Brooklyn College had its own Peter King hearing last night when right-wing commentator David Horowitz spoke to a feisty crowd of students and faculty.
At first I debated whether or not to even give voice to what David Horowitz said. After all, it is pretty well known that Horowitz is the Glenn Beck of Zionists—a rambler of hate who continually contradicts himself and history.
But given the current political climate and the audience filled with faculty and students who eagerly echoed Horowitz’s calls of anti-Muslim sentiment, I feel it is important to document.
Outside the library where the lecture was held, security guards insisted that ten or so peaceful protesters huddled in the rain stand behind steel gates they had brought out for the occasion. Inside, security guards searched bags before running a handheld metal detector over everyone entering the lecture hall—security measures I have never before experienced in my four years of attending guest speaker events at the college. In his opening comments, Horowitz remarked, “How does it feel to go through a check point? I’ll tell you one thing, I feel safer and that’s what check points are about—making people feel safe when they’re under attack by terrorists and Middle East Jew haters. “ Later, Horowitz added, “check points are there to protect the innocent from the guilty.”
Perhaps it was no coincidence that Horowitz was brought on campus with the help of two faculty members only a month following the controversy over the school administration’s decision to reinstate Political Science adjunct Professor Kristofer Petersen-Overton, who was fired following outside political motivation due in part to his scholarly work on Palestinian national identity. Horowitz was sure to make reference to the apparent “hostile environment” that “liberal professors” create and to which students are subjected. Apparently, “Jewish organizations across the country have been intimidated from presenting their case.”
But it became all the more clear last night that this so-called “hostile environment” is something being created by the very people pointing to its existence.
Just last week the Brooklyn College administration placed restrictions on the ability of the Palestine Club to participate in a series of direct action events organized in conjunction with other student organization across New York City as part of Israeli Apartheid Week. The club proposed to have a 6 ft x 8 ft mock wall out of paper to symbolize the separation wall in the West Bank, but according to the co-founder of the Palestine Club, Eeman Abuasi, the administration claimed—amongst many other things—that the wall would fuel more tension on campus and could be insulting to some students. Instead, the administration said the Palestine Club could only have the event if they agreed to construct a smaller model that could be placed on a table for display, like a diagram at an elementary school science fair.
Given this context, it was all the more disturbing last night when I looked across the crowd and saw tears run down the face of a member of the Palestine Club as Horowitz said to the group of mostly nodding heads, “All through history people have been oppressed but no people has done what the Palestinians have done—no people has shown itself so morally sick as the Palestinians have.”
Horowitz, who admitted he had actually never even been to Israel, proceeded to give everyone a lesson in Middle East politics: according to him, Muslims in the Middle East are “Islamic Nazi’s” who “want to kill Jews, that’s their agenda.” He added later, “all Muslim associations are fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Horowitz appeared to be too delusional to even be quoted, or taken seriously if it weren’t for the audience members who so fervently agreed with what he was saying.
The most revealing moment came when a young Arab-American woman directed a question to Horowitz and the audience: “You talk about Muslims as if you know them—We have a Muslim American Society, we have a Palestine Club [on campus]. I want to raise the question to any of the Jews in this room, and students, have you guys ever been threatened by a Muslim on campus or an Arab?” To this, the crowd almost unanimously spun around in their seats to face the young woman and replied “yes.” Someone shouted, “and we’re scared when we see Muslims on buses and airplanes too.”
Horowitz encouraged anti-Muslim hate by telling the crowd, “no other people have sunk so low as the Palestinians have and yet everybody is afraid to say this,” claiming that Muslims are a “protected species in this country” and that he’s “wait[ing] for the day when the good Muslims step forward.”
The scary thing is that people listen to such hateful rhetoric and nod along. What would they say if someone said the same about Jewish people? Alas—hate speech is indeed the downside of First Amendment rights. Nevertheless, if the Brooklyn College administration justifies its decision to hinder the ability of the Palestine Club to partake in a cross-city peaceful demonstration because it’s offensive, it is a wonder why they would agree to give voice to a person who encourages hysterical fear of Muslims.
Zoe Zenowich is a Senior in the Scholars Program at Brooklyn College, where she is the managing editor of the Excelsior, a student newspaper. Follow her on Twitter @zoezenowich.