New McCarthyism: Brooklyn College fires teacher who dared to speak out for Palestinian self-determination

Israel/Palestine
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What follows is a press release from CUNY grad student Kristofer Petersen-Overton following his firing by Brooklyn College, where he was to serve as an adjunct prof, over an academic paper in which he analyzes the role of sacrifice and martyrdom in Palestinian society. The story is in the Daily News today. And in the NY Post, “Anti-Israel” Professor Canned. WPIX also has the story, pretty fair, though they blur the face of Petersen-Overton’s student denouncer. Note that City Councilman Dov Hikind says that efforts to “understand” suicide bombers must not be undertaken at American institutions. Also in that report, Petersen-Overton, who worked for the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, says that he is a vocal supporter of the Palestinian right to self-determination and that the reports on his paper are “slander.”

Kristofer Petersen-Overton, a political science doctoral student at the CUNY Graduate Center, has been fired from his position as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College one week before his course on Middle East politics was slated to begin.

The case was taken up by the Brooklyn College administration after a student enrolled in his course raised concerns that Mr. Petersen-Overton’s alleged pro-Palestinian bias would prevent him from conducting a balanced seminar. The student expressed these concerns with the political science department but agreed not to pursue further action until after the course actually began. However, this student contacted state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who then characterized Mr. Petersen-Overton as “pro-suicide bomber” in a letter to the college President.

In a response sent to Hamodia newspaper on Wednesday, Mr. Petersen-Overton expressed concerns “that a state official would denounce my work so strongly without, apparently, having offered it more than a cursory reading. [Hikind’s] press release … is slander pure and simple.” Mr. Petersen-Overton emphasized that his work has little to do with suicide bombers and that Mr. Hikind deliberately twisted his conclusions to make it appear otherwise.

“I was not contacted by Brooklyn College administration at any time during their decision-making process. This politically motivated action undermines CUNY’s longstanding legacy as a stalwart defender of academic freedom,” Mr. Petersen-Overton said.

The allegations against Mr. Petersen-Overton center on time he spent in the Gaza Strip working for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and on an unpublished scholarly paper [“Inventing the Martyr”] that analyzes the symbolic place of martyrdom in Palestinian nationalism. Petersen-Overton’s detractors also took issue with the fact that, according to his personal website, he still maintains “close contact” with the Palestinian activist community.

Mr. Petersen-Overton’s academic work deals broadly with issues of identity formation in Israel and Palestine.

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