Brooklyn College stands behind BDS event as pressure from elected officials comes down hard

BC
Helen Freedman, a Meir Kahane supporter and leader of the right-wing Americans For a Safe Israel, stands with Assemblyman Dov Hikind yesterday at Hikind’s press conference denouncing Brooklyn College over a BDS event. (Image via New York Observer.)

A large group of New York state and city politicians from across the political spectrum have come down hard on a Brooklyn College event next week on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. One letter to Brooklyn College’s president from City Councilman Lew Fidler calls on the college to cancel the event or withdraw the school’s “official support” from the event. Another letter sent from a group of prominent progressive officials is calling on the Brooklyn College Political Science Department to rescind their sponsorship of the event.

The event, scheduled for February 7, will feature Omar Barghouti, a leading BDS activist, and Judith Butler, a world renowned philosopher from the University of California, Berkeley. The talk has sparked an intense controversy over free speech, academic freedom and the BDS movement. The BDS movement is a non-violent tool aimed at pressuring Israel to comply with international law and end its control over Palestinians.

“This event is by no means a `hate-meeting’,” Brooklyn College’s Students for Justice in Palestine told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “Its aim is to inform people about the human rights violations committed by the apartheid state of Israel against the Palestinians.”

Fidler’s letter, sent to Mondoweiss from the councilman’s office, was delivered to college president Karen Gould on January 29, 2013 and threatens Brooklyn College’s funding, which comes from state and city taxpayers. “We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City–many of who would feel targeted and demonized by this program–want their tax money to be spent on,” wrote Fidler. “We believe in the principle of academic freedom. However, we also believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong.” (Fidler’s letter is embedded below.) Progressive politicians like Letitia James, a City Councilwoman who has her eyes set on the office of Public Advocate, signed the Fidler letter as well.

A separate letter sent from progressive politicians is less threatening, but still calls on the Political Science Department to rescind its sponsorship of the event, which has been the main rallying cry of the opponents of the event. The Political Science Department decided to co-sponsor the event because “on college campuses around the country and across the world, this issue is being discussed. Brooklyn College should be no different,” according to a statement from the department.

The college administration has so far stood their ground. Brooklyn College spokespeople have said that the Political Science Department’s sponsorship of the event does not mean that it is endorsing the event, and that the college administration is “not going to tell members of our faculty what they can and cannot choose to support.”

In an interview, a member of Brooklyn College’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) praised the administration. “The way they’ve been handling it shows the true leadership of [college president] Karen Gould. She’s upholding academic freedom, and on top of that they’re not succumbing to bullies like Alan Dershowitz and Dov Hikind,” said Carlos Guzman, an SJP member, who noted that groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No! were sponsoring the event.

The letter sent from the progressive officials is addressed to Gould as well, and was initiated by liberal Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler. It calls the BDS movement “wrongheaded and destructive” and “an obstacle to our collective hope for a peaceful two-state solution.” It was signed by figures ranging from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, two mayoral candidates, to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

“It is our understanding that at this event, a strategy of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel will be encouraged, and there will be no counter-perspective offered,” the letter reads. “We of course believe that students and academics should have the opportunity to openly express their views – however much we may disagree with them – and that universities have the responsibility to protect this important First Amendment right and the values of academic freedom. We are, however, concerned that an academic department has decided to formally endorse an event that advocates strongly for one side of a highly-charged issue, and has rejected legitimate offers from prominent individuals willing to simultaneously present an alternative view.” The reference to “offers” from “prominent individuals” is a nod to Alan Dershowitz, a Brooklyn College alumnus who has mobilized opposition to the event and has demanded that he be given a platform to speak in opposition to the BDS movement.

Another leading figure behind the push against Brooklyn College is Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat and an ardent right-wing Zionist. Hikind was a follower of Meir Kahane, a virulently violent and racist figure, and the Jewish Defense League. He was also the main player behind the firing of Kristofer Petersen-Overton, a Brooklyn College academic who was canned after Hikind smeared him as being pro-suicide bombings. Petersen-Overton was reinstated after an outcry from supporters of academic freedom and Palestinian rights.

