‘Tablet’ gets it wrong: Student Israel activists passed out anti-BDS flyers during Brooklyn College event (updated)

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A screenshot of the inaccurate Tablet magazine article on student Israel activists getting “ousted” from the event.

Tablet magazine published a story today that claims that “four students affiliated with Hillel were ousted” from last night’s Brooklyn College talk on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. But they only quote from the students themselves–and get much of what occurred wrong, according to witnesses I spoke to. The reporter who wrote the story was clearly not at the event, and did not reach out to the student organizers of the event to get their side of the dispute.

Here’s what Tablet reporter Natalie Schachar writes:

“I heard probably about half of what Judith Butler said when I got kicked out,” said Ari Ziegler, a 23-year-old CUNY graduate student studying experimental psychology. “CUNY police escorted us out and when we asked them what we did wrong they said, ‘we don´t have an answer.’ It’s disappointing because they had said that it was a forum for asking tough questions and trying to understand.”

According to Ziegler, the students had anti-BDS material in their laps and were planning on using the material to help inform their questions during the Q&A session following the panel discussion…

“I was escorted out for nothing more than the fact that I was holding a paper that would help me assess my decision on my feelings over BDS,” said Michael Ziegler, a senior at Brooklyn College.

I witnessed the kerfuffle from afar, and was told that they were quiet hecklers, which is what I reported earlier today. And I spoke with students involved with organizing the BDS event and it is clear that the students did not tell Tablet the full story. They spun it, and Tablet went along with them.

Ziegler claims that the Hillel-affiliated students, of which he was one, merely had anti-BDS flyers in their laps–the implication being that security picked them out of the crowd just for being opponents of the BDS movement. But there were people who were clearly against BDS that got to ask questions, so it is clear opponents of the BDS movement were not barred from the event. 

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 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.”

The Tablet reporter goes on to write:

The crowd largely seemed to consist of students in favor of the BDS movement though, and some pro-Israel supporters with some such opposing views were turned away. The Scroll continues to investigate, but the event may be at odds with a non-discrimination policy that states that students will not be excluded from participation in the programs of the college because of national or ethnic origin, or religion.

Melanie Goldberg, an Israel Campus Coalition intern, said she had registered three weeks ago and received two emails confirming that she had a spot reserved, but then arrived and was turned away because her name was not on the list.

“I knew I´d have problems getting in,” Goldberg said.

Norma Chiabott, a 20-year-old undergraduate, had a similar story. “I signed up yesterday and was second on the wait list and still didn´t get in,” she said.

So here Tablet is implying students were turned away because they were Jewish. But that’s false. In fact, I sat in front of two attendees who were wearing kippahs and clearly Jewish. 

Goldberg’s and Chiabott’s stories ring true–but that’s only because many people had problems initially getting into the event. I spoke with Leena Widdi, a student activist helping out at the event, who explained that there were technical and logistical problems with the RSVP list. Many supporters of Palestinian rights were also initially turned away. Widdi said that the RSVP list was done manually, and that “we missed a few names.” The SJP student e-mail account was overwhelmed with messages from people wanting to get in, and it was tough to keep up, Widdi explained. But about halfway into the event, everyone waiting outside was allowed to come in.

The aim of the story was to make the claim that BDS supporters are hypocrites about free speech and academic freedom. But the truth of the matter is that Tablet has published a questionable claim based solely on the testimony of Hillel-affiliated students. If they had spoken to students who had organized the event, a much different story would have emerged.

Update: Algemeiner, a Jewish publication, adds more details to the story. While the tenor of the story is in favor of the Israel advocates’ accounts, a statement from school administration spokesman Jeremy Thompson confirms what SJP activists said:

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.’ They then did not comply and a couple of police officers asked them to come out into the lobby.” Thompson also claimed that school officials in attendance, including Morales, confirmed this account.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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15 Responses

  1. yonah fredman
    February 8, 2013, 4:10 pm

    SJP is a Stalinist like organization in their attitude towards opposing opinions. I was on line and was not allowed in because I expressed opinions.

    • Boston
      February 9, 2013, 10:08 am

      Really? You had one of the few tix for this very popular event and yet were not allowed in?

    • talknic
      February 9, 2013, 10:35 am

      yonah fredman “I was on line and was not allowed in because I expressed opinions.”

      Opinions like “SJP is a Stalinist like organization..”?

    • justicewillprevail
      February 9, 2013, 12:06 pm

      Well, it depends how you expressed your ‘opinions’, doesn’t it?

    • yonah fredman
      February 10, 2013, 4:04 pm

      There was a line for people without tickets. I arrived at 5:20 for a 6:30 event. I was near the front of this line. Towards speech time, or actually after scheduled speech time, they (someone from SJP) kept going through the line again and again in order to find anyone on the line that was actually on the waiting list and was waiting for no reason. After these people had been culled from the line and allowed in, they began letting anyone with a BC id in. I was stopped and not allowed in. I don’t know how Jewish I look, although I look old, male and white and most of the people on this line were young, female and wearing hijabs. I had expressed many opinions of a moderate sort to the man waiting next to me. A friend from the counterdemonstration came by and said hello. When a woman handing out literature said, “We need a revolution!” in a loud voice, I answered her “that worked well in Russia, didn’t it?” And that discussion went on for about 30 seconds.

