Official who threatened Brooklyn College funding calls BDS speakers ‘anti-Semitic fools’

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Councilman Lew Fidler has threatened funding to Brooklyn College over the hosting of a BDS event.(Photo via CSA-NYC.org)

The City Council member who threatened Brooklyn College’s funding over the school’s hosting of an event on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has called those scheduled to speak at the event anti-Semites.

In a conversation on Facebook, Lew Fidler, the Assistant Majority Leader of the New York City Council, called Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler “anti-Semitic fools.”

The comment came after Kaitlyn O’Hagan, a student at the City University of New York, told Fidler she was “very disappointed” that he was “threatening academic freedom.” Fidler responded by saying: “The anti-Semitic fools who want to speak at the Brooklyn College campus are free to do so….What I will not sanction, is the official impritaur of the college on what I consider to be hate speech. Not on my watch. Not with my tax money.”

After O’Hagan disputed Fidler’s claim that Barghouti and Butler were anti-Semites, Fidler shot back and said that “I define speakers who advocate for the annihilation of a nation because it is a Jewish state as hate speakers.” Here’s a screenshot of the whole conversation:

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Fidler offered no evidence to back up his claim that the speakers were anti-Semitic. Both Barghouti and Butler have come out strongly against anti-Semitism and the insinuation that the BDS movement is against Jews.

“The accusation that BDS is anti-Semitic somehow is not just totally, categorically false–it itself is an anti-Semitic statement,” Barghouti told The Guardian in a video recently posted by blogger Andrew Sullivan. “Because it assumes any attack on Israel is an attack against world Jewry, and this equates Jewish communities in the world with Israel, making them all monolithic, as if they all have one mind, one ideology, and that’s a very anti-Semitic and dangerous statement to make…We are completely opposed to all forms of racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism–any form of racism, because we believe that all humans deserve equal rights.”

As for Butler, she wrote on this site why the charge that she is anti-Semitic–and the claim that critics of Israel are anti-Semitic–was “patently false.” Butler also addressed the charge in the London Review of Books.

Fidler’s comments came after he wrote a letter to the Brooklyn College president that threatened Brooklyn College’s funding over the holding of the BDS event this week. The letter, which this site first published in full, also claimed that the event would promote anti-Semitic views, though the Facebook comments were blunter.

“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,” Fidler’s letter reads. “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 has remained steadfast in holding the threat of funding cuts over Brooklyn College’s head. In an interview with the New York Times, Fidler said “that he had supported nearly $25 million worth of capital improvement projects for the college as a council member, but that he would be hard-pressed to do so now.”

The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald denounced Fidler’s letter in a column yesterday. “How can anyone not be seriously alarmed by this? These threats are infinitely more destructive than any single academic event could ever possibly be…Plainly, this entire controversy has only one ‘principle’ and one purpose: to threaten, intimidate and bully professors, school administrators and academic institutions out of any involvement in criticisms of Israel,” wrote Greenwald.

Fidler’s letter was signed by a number officials–including progressives like Letitia James and Gale Brewer. But James has now backed off from that letter, as Brooklyn College professor Corey Robin reports. In a statement, James said that she removed her name from the letter because it “would be inappropriate to even imply that the Council use their power over CUNY’s budget to influence what issues are discussed on campus.”

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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