Investigation of Brooklyn College BDS event rejects charges of anti-Semitism

ActivismIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
on 34 Comments
Butler and Barghouti Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti at Brooklyn College in February
(Image via Brooklyn College SJP)

An investigation over a high-profile event at Brooklyn College on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has absolved student organizers of charges that they were anti-Semitic. The inquiry, undertaken by the City University of New York’s (CUNY) General Counsel and an outside law firm, finds that the students behind the February event did not discriminate against four Jewish students they ejected from the event, nor did they discriminate against members of the media. It was released last Friday.

The publication of the CUNY report puts an end to a saga that started weeks before the actual event, as Israel advocates sought to alter or cancel the talk featuring Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler on the BDS movement. What most incensed local politicians and supporters of Israel was that the school’s Political Science Department had co-sponsored the event. One City Councilman threatened the funding of Brooklyn College, though he later backed off.

The report is a detailed examination of the procedures for entering the event, student organizers’ media policy and the removal of four Jewish students during the event–the action that caused the most controversy. While the report criticizes aspects of how the school and student organizers handled admissions to the event and media policy, it puts to rest the controversy over anti-Semitism. The CUNY General Counsel, Frederick Schaffer, and the law firm interviewed over 40 witnesses to determine what happened during the event with Barghouti and Butler.

“It is a relief that CUNY recognizes that we intended for this to be a forum for open dialogue about how to achieve Palestinian human rights,” said Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) Sundus Seif, a student at Brooklyn College, in a statement. “It took us by surprise to handle a forum that went from being a normal student event to getting national media attention with hundreds of people trying to get in, and with unprecedented security, that we were not equipped to handle.”

The scrutiny did not die down after the event. While Butler was speaking, four Jewish students affiliated with Hillel were ejected from the event. Tablet magazine ran a story the day after reporting that the students said they were kicked out merely for holding anti-BDS flyers in their laps. The story also insinuated that the students were kicked out because they were Jewish. This line quickly spread to the New York Daily News, an outlet that also implied it was anti-Semitism that led to the students being kicked out. The student organizers with SJP strongly disputed how the media was telling the story. They told Mondoweiss in interviews that the students were being disruptive by passing out flyers amongst themselves and talking during Butler’s portion of the event.

The report gives voice to all sides of the story relating to the ejection, and criticizes aspects of how student organizers and the school handled the ejection of students. “It is clear that there was no justification for the removal of the four students. They did not create a ‘disturbance’,” the report reads. But the document also says that “the evidence does not permit a confident inference about whether the removal of the four students was for a discriminatory purpose. In our view, there is no support for an inference of discrimination based on religion.” The report also criticizes the Brooklyn College administration for giving the student organizers “primary responsibility for maintaining order unless there was a threat to physical safety.”

The report strongly rejects any claim that students had trouble getting in because of their political views–a claim Tablet published. “The evidence does not support a finding that religious or political discrimination infected the admission process. The mechanisms employed in creating the RSVP list were cumbersome and error-prone, and the repeated changes in the registration procedure led to confusion,” the report reads.

The student organizers’ media policy also came under scrutiny in the aftermath of the event. In particular, a Jewish reporter for the Daily News, Reuven Blau, implied that he may have been blocked from the event because he had a yarmulke on.

The report criticizes how the student organizers handled press policy, saying that it may have been a “mistake” for the college administration to allow students to bar full access for the press. The students organizing the event made that policy due to space considerations and a concern that the evening would turn into a press conference. Journalists who had signed up as any member of the public did were allowed in, though. But it again rejects any claim that journalists were turned away because they were Jewish.

Publication of the report likely puts to rest concern that Brooklyn College could have been targeted by a Title VI civil rights claim, a favored tool of Zionist organizations. In the week after the event, Israel boosters held a press conference where a right-wing CUNY trustee and a lawyer threatened to file a federal civil rights complaint over claims of anti-Semitism related to the ejection of the four students.

