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‘Jewish students were barred from attending’ pro-Palestinian event — Alterman misrepresents

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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…

Philip Weiss

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25 Responses

  1. pabelmont on October 24, 2014, 12:42 pm

    Alterman warns the students and his warning has much to be said for it. “Don’t make waves” is the way to keep out of trouble.

    But those who want to put the “progress” into “Progressive” must make waves. There is no other way. The students are determined to speak truth to power, to make waves, and to influence other and still more students. They welcome trouble.

    More power to them!

    PS. If Alterman has pretensions to be progressive, he should rething many things, and not only his advice here.

  2. John Douglas on October 24, 2014, 1:02 pm

    Alterman: “I have a lot of titles, but that’s the one [Distinguished Professor … CUNY] I’m proudest of, and I would hate to see it sullied by this.”

    Sullied? Does he mean by CUNY’s grad students demonstrating an interest in human rights (a distinction) or by CUNY’s grad students infuriating a rabid group of New York Zionists (another distinction)?

    • Rusty Pipes on October 24, 2014, 1:29 pm

      Is “Distinguished Professor” a tenured position or is it a glorified name for a visiting lecturer? I don’t know how much job security Alterman has with any of his titles, but it never hurts to stay on the good side of his employers.

  3. Horizontal on October 24, 2014, 1:07 pm

    If you can’t take risks, stand up for your beliefs regardless of the outcome, and piss off The Man while you’re in college, my guess is you’re unlikely to ever do so, and maybe that’s the takeaway here.

    Status, meet quo. I think these post-grad students deserve better leadership.

  4. Mikesailor on October 24, 2014, 2:52 pm

    I once read an interview of Alterman where he reminisced about his childhood. It seems that after he played with “goyish” children, his father would take him aside and ask him whether or not his friends would stick up for him if Jews came under attack under a 1930’s- like Nazi scenario. Of course the father never asked that of young Eric’s Jewish friends and playmates. I doubt Alterman recognized, then or now, how much he internalized his father’s beliefs. There is only a Manichean divide–Jews good, Goys questionable but probably bad. And fudging of the ‘facts’ as in his labeling of the Brooklyn College problems as examples of “antisemitism” is par for the course. For he has to believe. Otherwise he would have to recognize that what he was “carefully taught” (a nod to Oscar Hammerstein) was wrong and ignorant to boot. And that the questioning of authority is required of the young, otherwise they would merely be aping their teachers’ prejudices without thinking for themselves by applying their ideals to the facts, not myths, at hand.

  5. Karl Dubhe on October 24, 2014, 3:29 pm

    Well, that’s some interesting advice.

    Is he really telling people only to protest the things that the PTB tell them they can protest?

    So, the students of the hippy era shouldn’t have protested Vietnam, or racial discrimination in the USA; they should have protested against the proper enemies of the state? Communism and ummm, yah…

    After reading this article, were I a student there, I’d actually be more inclined to vote in favour of the event.

    That might be just me though…

  6. wondering jew on October 24, 2014, 4:40 pm

    I was at the event and i was refused entrance into the event. the organizers wanted people of like minds, jewish or nonjewish at the event. they didn’t want people of unlike minds at the event. miniature stalinism was the credo of the security guards of the event.

    • on October 24, 2014, 5:51 pm

      Really Yonah? How could they tell you were not a Jew of like mind? In fact, how did the security people or the people taking tickets or whomever know who agreed with them and who did not? Were the tickets all sold in advance? Could you get one at the door?

      • Mooser on October 26, 2014, 12:05 pm

        ” How could they tell you were not a Jew of like mind?”

        Gee, maybe it was because, to put it plainly, at an event which was already a bit tense, Yonah made a disturbance in the line, and seemed ready to contend the outcome of the Russian Revolution. And the exact amount of “Stalinism” present. So they escorted him out.

      • wondering jew on October 26, 2014, 5:14 pm

        I did not get a reservation in advance. the ad on their web site said that all reservations were closed and people would be allowed in on a first come first served basis. In order to get a spot at the head of the line I had to be there early. Some woman handed out literature to those who were standing on line and i got into a discussion with that person. That might have indicated my point of view.

      • Mooser on October 27, 2014, 11:49 am

        “That might have indicated my point of view.”

        By your own admission, you were throwing around accusations of “Stalinism” (or, knowing you, “Stalinismisticness”) and “hectoring” people.

        You couldn’t just get through the line, standing quietly and favoring all and sundry with beatific and benevolent smiles which affirm your pacific intentions, and opening your mouth only to say something nice to somebody? Ever think of maybe trying that? Or would that be to lower yourself?

    • Pippilin on October 24, 2014, 7:11 pm

      Kinda like non-Open Hillel, eh?

