Latest update: April 16th, 2013
SEE UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF ARTICLE
The Brooklyn College political science department is officially and emphatically endorsing an on-campus Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel program at which Brooklyn College students and the public will be forcefully encouraged to endorse and promote BDS against the state of Israel.
The featured speakers at the February 7 event will be Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the global BDS movement who falsely claims that Israel is an Apartheid State with a “separate legal system for non-Jewish citizens,” and Judith Butler, a virulently anti-Israel academic who speaks sympathetically of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
One focus of the BDS movement is the boycott of Israeli academics. It seeks to bar Israeli academics from participation in journals, research, public lectures and teaching. Yet Brooklyn College’s political science department is supporting this event without any qualifications. In fact, other than BC’s Students for Justice in Palestine, the political science department is the only endorsing organization officially affiliated with Brooklyn College.
Ironically, given its promotion of an event that would silence academics, BC’s Poli-Sci department is defending its involvement in the event by invoking “academic freedom.”
There are two problems with this: first, the contradictory juxtaposition of academic freedom and a ban on professors because of their national origin; and second, a point repeatedly mentioned by the student leaders, the fact that the event has nothing to do with the free exchange of ideas. Instead, it is a heavy-handed promotion of only one side of an extremely divisive issue.
According to Jeremy Thompson, the school’s official spokesperson, the Brooklyn College administration supports the political science department’s decision to engage in this event as it supports the right of “every department, faculty member and student group to choose what events they want to be associated with.” However, Thompson said, the school itself is not endorsing the event. Thompson explained that the school’s official position is not to endorse the views of any speaker at a school event. When pressed, Thompson agreed that even if President Obama were speaking at a BC event, the administration would not support or endorse that event.
In contrast, the political science department is not only sponsoring the event, it has publicly and officially endorsed the views of the speakers. Thompson was quoted in the New York Post on Sunday, saying that just because the political science department is sponsoring the event, it does not necessarily mean it is endorsing the event. But the day after that article aired, Thompson told The Jewish Press, all the flyers and notices for the event were changed to reflect those who had been previously listed as “sponsors” to being listed as “endorsers.” Got it.
From the time the story of the Brooklyn College pro-BDS event broke, most of those quoted or publicly speaking out have been trustees or professors or pro-Israel professionals. By and large, the focus of those outside of the student world is that the BDS event should not be held at Brooklyn College at all. Most agree that the BDS movement, and in particular the two speakers, Barghouti and Butler, are not content with merely criticizing Israel, but rather want Israel to disappear as a Jewish State.
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a trustee of the City Univerity of New York system, of which Brooklyn College is a part, penned a scorching opinion piece in the Algemeiner. It’s headline: “Taxpayer Funded BDS at CUNY is Illegitimate, Racist and Anti-Semitic.”
And Carrie Idler — an adjunct professor in the BC speech and communications department, who attended Brooklyn College, as did her husband, three of her four siblings, as well as her children — took exception to the idea that hosting the event at Brooklyn College is appropriate because it embodies ‘freedom of speech.’”
Idler told The Jewish Press, “boycotting academics is the opposite of free speech. It symbolizes the silencing of people based on their race and religion.” What’s more, she added, “it smacks frightfully of the same intolerance that Jewish Academics met in the early to mid-nineteen thirties throughout Europe as the Nazis rose to power. No one spoke up then, and we know how badly that turned out. I, therefore, know that if I do not speak up now I will be complicit.”
Idler sent her concerns in an email to the chair of the political science department, Paisley Currah, in which she noted also that “hate is never the way to bring about change.” Currah has not respond to Idler’s email.
Most of the students with whom The Jewish Press spoke have a very narrowly focused concern. Every one of them was adamant that they were not looking to have the event cancelled. Their issue was that the political science department was a co-sponsor of the BDS event, and, as a secondary matter, that the administration was not open to taking their views into consideration about why that sponsorship was a serious problem.
Here’s what the students who were willing to go on the record think.
David Rosenberg is a Brooklyn College junior. He is the Speaker of the BC Student Government Assembly. Rosenberg speaks forcefully, in rapid-fire full sentences.
Rosenberg explained that he was “not concerned at all when I saw the Students for Justice in Palestine was having this BDS event. It is a core value of this university to encourage the full and free exchange of ideas, even if some do not agree with those ideas.”
However, when he later saw that the political science department was a co-sponsor of the event, he immediately began researching the contours of that concept. Rosenberg explained that “there was no way this event could be covered by ‘academic freedom.’ This event is to promote the end of ‘Israeli Apartheid’ and the ‘illegal occupation of the Palestinians’ – that’s purely political, not academic.”
According to Rosenberg, the event reveals the political science department’s endorsement of “the partisan political agenda of an idea” that is hateful and hurtful to a large segment of the Brooklyn College community.
An email that was sent by an assistant professor in the BC political science department and obtained by The Jewish Press – but not by any student named in this article – reveals the extent to which that department considers the event highly significant.
