Brooklyn College BDS event appears likely to go forward (as JVP explains it is in no way anti-Semitic)

Israel/Palestine
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Yesterday we reported on a panel discussion of boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel at Brooklyn College a week from tomorrow that is sponsored by the political science department and that is being attacked by Alan Dershowitz and other supporters of Israel. It appears that the panel– featuring Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti– will go forward, and with more attention than it might otherwise have gotten. See the Brooklyn College president’s letter below, upholding the principle of open debate.

Meantime, the New York Daily News is pulling out the stops to force the panel off-campus. Dershowitz has a piece in the pro-Israel newspaper calling for Brooklyn College to dissociate itself from a “propaganda hate orgy,” and the editorial page says that the panel’s views border on anti-Semitism.What a smear. Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace has a great letter below, dismissing these fearful tactics.

Karen Gould, president of Brooklyn College, sent out the following letter to staff on Monday.

Subject: Upholding the principles of academic freedom with respect and civility

Dear students, faculty, and staff,  

Each semester, student clubs, academic departments, and other groups on our campus host events and invite speakers on a broad range of topics. At times, the issues discussed may be challenging and the points of view expressed may be controversial.

Next week, Students for Justice in Palestine is hosting two speakers who will discuss their views on the BDS movement, which calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. The event is co-sponsored by several campus and community organizations, including the political science department.

As an institution of higher education, 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. As your president, I consistently have demonstrated my commitment to these principles so that our college community may consider complex issues and points of view across the political and cultural spectrum.

Unfortunately, some may believe that our steadfast commitment to free speech signals an institutional endorsement of a particular point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brooklyn College does not endorse the views of the speakers visiting our campus next week, just as it has not endorsed those of previous visitors to our campus with opposing views. We do, however, uphold their right to speak, and the rights of our students and faculty to attend, listen, and fully debate. We also encourage our students and faculty to explore these issues from multiple viewpoints and in a variety of forums so that no single perspective serves as the sole source of information or basis for consideration.

In addition, as I have said on several occasions, our college community values mutual respect and civil discourse. We ask all students, faculty, staff, and guests on our campus to conduct themselves accordingly so that Brooklyn College continues to be a learning environment where all may discuss and debate issues of importance to our world.

Sincerely,

Karen L. Gould

President

Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace stood up for the panel:

Dear President Gould,

I am writing on behalf of Jewish Voice for Peace (www.jvp.org) in appreciation of Brooklyn College’s support for free speech and open political debate.  We commend you for supporting your Political Science department’s co-sponsorship of an event on February 7th about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement featuring Omar Barghouti, a leading Palestinian rights activist, and world-renowned Professor Judith Butler.

Recent efforts to shut down this event are a deplorable attack on free speech that has no place on a college campus.  As an organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for equality and human rights for all the people of Palestine and Israel, we are especially troubled by the allegations that this event is anti-Jewish. Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions are non-violent tools with a long history of being used by civil society to make social change. Two recent examples include the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the civil rights movement here in the United States.  

Contrary to reports in the media, the BDS movement has a broad array of support, including from Jewish students and community members.  In no way can it be construed as anti-Semitic. We urge you to look with skepticism on any claims to speak for the Jewish community in New York, which we know to hold a wide array of opinions on this issue.  In fact, our New York chapter is a co-sponsor of this event.

We urge you to continue to stand up to the pressure being exerted against this important event and in defense of free speech on campus.

If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to be in contact with me.

Warm Regards,

Rebecca Vilkomerson

Executive Director

Jewish Voice for Peace

Brooklyn, NY

Update: Donnybrook. The Jewish Week reports that Hillel, the Jewish student organization, is coordinating a petition against the event; Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the CUNY board member, has characterized it as anti-Semitic; and the Jewish Community Relations Council is also pressuring the college:

Students at Brooklyn College are conducting an online petition drive to have an academic department at Brooklyn College withdraw its sponsorship of what many members of the Jewish community consider an anti-Israel forum there next week.

The campaign, which has gathered nearly 600 signatures from students at the school and from members of the wider community, requests that the college administration “rescind its sponsorship” of the forum…

“Both Barghouti and Butler are publicly on record calling for the elimination of the Jewish state,” the petition states. “There is no doubt that the purpose of this event is to promote campaigns to boycott Israel, campaigns which the U.S. Department of State considers to be anti-Semitic, and the Jewish community considers to be an assault on the Jewish people…”

Hindy Poupko, director of Israel and international affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council, called the school’s decision to let the forum carry the sponsorship by the political science department “deeply disappointing.”

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