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September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 5776
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Brooklyn College Poli-Sci Supporting Academic Boycotts of Israel

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."

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Professor Corey Robin

BC Pol. Sci. Asst. Professor Corey Robin

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; klgould@brooklyn.cuny.edu); Provost William Tramontano (718.951.5864; tramontano@brooklyn.cuny.edu); 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.”

Lori Lowenthal Marcus

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com

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