“They [Barghouti and Butler] call for the destruction of the state of Israel. They think Hamas and Hezbollah are good organizations. I would assume they feel the same way about al-Qaeda. These are individuals who are extreme radicals,” said Hikind, in a press conference yesterday. Hikind was joined at the press conference by Bill Thompson, a progressive Democrat and current mayoral candidate who also signed onto Nadler’s letter. Watch parts of Hikind’s remarks here, courtesy of Marissa Brostoff:

Hikind has also said that Brooklyn College President Gould should resign over the event.

Hikind’s rhetoric, though, has not been the most extreme. “We’re talking about the potential for a second Holocaust here,” Assemblyman Alan Maisel of Brooklyn said of the event. Another Democratic Assemblyman, Steven Cymbrowitz, has said: “No department or club in Brooklyn College, which boasts a richly diverse student body, has any business sponsoring events on the college campus that serve no useful purpose but to promulgate anti-Semitism.”

“In my time at [the City University of New York], I have never seen top government officials who have control over a good part of CUNY’s purse strings intervene like this, and seek to control the content and programming of college events,” said Corey Robin, a professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College.

In an interview with Mondoweiss, Councilman Brad Lander, a progressive Brooklyn politician, defended the letter that calls for the Political Science Department to rescind its sponsorship. Lander is a Jewish progressive who signed onto the letter. “Were this event sponsored solely by students, or student groups or by individual professors, I would brook no criticism of it and it wouldn’t in my opinion need any balance, because that’s not what the First Amendment requires,” he said. “But a political science department, a university department, is a part of the institution, an educational institution, and I believe that a public education institution does have a responsibility to provide a balanced viewpoint…This is about how the institution presents a balanced and broad point of view, and make an equal playing field available to them.”

I asked Lander about the fact that Brooklyn College sponsors many events that do not spark calls for “balance.” For instance, Alan Dershowitz himself spoke at a Brooklyn College Political Science Department-sponsored event where he advocated torture, and no other viewpoint was presented. Lander replied: “Fair enough that I have particular concerns about BDS and I can’t tell you that I’ve looked to see whether they sponsor on every issue a balanced point of view. BDS to me represents particular concerns.”

Lander emphasized that “I’m someone who has stood up many times for the rights of Palestinians who are critical of the state of Israel and what it’s done to them.” But he also said that “when criticism and tactics of Israel go beyond legitimate and specific criticism and uniquely call out the Jewish state for sins that unfortunately in my experience are perpetrated by almost all nation-states, that is concerning to me and I call it out and argue with it….It touches a particular nerve.”

For SJP member Guzman, the fact that politicians are coming down so hard on the event speaks volumes.

“It just shows how complicit our government is with the State of Israel and how they do not want the public to know how our tax dollars are used to fund the oppression of Palestinians.”
 

Letter from Lew Fidler by Alex Kane

  1. ● RE: “We believe in the principle of academic freedom. However, we also believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong.” ~ City Councilman Lew Fidler’s letter
    ● AND RE: “We of course believe that students and academics should have the opportunity to openly express their views . . . We are, however, concerned that an academic department has decided to formally endorse an event that advocates strongly for one side . . .” ~ Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s letter

    ● FROM BELOW: “As far as these outside pressure groups (and their campus representatives) are concerned, the intellectual and academic price that the scholarly community pays as a result of this kind of intervention amounts to little more than collateral damage. . .” ~ Goldberg & Makdisi

    ● SEE: “The Trial of Israel’s Campus Critics”, by David Theo Goldberg & Saree Makdisi, Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2009

    [EXCERPT] . . . It is an extraordinary fact that no fewer than thirty-three distinct organizations – including AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Congress, and the Jewish National Fund – are gathered together today as members or affiliates of the Israel on Campus Coalition. The coalition is an overwhelmingly powerful presence on American college campuses for which there is simply no equivalent on the Palestinian or Arab side. Its self-proclaimed mission is not merely to monitor our colleges and universities. That, after all, is the commitment of Campus Watch, which was started by pro-Israel activists in 2002. It is, rather (and in its own words), to generate “a pro-active, pro-Israel agenda on campus.”
    There is, accordingly, disproportionate and unbalanced intervention on campuses across the country by a coalition of well-funded organizations, who have no time for — and even less interest in — the niceties of intellectual exchange and academic process. Insinuation, accusation, and defamation have become the weapons of first resort to respond to argument and criticism directed at Israeli policies. As far as these outside pressure groups (and their campus representatives) are concerned, the intellectual and academic price that the scholarly community pays as a result of this kind of intervention amounts to little more than collateral damage. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to tikkun.org

