I am a member, to organize.
    a pro Israel rally on the Brooklyn College campus. That is the proper.
    way to counter this pro terror rally.

  16. It is up to the pro Israel community, of which I am a member, to organize.
    a pro Israel rally on the Brooklyn College campus. That is the proper.
    way to counter this pro terror rally.

  17. I should add to my previous post that the pro Israel rally should not only be pro Israel but also should expose the atrocities and human rights violationsof all the major "Palestinian" groups and how little any of them have in common with democratic values. One of the problems is that while the professional
    Israel bashers use scurrulous and false negative propaganda,
    the pro Israel advocates hardly are negative. Presenting the truth
    about isael is good but insufficent. Negative advertising works.
    And one doesn't have to lie to present the negative truth about
    the terrorists and their fellow travelers.

  18. Which side are the Palestinian students supporting:Democracy or Tyranny? Israel is a democracy, Palestine is ruled by tyranny. This is not about Academic Freedom, this is about supporting terrorist propaganda.

  19. Theoretically muslim students come to America in order to study and familiarize with Democracy. Instead they exhibit hate and learn how to fool democracy with the support of the American leftist.

  20. I am an Alumni of Brooklyn College and consider their sponsorship of this event a total disgrace. Do not come to me any further to solicit contributions.

  21. Charna Carole Ball says:

    I am in SF a BC grad. We have Palestinian GAY"S boycotting a hardware store for selling soda stream. They are also boycotting jewish support for the gay film festival. CAN u imagine GAYS who would be killed in gaza just for being gay… boycotting american companies who do business with Israel. the only country in the middle east where THESE BOYCoTTERS have any right to live?

  22. Charna Carole Ball says:

    I am in SF a BC grad. We have Palestinian GAY"S boycotting a hardware store for selling soda stream. They are also boycotting jewish support for the gay film festival. CAN u imagine GAYS who would be killed in gaza just for being gay… boycotting american companies who do business with Israel. the only country in the middle east where THESE BOYCoTTERS have any right to live?

  23. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG will not attend and boycott if Imam sits during hatikvah.

    Organizers to vote on restoring ‘Hatikva’ to interfaith program.

    More Sharing ServicesShare|Share on facebookShare on twitterShare on emailShare on print.

    Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg says omitting the Israeli anthem from the Holocaust commemoration would be “giving in to the current atmosphere of anti-Semitism.”.
    "+ enlarge image.
    Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg says omitting the Israeli anthem from the Holocaust commemoration would be “giving in to the current atmosphere of anti-Semitism.”.

  24. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG will not attend and boycott if Imam sits during hatikvah.

    Organizers to vote on restoring ‘Hatikva’ to interfaith program.

    More Sharing ServicesShare|Share on facebookShare on twitterShare on emailShare on print.

    Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg says omitting the Israeli anthem from the Holocaust commemoration would be “giving in to the current atmosphere of anti-Semitism.”.
    "+ enlarge image.
    Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg says omitting the Israeli anthem from the Holocaust commemoration would be “giving in to the current atmosphere of anti-Semitism.”.

  25. Stupid is as stupid does.

  26. Rabbi Rosenberg and his 'interfaith' efforts for peace — Winds…
    sheikyermami.com/2013/02/10/rabbi-rosenberg-and-his-interfaith-efforts-for-…

    3 days ago… Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg has had enough of insolent behaviour by… be omitted during the area's interfaith Holocaust commemoration, because,… Rosenberg is now calling for a boycott of the event he helped found, if the…

  27. Rabbi Rosenberg and his 'interfaith' efforts for peace — Winds…
    sheikyermami.com/2013/02/10/rabbi-rosenberg-and-his-interfaith-efforts-for-…

    3 days ago… Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg has had enough of insolent behaviour by… be omitted during the area's interfaith Holocaust commemoration, because,… Rosenberg is now calling for a boycott of the event he helped found, if the…

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