Today the doctoral student council at the City University of New York is considering whether to support academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Earlier this month the writer Eric Alterman warned the doctoral students that they’d be castigated in the public square for such a vote– and suggested they’d be in the company of anti-Semites.
He says the following about 2013 events at Brooklyn College at 6:00 or so on this tape, that Jews were “barred from attending” an event there:
There will be consequences [of such a vote]. In my view, they will all be bad consequences. The first consequence is that it will piss off the administration of the university because they will have to deal with the public fallout and the denunciations from the politicians and interested parties of this happening, as happened in a smaller way– this will be a bigger deal– at Brooklyn College, where I teach, when Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler spoke. I was very proud of our president of Brooklyn College who defended the right of the students to invite speakers who many found offensive… But the incident didn’t go well, in that Jewish students were barred from attending, and the university had to apologize officially for that happening, and Brooklyn College got a lot of negative publicity… But it was definitely a problem that the… college would rather not have dealt with. Which is OK, they don’t get to choose which problems they want to deal with. But the chancellor of this university and the president of the graduate center are going to ask themselves, why is the most important thing in the world to the doctoral students calling for a boycott of Israel that’s a, never going to happen and b, only of theoretical concern to their lives.
Takeaway: Don’t get in bed with anti-Semites.
But Alterman is misrepresenting the facts. The event that he refers to took place at Brooklyn College in February 2013. Four students who were opposed to the speakers were ejected from the event by organizers affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine in a dispute over whether the students intended to distribute flyers during the event. That was a big mistake in my view. But the City University investigated charges that the four were ejected from the event because they were Jewish and concluded this was not the case. Alex Kane reported on the investigation:
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….
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.”
Another charge CUNY investigated was that Jewish students couldn’t get on the list to attend the event, or get into the room that night. Here, too, the investigation found that there was not religious discrimination.
Is there evidence of discrimination on the basis of religion or political viewpoint?… 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 cumbersomeand error-prone, and the repeated changes in the registration procedure led to confusion.Although several Jewish students who registered on line were omitted from the list that wasmanually generated by SJP, so was at least one student with an Islamic name…
So Alterman states baldly that BDS activists are anti-Semitic in a speech to students who are considering pro-Palestinian action. He’s wrong.
P.S. Alterman also urged the students not to vote for boycott because such a vote would not reflect well on him. He’s a distinguished professor of English and journalism at CUNY, and “I have a lot of titles, but that’s the one I’m proudest of, and I would hate to see it sullied by this.” Gosh. Talk about taking yourself too seriously…