“Students are bearing the brunt of a nation-wide campaign to chill Palestinian rights activism. We are seeing this pattern all over the country, where accusations of anti-Semitism and threats of legal action are pressuring universities to unfairly obstruct and denounce the activities of those expressing one side of an important domestic and international issue,” said the Center for Constitutional Right’s Maria LaHood in a statement. “The threats of legal action and the university’s investigation in this case have already had a chilling effect on students and others supporting Palestinian rights. We hope the results of this thorough investigation will allow students to continue their First Amendment activities without undue interference.”

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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34 Responses

  1. piotr
    April 16, 2013, 10:17 am

    Title VI as a tool of Zionist organizations seems to be a spent bullet. So far, the pinnacle of their achievement in this respect are some federal cases that are lingering without resolution, as far as I can recall.

    In this context, I am positively impressed by the rapid conclusions by CUNY General Counsel. Mind you, we are talking about top corporate lawyers of a huge public organizations, those people are usually risk averse and have considerable stature and reputation to lose. But attacks by the press and high ranking politicians raised the stakes. Basically, it started as a smallish event that should attract scant attention in a city of 8 millions — City Council and the mayor really should have no problems finding more important potholes to debate.

    • seafoid
      April 16, 2013, 5:22 pm

      It goes with last week’s loss in the UK. The use of nonexistent antisemitism as a tool to silence dissent is a beaten docket.

      • Citizen
        April 17, 2013, 5:45 am

        Yet didn’t an anti-BDS group mark a win at a Canadian University last week? The local BDS group was officially muzzled, if memory serves.

      • seafoid
        April 17, 2013, 9:27 am

        It is the only card they have left as well. Imagine what it will be like 10 years hence.

  2. pabelmont
    April 16, 2013, 11:04 am

    The idea that the students were ejected because they were Jewish is preposterous, as there were any number of Jewish (indeed, easily seen to be Jewish) people at tthe meeting including one speaker.

    They might have been ejected because they were pro-Zionist. That is not religious discrimination. If they were not making a disturbance (or reasonably anticipated or marginally feared to make a disturbance) then they should not have been ejected. This talk was held in a public (government) building and the government is forbidden by the constitution to interfere with (political) speech.

    From the report: “Nadya Drukker is the Director of the Brooklyn College Hillel. Typically, she does not encourage Jewish students to attend pro-Palestinian event.” I think this is horribly misleading, deliberate mis-speaking by Nadya Drukker. Surely she means “Zionist students” or “my Jewish students”, not “Jewish students.” And we akll know the trouble many Jewish students have been having getting permission to have pro-Palestinian meetings inside Hillel premises. We all know — for sure — and so do Hillel leaders that there are plenty of anti-Zionists and non-Zionists among Jews and among Jewish students.

    • seafoid
      April 16, 2013, 5:23 pm

      And was Rabbi Hillel a thug as well? I don’t think so. I’m sure he’s turning his grave.

      • MHughes976
        April 17, 2013, 6:03 pm

        He’s a character whose historical existence deserves at least as much questioning as that of Jesus of Nazareth.

  3. Justpassingby
    April 16, 2013, 4:54 pm

    Discrimination doesnt seems to be the problem, but paranoia.

  4. NickJOCW
    April 16, 2013, 9:37 pm

    Interesting, this coming so close upon the dismissal of the case brought against the UK University and College Union http://mondoweiss.net/2013/04/landmark-identity-semitism.html It almost appears there is a brick wall these people can come up against.

    I am wondering if those (groups or individuals) wrongly accused of anti-Semitism, and suffering in consequence, may have recourse to compensation in the civil courts. It is clear that a lot of the accusations thrown around are intended to scare people from criticism of what are, after all, flagrant violations of law, UN resolutions and acceptable standards of behaviour. Recourse to law, particularly if harm has been suffered in consequence of false accusations, as it often is, might help stem the tide. Something has to be done because, apart from the negative effect on individuals and groups, such accusations may actually provoke attitudes which tend towards anti-Semitism.

    • seafoid
      April 17, 2013, 4:16 pm

      Tony Judt had an op ed about this in Ha’aretz 7 years ago.

      http://www.haaretz.com/general/the-country-that-wouldn-t-grow-up-1.186721

      “It has become commonplace to compare Israel at best to an occupying colonizer, at worst to the South Africa of race laws and Bantustans. In this capacity Israel elicits scant sympathy even when its own citizens suffer: Dead Israelis – like the occasional assassinated white South African in the apartheid era, or British colonists hacked to death by native insurgents – are typically perceived abroad not as the victims of terrorism but as the collateral damage of their own government’s mistaken policies.

      Such comparisons are lethal to Israel’s moral credibility. They strike at what was once its strongest suit: the claim of being a vulnerable island of democracy and decency in a sea of authoritarianism and cruelty; an oasis of rights and freedoms surrounded by a desert of repression. But democrats don’t fence into Bantustans helpless people whose land they have conquered, and free men don’t ignore international law and steal other men’s homes. The contradictions of Israeli self-presentation – “we are very strong/we are very vulnerable”; “we are in control of our fate/we are the victims”; “we are a normal state/we demand special treatment” – are not new: they have been part of the country’s peculiar identity almost from the outset. And Israel’s insistent emphasis upon its isolation and uniqueness, its claim to be both victim and hero, were once part of its David versus Goliath appeal.”

      and what about this, also from Judt

      http://www.wrmea.org/wrmea-archives/288-washington-report-archives-2006-2010/december-2006/6456-tony-judt-and-israel-the-country-that-wouldnt-grow-up.html

      “Judt went on to posit that one of the reasons for the U.S. media’s “continued silence even after the article aroused stormy debate in the academy, within the Jewish community, among the opinion magazines and Web sites, and in the rest of the world [was] fear. Fear of being thought to legitimize talk of a “Jewish conspiracy”; fear of being thought anti-Israel; and thus, in the end, fear of licensing the expression of anti-Semitism.

      “The damage that is done by America’s fear of anti-Semitism when discussing Israel is threefold,” he argued. “It is bad for Jews: anti-Semitism is real enough (I know something about it, growing up Jewish in the 1950s Britain), but for just that reason it should not be confused with political criticisms of Israel or its American supporters. It is bad for Israel: by guaranteeing it unconditional support, Americans encourage Israel to act heedless of consequences.“But above all, self-censorship is bad for the United States itself. Americans are denying themselves participation in a fast-moving international conversation. Daniel Levy (a former Israeli peace negotiator) wrote in Haaretz that the Mearsheimer-Walt essay should be a wake-up call, a reminder of the damage the Israel lobby is doing to both nations. But I would go further,” Judt wrote. “I think this essay, by two ”˜realist’ political scientists with no interest whatsoever in the Palestinians, is a straw in the wind.

      “Thus it will not be self-evident to future generations of Americans why the imperial might and international reputation of the United States are so closely aligned with one small, controversial Mediterranean client state. It is already not at all self-evident to Europeans, Latin Americans, Africans or Asians. Why, they ask, has America chosen to lose touch with the rest of the international community on this issue? Americans may not like the implications of this question. But it is pressing. It bears directly on our international standing and influence; and it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. We cannot ignore it.””

  5. yonah fredman
    April 16, 2013, 9:48 pm

    Just a quick perusal of the beginning of the report reveals that Carlos Guzman who was in charge of security was not a student at Brooklyn College, indeed not even a current student at Hunter College at the time of the event. Thus the person in charge of kicking out people and allowing access on the day of the event was someone who was not a student. Thus it was not a student who the Brooklyn College security people were listening to when commanded, but some apparatchik of the SJP. Is this any way to run a college event? I think not. Congratulations for a less than mediocre job CUNY. Congratulations for finding in favor of allowing some apparatchik to be in charge of your security people for a media event. Great job, bozos!

    • Cliff
      April 16, 2013, 11:50 pm

      What a narrow-minded reading of the report. You pick on literally one aspect of it and forget all the rest.

      Well, you certainly argue like a racist.

    • Citizen
      April 17, 2013, 5:57 am

      # yonah fredman
      True, Guzman was a former student there, and a current security official in SJP at the time of the event. How unusual is that? Just asking. Anybody know?

      • tree
        April 17, 2013, 6:38 pm

        Guzman was not a “security official” in SJP. As far as I know they have no “security officials”. According to the College report, he was a student at Hunter College since 2010, and the VP of the SJP chapter there in the Fall of 2012. According to the report, he was not an enrolled student in the Spring 2013 semester. However, the spring semester didn’t start until January 28th, 2013, the event was planned since mid January, and the event was scheduled for February 7th, 2013, just 10 days after the start of the Spring term. To harp on the fact that Guzman was not enrolled in the Spring term seems quite petty to me under these circumstances. As does his use of the term “apparatchik” to describe Guzman.

        It appears from the report that the College put the onus of making decisions about how to handle any verbal disturbance at the event on the SJP organizers of the event, because the College was leery of being see as “sponsoring” the event if it provided direct intervention within the room. There was College security outside the room, but they were only to be utilized if there was a physical confrontation. Yonah does have a point about the College’s mishandling of the event security, although it appears to be a result of fear of a backlash against the College for allowing the event. And he totally misunderstands the history of the college’s decisions, most probably because he didn’t read the entire report. He probably stopped after reading that Guzman was not a current student, which gave him his excuse to call Guzman an “apparatchik”, akin to his calling Barghouti a Stalinist.

        One would think that yonah, after reading the report on the difficulties and errors of the registration process, would have been relieved to know that simply having his “Brooklyn College ID” (yonah never mentioned whether he himself was a current student or a former one, did he?) was not sufficient to get himself into the event. According to the requirements set up by the College Administration, the SJP was required to create a list which BC students had to sign up on in order to be assured a seat.

      • yonah fredman
        April 18, 2013, 1:54 am

        tree- I never called Barghouti a stalinist. I called SJP’s attitude towards free speech Stalinist.

        I was/am a student at Brooklyn college spring 2013. There was a line of people who were not on any advanced assured seat list and I was at the front of that line and I was selected out of that line and approximately 15 people behind me on that line were allowed in. I repeatedly asked Mister Guzman, why I was selected out of that line, he refused to answer. When I thought that Mister Guzman was a brooklyn college student I thought his behavior was Stalinist, (by which I meant someone who winnows out dissenters before an event), now that i realize that he was not a student, his behavior is a tad worse than what I thought before. Stalinist plus. The fact that brooklyn college allowed a nonstudent to be in charge made brooklyn college’s behavior bozo like. SJP’s behavior towards the four students who were found to be nondisruptive, but were only potentially disruptive and their behavior appointing a non Brooklyn College student, a non CUNY college student, to be in charge of winnowing out potential disrupters without any evidence, certainly places them in the category of people who pick and choose when it comes to free speech. There are groups other than Stalinists who have selective attitudes towards free speech. But for me “Stalinist” captured the essence of the attitude of SJP on the night of February 7th 2013 at Brooklyn College.

  6. RJL
    April 16, 2013, 10:26 pm

    If they weren’t creating a disturbance, then WHY were they removed? Can’t prove religious discrimination for sure, but the report can’t say it couldn’t have been a reason. And give me a break with all this “zionist” Jew baloney. When a hasidic Jew in London, not a zionist, gets beaten up by someone of Middle East descent and the Jew tries to explain, “But I’m not a zionist” to unsuccessfully stave off the attacker, we all know, pabelmont or fablemont, the attack is on the Jew, period. What propels too many of these so-called liberal Jews to separate themselves from “those zionist Jews” is the naive hope they will be spared the hatred directed towards the Jew. To those mislead Jews I say, (no) good luck. We’re all in this together. Zionism=racism=evil is pure anti-semitism.

    • Cliff
      April 16, 2013, 11:51 pm

      You haven’t even read the report. LOL

      You just post your usual one-paragraph mess and flee.

    • mcohen
      April 17, 2013, 4:56 am

      RJL says:
      April 16, 2013 at 10:26 pm

      “is the naive hope they will be spared the hatred directed towards the Jew.”

      in south africa when the zulu,s would march in protest with shields and clubs the sound they made was scary.your white skin became a liability whether you were pro anc or not.

      watch the whole video -it changes to english

    • Shingo
      April 17, 2013, 5:51 am

      If they weren’t creating a disturbance, then WHY were they removed?

      Where did you read that? That’s right, you didn’t read it at all.

      Can someone ban this troll? He’s like Witty. Not remotely interested in debate. Won’t back up any arguments with facts or references. He’s just polluting the forum.

    • Citizen
      April 17, 2013, 6:19 am

      @ yonah fredman
      True, Guzman was a former student there, and a current security official in SJP at the time of the event. How unusual is that? Just asking. Anybody know?

    • Citizen
      April 17, 2013, 6:27 am

      @ RJL
      If you read the report, you will see that there’s conflicting testimony on the issue of whether or not there was a disturbance, and/or the degree of the disturbance. Those involved were taken out not only because of impression of disturbance, but also because they had a stack of fliers–they said they were holding them in their laps to hand out outside, after the event. Passing out fliers inside the room was not allowed.
      Security asked for the fliers, saying he would give them back after the event so they could pass them out outside. Those kicked out refused to give the fliers to him.

    • eGuard
      April 17, 2013, 7:53 am

      RJL: … gets beaten up by someone of Middle East descent

      That would be a Jew, then?

  7. Djinn
    April 17, 2013, 12:24 am

    So you support racial segregation in Israel but think its reasonable to slur all those opposed to a political theory as definitely bigoted. I led a very misspent youth but not once did I find a drug as powerful as the one you’re apparently on RJL

  8. Fritz
    April 17, 2013, 5:05 am

    @RJL will lead “mislead Jews” back to the tribe! Good luck in convincing the philosopher and queer-activist Judtih Butler that only one great narrative of “the” (=all) Jews exists: the zionistic one.

    • yrn
      April 17, 2013, 12:13 pm

      Roger Waters On Israel Boycott: ‘I Am Considering My Position’ (VIDEO)
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/roger-waters-on-israel-bo_n_3093070.html

      • Fritz
        April 17, 2013, 5:53 pm

        @yrn Thanks for the link. It is not quite clear to me in which direction Waters want to reconsider his position. We will see it in the next weeks. But to argue about zionistic or diasporic Jewishness with Judith Butler is a totally different level of discourse.

      • yrn
        April 18, 2013, 4:51 am

        Fritz

        Well today he supports the BDS Boycott, so if he is considering his position…….
        there is only one option……. not to support Boycott on Israel.
        As today he supports it, even though he mentioned that he NEVER published the letter to Boycott Israel.
        Guess he will stop been popular in this blog

  9. eGuard
    April 17, 2013, 10:05 am

    From the report: E. The intervention by Hillel

    Nadya Drukker is the Director of the Brooklyn College Hillel. Typically, she does not encourage Jewish students to attend pro-Palestinian events. However, she does like to have a few poised and articulate Jewish students attend so that these students can prepare and ask challenging questions and also so that they can report to her what was said at the event. These students are instructed not to be disruptive and to hand out flyers only after the event. She asked [Melanie] Goldberg to fill this role at the BDS event. […] Drukker told Goldberg that Morales [Vice President for Student Affairs] said she would add a few students of Drukker’s choosing to the list so they could attend the event.

    Three notes:
    1. So actually Hillel’s Drukker does send Jewish students to these meetings, and her “not encouraging” is factually contradicted.
    2. Drukker had names put on the RSVP through Morales’ intervention. Why was she given preference for “her” choosen names?
    3. Melanie Goldberg was send by Hillel and the flyering was prepared by Hillel. Goldberg must feel great doing the shoppings for Drukker. After all, she is “majoring in journalism”.

    Oh, and arriving twenty minutes late at a meeting you are send to to ask ”challenging” questions: how serious can you be.

    Actually, by their own admission, they were handing out flyers (“fact sheets”), although only between them four. That is not allowed. The expulsion is correct.

  10. NickJOCW
    April 17, 2013, 3:07 pm

    Aside from Zionist interpolations this site used to entertain a higher level of rationality. Emotions are like wild horses and need to be controlled by the reins of reason. Hasbara relies exclusively on the irrational, mythopeic, religious, emotional, and if one responds to it at any of those levels the ‘Hasbarists’ have already won.

  11. Moshe613
    April 17, 2013, 11:41 pm

    @JRL,

    Your 100% correct there was just report on cnn about a major exodus of Jews from France because of crimes committed on the Jews of France, let’s not forget last years murder of Jewish Orthodox teacher and 3 Jewish children in Toluse,France.

    • Citizen
      April 18, 2013, 4:15 am

      @ Moshe613

      Source for “major exodus of Jews from France”?

      I just posted and linked to an article on this blog, different thread, yesterday–it revealed that all of France rose up to support its Jewish community as fellow French Citizens following the 4 murders in Toluse last year.

  12. Moshe613
    April 18, 2013, 10:35 am

    @Citizen:

    http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/world/2013/04/16/pkg-bittermann-france-jewish-exodus.cnn.html

    ‘revealed that all of France rose up to support its Jewish community’
    How nice of it that the leaders came out in support for several hours at some official rally ceremony.

    But, Can a Jew today walk in Paris, Toulouse,Lyon or Marseille wearing his Yarmulka and Tizit openly? you know very well the answer is NO.

  13. RJL
    April 18, 2013, 10:51 am

    All of France rose up in defense of the Jews? Don’t think so. You know Jews from France? I’ve met plenty in Israel, and the one time we visited France years ago, and I tell you that’s not how they see most ordinary Frenchmen, let alone the young Muslims. If most of French people defended Jews, the minority who attacks them wouldn’t be doing so; the fact that it gets repeated and doesn’t even make the foreign press is because the French DO tolerate it. That’s why French Jews leave.
    Back to Brooklyn College. Did read the report, and the conclusions are inconclusive. Reality-thugs got away with bouncing the Hillel kids, one of whom my cousin knows personally, and CUNY tries hard to defend itself from potential lawsuits. But, they goofed with whom they left in charge of admitting and bouncing.

    • Fritz
      April 19, 2013, 6:04 am

      I can’t accept the one sided view on France and also on the events called the Toulouse shootings. The murderer killed three and wounded seriously one French paratrooper of North African background. Then he killed two children, one father and another person of a Jewish school. It is not fair to isolate the killing named last from the deeds of the murderer before. Both should be taken into account. It is clear that there is an anti-semitic background, but also an anti-Western background, and in this case and in respect to the psycho of the murderer it was for him also a question which killings will find a more impressing Media covering.

      The Jews in France are mostly very positive to the French laicistic tradition and live in the first European land which gave equal rights to all people and also to Jews during the French revolution. The French Jews are far from hyppy to be used for pro-Israel and anti-Muslim propaganda. There is a debate about the polls done by the Israel project and their use of it in the media. The French Jewish community (CRIF) protested against the American Jews who did the poll

      “American Jews simply do not understand the French community. (…) U.S. Jews have a complex because they didn’t help the Jews of Europe during the Second World War.”

      So spokeswoman of CRIF Edith Lenczner. It is obvious which aims are behind the poll itself and the propaganda of the Israel project. Pro-Israeli American Jews try to dominate the French discourse about Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants and non-believers in France. We should, and especially people truly troubled by the situation of the Jewish community in France, should listen to French Jews in France when judging about this country and its Jewish community with a great tradition.

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