From Professor Corey Robin: URGENT: Hi everyone. I need you all to stop what you’re doing and make a phone call or write an email to the administration of Brooklyn College. A few weeks ago, my department (political science) voted to co-sponsor a panel discussion, featuring Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, on the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement against Israel. In the last week, we’ve gotten a lot of pressure and pushback from the media, students, alumni, and now Alan Dershowitz (who’s been trying to track down our chair to “talk” to him). So far, the administration has held firm, but the pressure is only building and they are starting to ask us whether we endorse these views or are merely seeking to air them (to which we responded: “Was the Brooklyn College administration endorsing the pro-torture and pro-Israel views of Alan Dershowitz when it decided to award him an honorary degree?”) Anyway, I need you guys now to send an email or make a phone call encouraging the administration to stand by the department and to stand for the principle that a university should be a place for the airing of views, ESPECIALLY views that are heterodox and that challenge the dominant assumptions of society. Please contact: President Karen Gould (718.951.5671; firstname.lastname@example.org); Provost William Tramontano (718.951.5864; email@example.com); and Director of Communications and Public Relations Jeremy Thompson (718.951.5882; JeremyThompson@brooklyn.cuny.edu. Please be polite and respectful, but please be firm on the principle. Right now, they’re only hearing from one side, so it’s imperative they hear from many others.
Abraham Esses, a BC senior and the president of the undergraduate student government, agreed with Rosenberg that the problem was not the event, but the “academic department’s endorsement of one side on a very divisive topic.”
Both Esses and Rosenberg, who are in touch with many students on campus, were particularly disturbed that the administration issued its decision before speaking with student groups who had been expressing concern.
Monday, January 28, was the first day of the second semester. The announcement of the BDS event took place during the long winter break. When everyone returned to school on Monday, according to one of the students, “the first thing they saw was an email from Karen Gould, BC president, unilaterally announcing there would be no reconsideration of the event or of the political science department’s sponsorship.”
In her email, Gould wrote, “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.” Her email made clear she was not open to further discussion.
The school provost and the vice president for academic affairs met on Monday with a small group of students, but only after the decision had already been made that the case was closed, and the college president’s memo to that effect had already been delivered.
Rosenberg asserted that the banner of “academic freedom” was being waved by the school administration to condone the political science department’s “efforts to escalate tension on the campus” on this divisive issue and it was a “cover to push a political agenda.” He said, “the students of Brooklyn College will not stand for it.”
So what is it that the Brooklyn College political science department – emphatically and repeatedly- has endorsed? Omar Barghouti will be encouraging all who come to listen that Israel is an Apartheid State, and that there should be no support for it or interaction with it academically, economically or culturally. In a 2010 interview posted on Youtube, we are afforded a good picture.
Barghouti’s YouTube interview is chock-full of falsehoods. For one thing, he says that in its 2004 advisory opinion about the Separation Barrier that Israel erected to prevent terrorism, the International Court of Justice called on “all states to do whatever is possible to take down that wall”; that “there are two sets of laws in Israel, one governing Jewish citizens and one governing the non-Jews”; and that in Israel non-Jews are “discriminated against in every single domain of life,” including being barred from working in the high tech (wrong) or telecommunications fields (wrong), as well as many others.
It is expected that those are the kinds of misrepresentations and untruths that Barghouti will share with his Brooklyn audience. It is, however, unlikely that he will tell them that he attended and has a graduate degree from Tel Aviv university. Some Apartheid State!
When challenged about his decision to do exactly the opposite of what he tells everyone else to do, Barghouti told an Israeli reporter, “My studies at Tel-Aviv University are a personal matter and I have no interest in commenting.” And for the ultimate irony: Tel Aviv University, citing academic freedom, refused the petitions signed by many calling on it to expel Barghouti for his hateful and hurtful calls to boycott Israel.
Having received a flat-footed refusal from Brooklyn College officials to weigh their views before making its decision, a student group has posted an online petition calling on the political science department to rescind its decision to sponsor the event.
UPDATE: The author of this article received an email from Paisley Currah, Chairperson of the Brooklyn College Political Science Department, the content of which is:
The Brooklyn College political science department has released a statement:
Statement, January 30, 2013
A student group at Brooklyn College has organized a panel discussion regarding the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a non-violent response to the State of Israel’s handling of the Palestinian conflict. On college campuses around the country and across the world, this issue is being discussed. Brooklyn College should be no different. The department of political science has thus decided to co-sponsor this event. We encourage students and members of the community to attend, pose their questions, and air their views.
It’ s also online at
The Jewish Press notes that the “panel” for the “discussion” consists of two members, both of whom seek to convince everyone to engage in the Boycott of, Divestment from, and Sanctioning of Israel. No other viewpoint is being presented or has been endorsed by the Brooklyn College Political Science Department.
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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