Latest update: December 30th, 2013
Although at least one obviously Jewish member of the press was denied entry to the event, there were others present, yet their contemporaneous reports of the event did not indicate there were outbursts or disruptions. That is true for reports from the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
An interview printed the day after the event in the Electronic Intifada, a fervently pro-BDS site run by Ali Abunimah, one of the most aggressively anti-Israel media voices today, also confirms there were no audible disruptions.
Alex Kane, an editor at the radical leftist Mondoweiss blog, was at the event and was asked by the interviewer from the Electronic Intifada site to “[s]et the scene for us inside and outside the event, talk about what the speakers said and how they were received by the audience,” to which Kane replied, “the event really went off without any problems.”
After describing the scene outside and the lead-up to the event, Kane finished describing what occurred inside the room at the event this way:
Judith Butler did a fantastic job in refuting the anti-Semitism charge, as did Omar Barghouti. It was great, and the question and answer session was also interesting, there were a few questions that were critical of Barghouti and Butler, but in general the questioners were also friendly to Barghouti and Butler, and Barghouti got a lot of applause when he was speaking.
In general, it was a fantastic event and a real big victory for free speech, for academic freedom, and for the movement for Palestinian freedom.
In an additional report about the BDS event, an online commentator for the New York Times, Stanley Fish, who wrote as if he was present at the event, snarked at those who weighed in against the event. He wrote, “Had they been in attendance, they would have heard Judith Butler give a letter-perfect account of what academic freedom is. She said to the assembled audience, ‘I presume that you came to hear what there is to be said, and so to test your preconceptions against what some people have to say, to see whether your objections can be met and your questions answered.’”
But the students who wished to test that “letter-perfect” account of academic freedom were unable to do so because of the actions of the very people Fish was so vigorously defending. And the fact that his column is headlined, “Academic Freedom Vindicated in Brooklyn” suggests that he also did not observe any disturbances.
A leftist blogger who was present at the event, described Butler’s talk: “The philosopher spoke with measured pauses that made audible, in turn, muffled chants from the wall behind her.” Nothing about any disruption, in fact, quite the opposite. Salon had a supportive article, which ran nearly 24 hours after the event, the subheadline of which was, “The Brooklyn College event went ahead without disruption, and the Berkeley philosopher [Butler] summed up why it matters.”
SO WHY DID BROOKLYN COLLEGE CLAIM THAT EXPELLED STUDENTS WERE DISRUPTIVE? Before the existence of the audiotape was known, Brooklyn College issued a statement condemning the Expelled Four.
The spokesperson for the college, Jeremy Thompson, was quoted in several news accounts, including the New York Daily News and the Algemeiner, claiming that the pro-Israel students were disruptive and disrespectful. His words were used as support for BDS proponents to prove the pro-Israel students were lying.
Thompson had said, “My understanding is that from the first speaker they began to speak out, they were becoming vocal and disruptive to the members around them and one of the student organizers of the event went to them and said ‘you really need to be quiet you’re disrupting other people around you.’ They then did not comply and a couple of police officers asked them to come out into the lobby.” Thompson also was quoted in the Algemeiner as saying that “school officials in attendance, including Morales, confirmed this account.”
The Jewish Press had a long interview with Thompson, to root out the basis for his statements.
Thompson was not at the BDS event, but several BC administrators were, as were several “faculty marshalls,” although he only heard from members of the administration. He was careful to make clear that it was unlikely any of the Brooklyn College officials were present in the room during the entire event, and that it was possible that what was reported to him was based upon reports made by students to the administrators who were on site that evening.
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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