    • Donald on October 24, 2014, 7:17 pm

      “i was refused entrance into the event.”

      Why? How would they know what your opinions were? (Your opinions are fairly liberal on this issue by US standards as best I can tell, though to the right of Mondoweissers.) Anyway, if they refused you admission because of your views (not sure how they’d know them) then yes, Alterman would be right. (It would pain me to admit that, since I think Alterman is a pompous jerk, but stopped clocks and so forth…)

      • philweiss on October 24, 2014, 10:40 pm

        If they were ministalinists who denied Yonah entrance because of his views, why does that make Allterman right? Didn’t Alterman say, Jews. Id find that policy objectionable, but it’s not antisemitism as such

      • tree on October 25, 2014, 3:35 pm

        No, Donald, Alterman is NOT right. Yonah’s current description of what happened to him and his description at the time make clear that he was not barred from attending because he was Jewish.

        Here’s is Yonah’s side of the story from February 2013:

        One side of the story, but yonah makes it clear that whatever transpired was not discrimination on the basis of his religion/ethnicity.

    • adele on October 24, 2014, 10:17 pm

      I just googled the event and the information is still online with regard to admittance. According to the event details, anybody who wished to attend needed to
      1) be on the RSVP list or
      2) be on the waiting list or
      3) be either a student or faculty member of Brooklyn College

      Attendance details for the event are below:

      Thursday, February 7, 2013at 6:30pm in EST
      Brooklyn College E 27th St and Campus Road Brooklyn, NY 11210 Student Center Building PENTHOUSE
      We are sending out emails tonight to confirm the people on the Community RSVP list, waiting list, and Brooklyn College student/faculty list for tomorrows BDS event.
      -Community RSVP, if you receive a confirmation email from us tonight, you are on the RSVP list. (You must bring a photo ID with you)
      – Brooklyn College, the ones that came by our table today and signed their name is guaranteed a seat and the ones that did not sign their name will have to stand on the waiting line. The waiting line will be first come first serve basis. (You must bring your BC ID)
      – Waiting list, if you received an email from us tonight about being on the waiting list, it’s also first come first serve basis. Therefore, you will have to stand on the waiting line. (You must bring a photo ID with you)


      Yonah, did you follow the instructions as outlined above in order to attend the event?

      • Mooser on October 28, 2014, 1:04 pm

        Yonah, did you follow the instructions as outlined above in order to attend the event?”

        And surrender to “ministalinism”? Never!

  7. RoHa on October 25, 2014, 6:07 am

    It astonishes me that these people never seem to get tired of whining about anti-Semitism. The rest of us certainly get tired of hearing the whining.

    I strongly suspect that one of the causes of modern anti-Semitism is irritation at the constant whinging about it.

  8. tommy on October 25, 2014, 12:34 pm

    Mr. Alterman prefers the company of ethnonationalists who act out murderous policies.

  9. Talkback on October 26, 2014, 3:05 am

    Some Jews are so obsessed with the fact that they or someone else is Jewish that everything in their or other’s life that doesn’t goes as they wish can only be interpreted as antisemitism by them.

    Alterman is a child.

    • American on October 26, 2014, 2:30 pm

      October 26, 2014, 3:05 am

      Some Jews are so obsessed with the fact that they or someone else is Jewish that everything in their or other’s life that doesn’t goes as they wish can only be interpreted as antisemitism by them.”>>>>>

      lol, that is so true. For some Jews who are total assholes, no matter how many times or people tell them they are acting like assholes—they will say it anti semitic and are ‘only’ called assholes because they Jewish.

      • Mooser on October 27, 2014, 11:52 am

        “For some Jews who are total assholes, no matter how many times or people tell them they are acting like assholes—they will say it anti semitic and are ‘only’ called assholes because they Jewish.”

        That happens to me all the time! Never have figured a way to get around it.

      • Keith on October 27, 2014, 6:55 pm

        MOOSER- “That happens to me all the time!”

        Me too! And I’m not even Jewish!! Go figure.

      • Mooser on October 28, 2014, 1:01 pm

        “Me too! And I’m not even Jewish!! Go figure.”

        Keith, it’s just not fair, is it? Of course, you could convert, but it’s such a long, involved process.

        Wait a minute, I’ve had an inspiration! Next time it happens, try getting upset and yelling “You’re only calling me an asshole because I’m not Jewish!”
        To paraphrase Sir Elton John, ‘I know it’s not much, but it’s the best you can do’. Unless you want to go through that long, involved conversion process, of course.

      • Keith on October 28, 2014, 3:06 pm

        MOOSER- “You’re only calling me an asshole because I’m not Jewish!”

        Moose, you’re a genius! Why didn’t I think of that? Besides, anyone who would use such crude language is clearly anti-semantic!

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