  2. Extraordinary the lengths that the lobby and its obedient gang of sponsored cheerleaders will go to suppress free speech. You could be forgiven for thinking that they have something to fear from free and frank debate on not just BDS, but more importantly WHY people feel that there is a strong justification for such a tactic. You could also be forgiven for losing sight of the fact that it is a tactic that is being discussed, moreover one with a fairly impeccable and irrefutable goal – equal rights for all people living under the Israeli administration. That, apparently, is ‘anti-semitic’, a charge so threadbare that every time it is wheeled out, it diminishes its own intended goal of silencing people and thus exposes its own bankruptcy as a zionist tactic.

  3. Great report. So disappointing that Lander has “particular concerns” about a nonviolent movement to change the violent behavior of a US client state, but no such particular concerns about torture. Btw, can you imagine if Dov Hikind were a Muslim who had formerly been the devotee of a violent Muslim extremist? The double standard smells like the Gowanus. I’m sick of this crap.

    • eGuard, do you think it’s a coincidence that this conflict is occurring in Brooklyn, where the population is heavily Jewish?
      It’s not a coincidence.
      It means that the Israelis and their US supporters are able to drum up support from local elected officials, who fear for their jobs if they offend the Israel Lobby.

  4. ”– that one, Assemblyman Alan Maisel, said the stakes matched the 20th century’s greatest tragedy: “We’re talking about the potential for a second Holocaust here.”

    Potential for a second holocaust? Wow! That guy needs to be taken to a hospital and sedated.
    I have a feeling the over the top hysterics is because they see the push back against their censorship is growing in the universities.

    • The sad state of psychiatric care in USA, and in NYC in particular should be noted. Soon folks terrified of the coming Holocaust will start pushing the Irish onto subway tracks — or perfectly innocent Jews who happen to look like the Irish who were reported by JP to be anti-Semitic and — horror! — collecting money for Palestinians.

  5. Lander brings nothing new on the table.he is here behaving like a good cop in the good cop bad cop settings. The familiar pattern of,labeling any valid Palestinian exercise in abstract and meaningless term like ” I have particular concern” without elaboration is reminiscent of equally overt maligning term like ” beyond mainstream or beyond pale”. His other argument that every country does it .I guess he has Burma, China,Russia,Iran or Zimbawe has in mind . Those countries don’t depend on US bailout and periodically are sanctioned by UN or USA

  6. Just when you have a sense some progress is being made [5 Broken Cameras, UN nixing settlements]…

    Hopefully Brooklyn College will hang on to its integrity and let the meeting happen.

    • Basilio: You’re behind the times. The Constitution has officially been canceled by Obama. Possibly to imitate our role model, the Light Unto Nations.

  7. Fidler’s letter [...] “We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City–many of who would feel targeted and demonized by this program–want their tax money to be spent on

    But should Arab American taxpayers and Moslem American taxpayers feel targeted and demonized by unconstitutional sham programs wherein the chief of police travels to Israel to learn how to discriminate against, profile and spy on Arabs/Moslems, then it’s perfectly acceptable, right?

    After all, as American taxpayers go, Moslems and Arabs do not count and do not matter. I guess the dollars they use just aren’t green enough even though Moslems are among the wealthiest and most educated in the US.

  8. time for an American Spring against our corrupt government for willfully allowing izraeli-minded zionists to occupy it as well as ‘we the people’. we are exponentially endangered (and hated) at all levels all around the world by the zionist maniacs.

  9. ”– that one, Assemblyman Alan Maisel, said the stakes matched the 20th century’s greatest tragedy: “We’re talking about the potential for a second Holocaust here.”

    Potential for a second holocaust? Wow! That guy needs to be taken to a hospital and sedated.
    I have a feeling the over the top hysterics is because they see the push back against their censorship is growing in the universities.

