January 31, 2013
Karen L. Gould
President, Brooklyn College
2900 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11210
Dear President Gould:
The Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism (CODZ) supports and applauds your determination to stand firm against recent attempts by Zionist alumni/ae, students, and media to persuade the Brooklyn College Department of Political Science to withdraw its co-sponsorship from a panel discussion, sponsored primarily by the Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), featuring two world-renowned figures, Professor Judith Butler and Palestinian spokesperson Omar Barghouti, on the topic of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).
CODZ is a group of lawyers, professors, physicians, writers and others who came together in 2007 to counter our society’s pervasive suppression of criticism of Israel, often in a manner that reminds us of McCarthyism.
Heavy-handed efforts to suppress discussion of Palestinian perspectives have proliferated with the increasingly active opposition on US campuses to harsh Israeli practices used to contain the Palestinian population within ever-tightening boundaries that increasing world consensus holds resembles South African apartheid. We understand that there are now about 100 SJP chapters either active or in formation on our campuses. The neoconservative ideologue Alan Dershowitz, who turns his vitriolic counterattack from one campus to another, has now taken aim at Brooklyn College administrators, faculty, and students to have the panel discussion canceled. But his efforts have only strengthened the determination of campus activists to resist such bullying. We are glad to hear that you recognize how hostile such pressure is to the spirit of free inquiry and peaceful discussion of controversial issues of global import, which great colleges and universities seek to nurture and encourage rather than snuff out.
Among numerous false claims being made against the panel discussion is that proponents of BDS are anti-Semitic and immoral. As a scholar of French-Canadian literature as well as the president of a university with an historically open policy of admitting Jewish students and other religious as well as ethno-racial minorities, and of developing curriculum for analyzing issues of significance to these communities, you are demonstrating your understanding that criticism of a particular government, in this instance the state of Israel, is qualitatively distinct from condemnation of a racial or religious group that comprises the majority of that state’s population and also exists in large communities around the world. The tide of public opinion is now turning—from intimidated silence on Israeli policies that bring shame upon a country which calls itself the only democracy in the Middle East, to a growing global chorus of condemnation of Israel’s segregation of Palestinians and bullying efforts to gag critics. The commitment of Palestinian civil society to nonviolent resistance, which its call for global BDS represents, is a commitment in the finest tradition of nonviolent movements for social change, from Gandhi to King and our own civil rights movement, all of which well deserve academic study and discussion.
To deny students and faculty their right to explore these issues on a campus that prides itself on its promotion of critical thinking, ethical action, and diversity would dishonor Brooklyn College’s historical mission and violate fundamental academic freedoms, and needlessly incite unreason and disunity on the Brooklyn College campus and beyond. We therefore publicly applaud your principled stand in favor of discussion, debate, and the modeling of practices for dealing with our differences that every institution of higher education attempts to provide for its students, and we add our voices to those of Brooklyn College students and faculty to urge you to continue to stand by the Department of Political Science’s decision to support the panel discussion at Brooklyn College on February 7.
(*Organizations listed for identification purposes only.)
Terri Ginsberg, Ph.D.
Board member, International Council for Middle East Studies*
former Visiting Assistant Professor, Brooklyn College
Michael Steven Smith, Esq.
Board member, Center for Constitutional Rights
co-host, Law and Disorder radio show
Barbara M. Harvey, Attorney, Detroit
Board member, Association for Union Democracy* and Michigan Coalition for Human Rights*
former Legal Director, ACLU of Michigan
Joel Kovel, M.D.
Carl Schieren, M.I.A.
formerly with the American University in Cairo
Abdeen Jabara, Esq.
Board member, Center for Constitutional Rights*
Jonathan House, M.D.
Faculty, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Department of Psychiatry
former Secretary, American Psychoanalytic Association*
Dennis James, Esq.
Brooklyn Greens / Green Party
Chair, WBAI (99.5 FM) Local Station Board*
 See “We Can’t Say This,” Jewish Daily Forward (13 July 2011) at http://www.forward.com/articles/139822/.