The Brooklyn College campus (Image via Forbes)
The New York Daily News continues to add fuel to the fire over the disturbance involving four student activists affiliated with Zionist organizations who were kicked out of the Brooklyn College event last week on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The Daily News ran three pieces addressing the matter recently (two of them today) — a news story, an Op-Ed today by Ari Ziegler, one of the students who was tossed from the event, and an editorial decrying the fact that the students were tossed out. But their coverage is misleading and does not even make the pretense of trying to get the full story out.
The articles push the narrative that was first published by Tablet magazine: that the students had flyers in their laps and were then picked out by a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member for no reason other than the fact that they were opponents of BDS. The SJP member, according to the student Israel activists, came up to Melanie Goldberg, an intern with the Israel on Campus Coalition, and demanded that they hand over the flyers in their laps. When Goldberg and the others refused, the narrative goes, the SJP member got security to toss them out. When Goldberg and her friends asked security why they were being thrown out, security had no answer. The college vice president allegedly said that the SJP members “were calling the shots” because it’s “their event.” The bottom line, according to this narrative: the students affiliated with Hillel were doing nothing wrong. They had flyers in their laps. They were kicked out for no reason. They were not creating a disturbance. In the Daily News’ world, that narrative is now fact.
But that narrative has been clearly disputed. As I reported last Friday, organizers of the event and witnesses to the disturbance tell a much different story. Here’s what I wrote:
According to Sarah Aly, a student volunteer with Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College who witnessed the mini-controversy, the students were passing out anti-BDS flyers [update: amongst each other] in the middle of the event, while Judith Butler was talking–contra the claim that they had flyers “in their laps.” They were also talking during the event. When a student volunteer asked them to stop passing out the flyers and to quiet down, the Hillel-affiliated activists refused. That’s when a volunteer asked a security guard to remove them. Two other witnesses who preferred not to have their names published also confirmed this story to me. So yes, these students were removed, and you can debate whether that was the right move or not. But it wasn’t about them getting kicked out because they were “pro-Israel” or had flyers “in their laps.”
I have since spoken to SJP member Carlos Guzman, who told me the same story that Aly did. But it’s not only SJP students that dispute the story from Goldberg and Ziegler. It’s also the Brooklyn College administration–as well as another witness who posted her account on Facebook in response to Goldberg’s narrative.
“My understanding is that these students were in the room along with the rest of the audience. From the first speaker they began to speak out, they were becoming vocal and disruptive to the members around them and one of the student organizers of the event went to them and said ‘you really need to be quiet you’re disrupting other people around you,’” Jeremy Thompson, a spokesman for Brooklyn College, told Algemeiner. “They then did not comply and a couple of police officers asked them to come out into the lobby.” Thompson also told the Daily News a similar thing in an otherwise misleading story by reporter Corrine Lestch.
The ICC’s Goldberg posted an account on Facebook of what she says happened to her at the event. It is similar to the Ziegler Op-Ed in the Daily News. But someone in the comments section, named Emma Snyders, disputes Goldberg’s story. Snyders is not a member of SJP at Brooklyn College, according to Guzman. “I am a student at Brooklyn College, have been for about two years now. I don’t mind being the odd person out in this conversation by saying that I was directly in front of you and had to ask you to be quiet numerous times before you were asked to leave. While leaving someone you were with yelled ‘This is a violation of our freedom of speech,’” wrote Snyders. “If you had been quiet and respectful of an incredibly amazing and articulate person, such as Judith Butler, you would have had a chance to not only learn that, but ask questions at the end. There was a lot of tension in the room and your behavior made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.”
So on one side, you have a witness to the disturbance who was not a member of SJP disputing the account of Goldberg; multiple members of SJP who say a similar thing; and the college administration confirming the accounts of SJP students. And on the other side are the four student activists who are claiming they did nothing wrong and were tossed out because they had anti-BDS flyers in their laps.
The Daily News is publicizing one side of the story while omitting claims that complicate the story. I did not clearly see the incident, so I can’t definitively say who is right and who is wrong. But it’s the height of journalistic irresponsibility to publicize one narrative while leaving out another side of the story that complicates things greatly.
The Daily News also reports that the City University of New York is opening an investigation into the matter. Let’s hope an inquiry clears the matter up once and for all.
Update: This story has been modified to make clear that the Daily News editorial was not published today, as originally stated. It was published on Saturday. The other modification was to clarify what the students were doing with the anti-BDS flyers during the event, according to witnesses. They were passing out flyers amongst themselves.