    Many times, the Holocaust is used to beat down legitimate dissent; however he is not exaggerating here.

    I read enough foreign papers to know that outside the USA media, anti-Israel feeling is revving up enough that it is starting to resemble the 1930s in Europe. Should Israel’s defenses lapse, sadly, no one would intervene if Israel were to be overrun.

    What may be different here is that Israel’s actions are contributing to this; but even if Israel were to address its excesses, I am not sure the other side would stop. When half the world says “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free,” what they are talking about is the destruction of Israel.

    A second holocaust is possible. If Iran were to get 2 or 3 nukes, it could be all over for Israel.

    He is not exaggerating here. The Israel Lobby knows that the USA is the last obstacle to a general worldwide isolation, and eventual destruction of Israel. So they want to control the narrative at every level; pre-emptively preventing a change of opinion.

    If the USA changes course, in the UN, and in defense policy, Israel will be totally isolated and alone.

    What I find interesting is that Israel knows this, and rather trying to calm the situation down, seems to be revving up the activities which cause the anger.

    For ex: Whether or not annexation is right or wrong, now may not be the time to press it. Yet, under worldwide condemnation, Israel is pressing it. That I find interesting.

    My own view is:

    The solutions is:

    Annexation but enfranchisement of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) who are willing to learn Hebrew, while offering money to those young Arabs willing to leave for South America.

    Israel has to start issuing permits fairly.

    It is measured; but not a common view.

    • Who exactly is to blame for the growing anti-Israel sentiment? Is it Israel for murdering unarmed civilians or is it Lubna Munir Hanash or Muhammad al-Salaymeh for not dying quickly enough? One was murdered standing outside of her college. The other was murdered walking home with a birthday cake. Both were executed by the “most moral army in the world.”

      The PA tried to resolve the conflict through diplomacy by going to the UN, The Arab League tried to resolve the conflict through diplomacy by proposing its peace plan to Israel for the 175,945,687th time…a plan which includes full economic and trade relations with nearly 22 countries if only it ends the occupation and gives the Palestinians their own country. What was Netanyahu’s response? Slice the West Bank in half, kill more civilians, instigate a 3rd intifada and piss all over any chance of peace while claiming to be the victim and waving the holocaust card. Good deal, bro. If Israel is a pariah state, it can only blame itself. I don’t have any sympathy.

    • Mike_Konrad says:
      February 2, 2013 at 5:51 pm>>>>>

      Well, if you think the rise in anti semitism could cause a second holocuast—and you admit that Israel’s actions contribute to/cause it—-then if I were you I’d be very busy getting Israel to change it’s ways……and not promoting illegal annextions of Isr settlements on Palestine land.

  10. Correct me if I am wrong but Meir Kahane and the JDL were officially recognized by the U.S. State Dept as a terrorist organization, no? How does a politician such as Mr. Dov Hikind get elected….much less have any sort of tax payer-funded political career when he is a supporter of Kahane and his terrorist minions?

    and how far removed from reality are these so-called politicians that they think that a bunch of college students discussing non-violent ways of holding Israel accountable for breaking international laws could lead to a “second holocaust?”

  11. OK, Alex, I think there’s a misunderstanding about when exactly Dershowitz spoke at Brooklyn College for what. Amy Schiller claims he gave the Konefsky Lecture in 2008, but that’s incorrect. I believe, based on the exchange between Greenwald and Dershowitz, that it was actually about 40 years ago, not in 2008.

    ” I was selected to give the Konefsky lecture by the Konefsky family about 40 years ago. It was an entirely academic lecture. Much of it was devoted to memorializing my great professor, Samuel Konefsky (who would be appalled by the invocation of his name for the support of BDS.) ”

    link to ggsidedocs.blogspot.com.br

    link to www1.cuny.edu

    Dershowitz did speak at Brooklyn College in 2008 as part of CUNY’s lecture series about his book, “Finding Jefferson: The 1st Amendment in the Age of Terrorism.” It’s not clear who sponsored the talk; the subject matter was link between dangerous speech and harmful conduct. He also spoke at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2012, debating Peter Beinart on Israel.

    So, Alex, see if you can find out how those events were sponsored, because I can’t find any references to sponsorship.