      They wouldn’t let me in.
      I was stopped by a short man who looked Latino, whose name apparently was Carlos. I hectored the man, “Why aren’t you letting me in?” He refused to answer me. He told me to step aside. When the Brooklyn College security people asked me to step aside, I did so. I continued to ask him, “Why aren’t you letting me in?” He refused to answer me.

      (At one point I grew exasperated, and said, “You’re not letting me in, because I’m Jewish!” An older woman said, “I’m Jewish and they’re going to let me in.” Later I realized it was not my Jewishness per se, but probably the fact that i had expressed opinions.)

      Other volunteers from SJP came up to me and said, “Only people on the waiting list are being let in. Are you on the waiting list?” This was a lie. I was standing next to a person and ahead of people who were not on a waiting list and I was not being let in.

      I think presenting Barghouti and Butler was appropriate for the poli sci. department. I think cosponsoring any event with SJP because of their record of disrupting speeches by others is really ignorant and I hope Brooklyn College poli. sci. does not cosponsor anything with SJP in the future.

      • tree
        February 10, 2013, 11:07 pm

        Are you a current student at Brooklyn College? If not, why did have a BC ID?

      • Cliff
        February 11, 2013, 4:59 am

        Wondering Jew is not a student at BC.

        WJ, if you were yelling in line, they probably thought you’d be a security problem. Even before you weren’t allowed in you had made up your mind. Seems like you came there with the express intent to make a scene.

        If the event is at capacity, then it’s at capacity.

        There were Zionists in the audience and Zionists who were disruptive. So you are hardly an exception anyways.

        Do you think the organizers should have allowed people into the event to the extent that it became a mob of Zionists standing (since no seats would be available) grimacing at every word Butler and Barghouti uttered?

        That’s a security threat. YOU posed a security threat. These people do not know you. I know you wouldn’t hurt anyone or scream or act out, but from their perspective they saw you as just that.

        And you gave them cause to shut you out. This trepidation didn’t arise out of nowhere. Given the weeks of Zionist campaigning to shut down the lecture and all the absurd slander going on (slander you yourself have slung) – it’s understandable that SJP was not letting everyone in past capacity.

        As to the idiotic claim that SJP is exceptional in this regard, you know nothing else of the Zionist counterparts. StandWithUs pepper-sprayed JVP activists at a JVP meeting. I’ve seen European Zionist conferences where protestors were BEATEN out of the room. In America, at New Mexico Univ. or something a talk with Nonie Darwish, Palestinian solidarity activists were assaulted by the Zionists (and no doubt Zionist Jews) in the audience.

        Did you use your terms, ‘Stalinist’ then? No. And you were around here when that happened.

        You reserve your harsh denouncements for Palestinian agency NOT because of possible ‘Stalinist’ tactics but because it is legitimate and effective Palestinian agency.

        If you were concerned for the virtue of free speech and blah blah, then you’d look at the other relevant party in this relationship (Israel/Palestine) and judge SJP relatively.

        There is (once again) NO COMPARISON between Palestinian activism and Zionism on campus.

        Palestinian solidarity activists didn’t beat Jewish people and didn’t disallow anyone because they were Jews.

        I’m actually surprised you yelled that you weren’t allowed in cuz you were Jewish. So pathetic.

        I can tolerate craziness from you ethnic nationalists on-line. But in real life, in person? No patience and you clearly presented yourself as an unhinged Zionist looking to harangue the speakers.

  2. Woody Tanaka
    February 8, 2013, 4:20 pm

    The sound you hear is hoppy’s heart breaking…

  3. tree
    February 8, 2013, 4:33 pm

    Thanks for the excellent reporting Alex.

  4. pabelmont
    February 8, 2013, 4:41 pm

    There were (a few) empty seats in the hall all evening. Cannot think why anyone was turned away. The WAIT to get in was quite long due to the metal-detector and bag inspection. I can well imagine someone not wanting to wait 1 – 1.5 hours in the cold to get in.

  5. piotr
    February 8, 2013, 5:02 pm

    So this is “Jew bashing” that NY Post was writing about?

  6. Cliff
    February 8, 2013, 5:39 pm

    Absolutely disgusting to see Wondering Jew/Yonah Something perpetuating this lie over at the Tablet.

    Then again, unsurprising considering his absurd equivalencies lately since this BDS lecture controversy began.

    And the comment section over there is full of settler types spewing the usual Palestinians-are-Nazis or SJP-is-antisemitic nonsense.

  7. Les
    February 8, 2013, 8:19 pm

    If the Times can get away with such reporting, why not the Tablet?

  8. Citizen
    February 9, 2013, 10:50 am

    For all those commenters here who have surmised that the cumulation of frenzied Zionists crying out like Chicken Little lately is counter-productive–bingo:
    The Brooklyn College BDS debacle highlights the perils of pro-Israeli overkill link to haaretz.com

  9. HPH
    February 9, 2013, 12:04 pm

    Here is a description from 972 Magazine: Despite controversy, Brooklyn College BDS panel is a non-event. As reported by an attendee, there is no mention of the ouster of anyone, but the extensive crowd control precautions are mentioned. The impression given is that crowd control trumped ideology. Also, some potential attendees were turned away because they were late and no one was admitted after the event started.

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