Usual suspects accuse Brooklyn college of State-sponsored Jew hatred

February 6, 2013
Sarah Benton

See also NY bigwigs say no freedom of speech when ideas (BDS) are ‘odious’ to them
This posting has these items:

1) NY Times: Shrinking space for honest talk about Israel;
2) The Nation: Karen Gould’s statement;
3) Politicker: Officials Rally Against ‘Antisemitic, Pro-Terrorist’ Event at Brooklyn College,  report of Dov Hikind’s press conference;
4) Chronicle of Higher Education: The usual suspects, Political science professor at Brooklyn comments on firestorm;
5) Lewis Fidler et al: ‘Odious and wrong‘ Letter of complaint to Karen Gould
6) Alan Dershowitz: Brooklyn College Political Science Department’s Israel Problem;

Helen Freedman, according to Mondoweiss, a Meir Kahane supporter and leader of the right-wing Americans For a Safe Israel. Photo from Brooklyn Daily

Litmus Tests

Editorial, NY Times,
February 04/05, 2013

One dispiriting lesson from Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary is the extent to which the political space for discussing Israel forthrightly is shrinking. Republicans focused on Israel more than anything during his confirmation hearing, but they weren’t seeking to understand his views. All they cared about was bullying him into a rigid position on Israel policy. Enforcing that kind of orthodoxy is not in either America’s or Israel’s interest.

Brooklyn College is facing a similar trial for scheduling an event on Thursday night with two speakers who support an international boycott to force Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories. While this page has criticized Israeli settlements, we do not advocate a boycott. We do, however, strongly defend the decision by the college’s president, Karen Gould, to proceed with the event, despite withering criticism by opponents and threats by at least 10 City Council members to cut financing for the college. Such intimidation chills debate and makes a mockery of the ideals of academic freedom.

Mr. Hagel, a former Republican senator, has repeatedly declared support for Israel and cited 12 years of pro-Israel votes in the Senate. But that didn’t matter to his opponents, who attacked him as insufficiently pro-Israel and refused to accept any deviation on any vote. Mr. Hagel was even forced to defend past expressions of concern for Palestinian victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the Brooklyn College case, critics have used heated language to denigrate the speakers, Omar Barghouti, a leader of a movement called B.D.S., for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, that espouses “nonviolent punitive measures” to pressure Israel, and Judith Butler, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, who is a member of the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that supports divestment and boycotts. Alan Dershowitz, a Brooklyn College graduate and Harvard law professor, has complained that the event is unbalanced and should not be co-sponsored by the college’s political science department. On Monday, Ms. Gould said other events offering alternative views are planned.

The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests. J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that was formed as a counterpoint to conservative groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has argued for vibrant debate and said “criticism of Israeli policy does not threaten the health of the state of Israel.” In fact, it is essential.

Brooklyn College President defends BDS forum

Statement by Karen Gould

The Nation
February 04, 2013

Karen Gould, the President of Brooklyn College, has released a strong statement defending an upcoming panel discussion on the BDS movement that has come under attack from Israel supporters including Alan Dershowitz. The February 7 event will feature Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, both of whom have coincidentally written on BDS for The Nation.

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Each semester, student clubs, academic departments, and other groups on our campus host events and invite speakers on a broad range of topics. At times, the issues discussed may be challenging and the points of view expressed may be controversial.

Next week, Students for Justice in Palestine is hosting two speakers who will discuss their views on the BDS movement, which calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. The event is co-sponsored by several campus and community organizations, including the political science department.

As an institution of higher education, it is incumbent upon us to uphold the tenets of academic freedom and allow our students and faculty to engage in dialogue and debate on topics they may choose, even those with which members of our campus and broader community may vehemently disagree. As your president, I consistently have demonstrated my commitment to these principles so that our college community may consider complex issues and points of view across the political and cultural spectrum.

Unfortunately, some may believe that our steadfast commitment to free speech signals an institutional endorsement of a particular point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brooklyn College does not endorse the views of the speakers visiting our campus next week, just as it has not endorsed those of previous visitors to our campus with opposing views. We do, however, uphold their right to speak, and the rights of our students and faculty to attend, listen, and fully debate. We also encourage our students and faculty to explore these issues from multiple viewpoints and in a variety of forums so that no single perspective serves as the sole source of information or basis for consideration.

In addition, as I have said on several occasions, our college community values mutual respect and civil discourse. We ask all students, faculty, staff, and guests on our campus to conduct themselves accordingly so that Brooklyn College continues to be a learning environment where all may discuss and debate issues of importance to our world.

Sincerely, Karen L. Gould, President

Officials Rally Against ‘Antisemitic, Pro-Terrorist’ Event at Brooklyn College

By Colin Campbell, Politicker
January 31, 2013

The Israel-Palestine conflict once again reached New York’s political scene today as elected officials and other activists gathered to denounce Brooklyn College’s political science department for their controversial decision to sponsor a February forum calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. To say the press conference was heated would be an understatement as it was chocked full of charged rhetoric including multiple references to anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and al-Qaeda.

“Let me tell you, it brings back a lot of memories,” Assemblyman Dov Hikind, the emcee of today’s denunciation, began. “I studied here towards my B.A. and got my Master’s at Brooklyn College, a lot of very fond memories. I stand here very, very disappointed, … students and the organization [are] holding a lecture next week with two viciously, viciously, anti-Israel [speakers]. And when I say ‘viciously,’ I mean they call for the destruction of the state of Israel. They think Hamas and Hezbollah are good organizations. I would assume they feel the same way about al-Qaeda. These are individuals who are extreme radicals.”

Dov Hikind, New York Assemblyman, conservative Democrat, Orthodox Jew, who has called for racial profiling to detect suspicious Muslims and believes a debate on BDS will ‘delegitimise’ Israel.

Mr. Hikind and his fellow elected officials were not calling for the forum itself to be canceled, however. TheDemocratir issue was the school, which is part of the publicly-funded City University of New York system, sponsoring the event. Though college representatives have denied the school’s sponsorship indicates an endorsement of the forum’s views, that argument was not accepted by the various officials at today’s rally.

Councilman David Greenfield, labeling the forum as part of a “hate-filled, antisemitic, pro-terrorist movement,” even brought out his dictionary to counter the college’s defense of the forum.

“This is the United States of America, if you want to be a racist, if you want to be an anti-Semite and even if you want to speak out in favor of terrorism, we respect that you have the right to do that. Of course, you’re wrong, but you have the right to do that and should have the right to do that on a college campus,” Mr. Greenfield explained. “The problem is–and this is what’s oh-so-very-offensive to me–is when the administration turns around and says, ‘Well, we’re not endorsing these views, we’re simply sponsoring the event.’ I mean, it’s a little bit shocking, honestly. … The word ‘sponsorship’ according to the dictionary means ‘one who who vouches or is responsible for another thing.’ So it really is intellectually dishonest.”

Others at the event invoked Nazi Germany and the Klan as they attacked Brooklyn College for its sponsorship of the forum.

“As a child of Holocaust survivors, I will not remain silent,” Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz declared.

“If David Duke were here, I’m sure President Gould would be outside protesting as well. This is not just an academic exercise on the part of the political science trying to teach some political science,” Assemblyman Alan Maisel added. “The destruction of Israel has real consequences. That would mean that the millions of people living in Israel would not have a state. It means that it would be open house on all of the people who live there. We are talking about the potential of a second Holocaust.”

Today’s event also drew a leading mayoral candidate, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, who described the upcoming event at the college as a “forum of hate.”

“We all stand here in support of free speech. We believe in being able to express your opinion. We believe in students being able to express their opinions. We believe in different points of view,” Mr. Thompson announced. “It’s what makes this country so great. You can express your opinion. So let me express an opinion against that. This organization is one that expresses hate, that expresses opposition to Israel. I have the right to stand here, and oppose that organization. … You have the right to express an opinion just like we do. But you do not have have a right, and should not put, the name of Brooklyn College, the name of the political science department, on that forum of hate.”

Speaking on behalf of the school about today’s press conference, Brooklyn College spokesman Jeremy Thompson dismissed the controversy over the forum as simply different groups expressing opposing views.

“As far as the press conference being held, my only comment is, just like we stand behind our students and faculty who have a right to present views and discuss topics they see as important, so do the assemblymen,” Mr. Thompson told Politicker when reached for comment. “They are well within their right to voice their views, just as everyone in our college community is.”

Despite all of the angry rhetoric, Mr. Hikind wrapped up the event by suggesting the officials in attendance could have been much harsher in their condemnation of Brooklyn College.

“You’ve heard the calmest presentation today [from] people who care deeply about Israel. They’re not calling here to cancel the event. That’s not what they’re saying! Boy! How calm and reasonable is that?” the assemblyman exclaimed as he made his final points. “It should not be sponsored by the university itself because that means my dollars are paying for that event and I’m not interested in paying for hate. … They’re giving the seal of approval, they’re making it kosher. It’s not a kosher event.”

Additional reporting by Ross Barkan.

A Melee Grows in Brooklyn

By Paisley Currah, professor of political science at Brooklyn College, The Chronicle of Higher Education
February 5, 2013

Last month the political-science department at Brooklyn College, which I chair, was asked to either cosponsor or endorse a panel discussion on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement organized by a student group, Students for Justice in Palestine. We decided to cosponsor the event, which is to take place on Thursday and to feature the philosopher Judith Butler and the Palestinian-rights activist Omar Barghouti. The BDS movement advocates using nonviolent means to pressure Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories.

Our decision landed us in a firestorm. My department and the college president, Karen Gould, have become the targets of a campaign to force the political-science department to rescind its cosponsorship. The usual suspects—New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, the Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz—piled on, and the rhetoric escalated. “We’re talking about the potential for a second Holocaust here,” one assemblyman told The Daily Beast. I’ve gotten hate mail and a death threat. I’ve been attacked in the media—I’m a “coward,” says Hikind; I’m an expert not on government or politics but on “transgender rights” (apparently that’s an insult), writes a conservative columnist in the New York Post.

There have also been letters defending our decision and—of course—petitions of support. All this, truth be told, is par for the course at Brooklyn College. With a student population that is a fifth Jewish, and a substantial and growing number of Muslim students, discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are especially fraught here.

But late last week, the game changed when President Gould received two letters from elected officials. The first, from Congressman Jerrold Nadler and 18 other self-identified “progressive” legislators (including three other members of Congress and leading mayoral candidates) describes the BDS movement as “wrongheaded and destructive” and calls “for Brooklyn College’s political science department to withdraw their endorsement of this event.” The second, from Lewis Fidler, assistant majority leader of the New York City Council and nine other city councilors, is even more chilling:

A significant portion of the funding of CUNY schools comes directly from the tax dollars of the people of the State of New York. Every year, we legislators are asked for additional funding to support programs and initiatives at these schools and we fight hard to secure those funds. Every one of those dollars given to CUNY, and Brooklyn College, means one less dollar going to some other worthy purpose. We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City—many of who [sic] would feel targeted and demonized by this program—want their tax money to be spent on. 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.

This interference is jaw-dropping. Elected officials are demanding that a department withdraw its cosponsorship of a panel on a college campus because they find the issue under discussion “odious and wrong.” They back that demand with an explicit threat to the funding of the City University of New York, and to Brooklyn College. All in the name of protecting academic freedom!

Much of the controversy revolves around two claims: that it’s inappropriate for an academic department to cosponsor a student-organized panel (and that cosponsorship implies endorsement, even though we explicitly declined to endorse), and that academic freedom requires that opposing viewpoints be represented at the same time.

Let’s start with the first argument. The department has a long history of cosponsoring student-initiated events, regardless of the popularity of the perspectives presented or its perceived political message. Until now no one has found fault with this practice. Given that history, it is troubling that elected officials who have control over the CUNY budget are objecting to this particular event.

By cosponsoring student-initiated events, we’re not endorsing the ideas expressed. We’re not providing money. What we are doing is acknowledging students’ contributions to the intellectual life of the campus and supporting the open and free exchange of ideas.

And there’s no political litmus test. In my 18 years at Brooklyn College, I cannot recollect our department turning down a single cosponsorship request. Since this controversy broke—despite claims to the contrary—no group has contacted the department requesting cosponsorship of a specific event or actual speaker representing alternative or opposing views on BDS.

The hypocrisy extends beyond elected officials picking and choosing which events are appropriate for cosponsorship and which are not. