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NYC Community Board member calls BDS ‘the face of anti-Semitism’

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(Photo: Bud Korotzer/Desertpeace)

(Photo: Bud Korotzer/Desertpeace)

On March 5th, following its bi-weekly leafleting protest in front of the Google offices in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, ten supporters of New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT) accompanied me to the nearby Fulton Auditorium, where Manhattan Community Board 4’s (CB4) monthly general meeting was being held.

During the meeting’s Public Session, when members of the public are permitted to stand up and address the Board and audience for an allotted two minutes, I approached the front of the room along with three NYACT supporters who held signs critical of Mayor de Blasio’s recent expression of fealty to Israel and AIPAC.  When my turn arrived, I began reading from a prepared speech about Google’s gratis assistance to the Cornell-Technion Partnership, but was peremptorily cut off after only one minute by CB4 Chair Christine Berthet and Public Session Chair Hugh Weinberg.  (Prior and subsequent presenters, on different topics, were allowed to speak for at least two minutes.)

Fortunately, I did manage to convey several crucial points about the Cornell-Technion Partnership, including its New York taxpayer funding; the grant of prime real estate it received from New York City and the ensuing destruction of a public hospital its construction is necessitating; the free classroom space it has been given by Google until 2017; the behind-closed-doors decision-making which enabled the Cornell-Technion Partnership’s very formation while obscuring the Technion’s deep implications in war crimes and other crimes against the Palestinian people and neighboring Arab countries; and the Partnership’s violation of Cornell’s own bylaws and motto. NYACT supporter Carol Yost followed with a short extemporaneous presentation covering some of the points disallowed by my discriminatory cut-off.

CB4 Member Brett Firfer (holding camera in right hand)

Shockingly, following these presentations, which received a modicum of applause from the audience, Community Board 4 Member Brett Firfer, who is visibly Jewish, approached the microphone holding a large camera. “This is the face of anti-Semitism,” he said, referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), with which NYACT is affiliated. He referred to NYACT as “the enemy,” and, in the context of remarking what one does to one’s “enemies,” proceeded to snap a group photograph of all ten of us seated in the second and third rows of the auditorium. As Firfer spoke, one audience member shouted, “Shame! Shame!” and “You’re the antisemite!” but was quickly silenced by Berthet and Weinberg.

While Berthet and Weinberg were wrong to deny me my right to speak for a full two minutes before CB4, Firfer’s explicitly offensive behavior was downright reprehensible, inexcusable, and unbecoming of a New York City government official.  New York City residents who wish to exercise their democratic right to address their local government in a peaceful and orderly manner should neither be intimidated nor subjected to unreasonable invectives, not least at a public gathering at which critical challenges to the status quo are purportedly the norm.  NYACT’s experience at CB4 suggests, however, that ideological and political limits to such challenges–in this case as enforced by a government official hurling racist slurs–are firmly entrenched when directed at Israel and Zionism and in support of Palestinian rights.

NYACT will continue to protest the Cornell-Technion Partnership until it has been dissolved, or until a genuine and lasting peace is reached in Palestine/Israel, when the Partnership may no longer be implicated in illegal acts.

Terri Ginsberg

Terri Ginsberg is a film scholar and Palestine solidarity activist based presently in Cairo. She is author of Visualizing the Palestinian Struggle (2016), co-author of Historical Dictionary of Middle Eastern Cinema (2010), author of Holocaust Film: The Political Aesthetics of Ideology (2007), and co-editor of A Companion to German Cinema (2012). Her co-edited collection on cinema of the Arab world is forthcoming.

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15 Responses

  1. Rosebud on March 6, 2014, 11:48 am

    Thank you, Terri. Who would have thought that CB4’s monthly meeting should so much resemble what Alice experienced after she stepped through the looking-glass? Shameless and disgusting.

    • on March 6, 2014, 3:51 pm

      We need to create a new atmosphere in the country. One in which people who level these dishonest allegations of Jew hatred against others pay for their transgressions, either thru damage to their careers or civil suits filed against them.

  2. pabelmont on March 6, 2014, 12:16 pm

    Enforcing open-meeting laws and regs must be very difficult. How show that yo did not get your 2 minutes? How show the offensiveness of the official who criticized you?

    Still, wish it were possible to try to enforce these rules because the effort to enforce would further serve to show New Yorkers how their public officials have become confused about whom they represent AND about the nature of antisemitism (this NYACT isn’t).

    • Clif Brown on March 7, 2014, 12:18 am

      You would think it standard practice to have a large digital timer on the wall that officials could not control. Two minutes would be clearly two minutes and the timer could be set to shut off the mic.

  3. American on March 6, 2014, 1:25 pm

    Anti Semitism?
    If they were afraid of anti Semitism they wouldnt be doing what they’re doing.
    They use this tactic of taunting the dog to make him vicious while using anti Semitism chains on him.

  4. Chu on March 6, 2014, 2:02 pm

    It’s unfair for Brett Firfer to do this. Contact the firm he works
    at and let them know he aims to intimidate people. If he is a
    representative of a company, he should know how to behave
    on their behalf. Someone else can take his place, if he can’t
    handle the public spotlight.

  5. seafoid on March 6, 2014, 2:15 pm

    BDS is the face of justice.

    Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable.
    And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear

    but it’s getting louder

    Poor Israel is moving at speed away from fine

  6. Daniel Rich on March 6, 2014, 4:09 pm

    Pied Piper Brett Firfer rats out on Palestinians, as his words resonate against the backdrop of massive, white walls. Hating Palestinians is as much antisemitic as your Apartheid Version of the word, Mr. Firfer. Now, go on, show us the way…

  7. anthonybellchambers on March 6, 2014, 6:26 pm

    The BDS Movement is the legitimate face of human and civil rights. It is as valid as was the anti-apartheid movement of 20 years ago that by its commitment and motivation succeeded in ending the hateful regime of the SA National Party.

    BDS is a democratic strategy that seeks to end the anti-democratic actions of the Likud government that continues with its illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories in complete contempt of international law, the United Nations and the will of the EU.

    Screaming “anti-Semitism” no longer has any force. Its former validity having been squandered by overuse as a defence for the killing and imprisonment of civilians by the Israeli security forces.

  8. seafoid on March 7, 2014, 3:02 am

    “The first person to call me a self-hating Jew was my father. It was in the autumn of 1967. Dad was 39, a successful businessman who was also, along with my mother, active in the US civil rights and anti-war movements. I was the oldest of his five children and had already, at age 14, intoxicated by the ideals of justice and equality, begun my career as a footsoldier of the left. It was not only the first time I had been called a self-hating Jew, it was the first time the phrase, the idea, entered my consciousness, and it was a shock.”

  9. Talkback on March 7, 2014, 8:37 am

    Brett Firfer hates Gentiles. He loves them to be occupied, oppressed, disenfrenchized, dispossessed, denationalized and kept expelled. Because he thinks that it is Jewish to commit those crimes against Gentiles he concludes that protesting or boycotting this can only be antisemitism.

    • jayn0t on March 8, 2014, 1:18 am

      I thought of the phrase “anti-gentilism”. I googled it, and found that it does exist, but I’d never heard it in my whole life. I’ve heard the phrase “anti-semitism” thousands of times, despite the fact that it has barely existed during my lifetime.

  10. The JillyBeans on March 7, 2014, 2:17 pm

    In a bit of encouraging news, with a bit of a dare, someone wrote an article on Huffington Post in support of a BDS policy against Israel, if we can manage one against Russia.

  11. UpSIDEdown on March 7, 2014, 5:59 pm

    Wow what an ugly little man with a message unbecoming of any person never mind a official. The good news is however that people are becoming less frightened of the same old tired accusations and are not backing down as quickly as they once have.

  12. traintosiberia on March 8, 2014, 10:13 am

    Facebook maintains a page of an Israeli citizen that gloats over the maiming and the killings of the people who are resisting Israeli policies.

    This is the same Facebook who have blocked much milder criticism of Israel and has blocked equally horrendous posts from users.
    What gives?

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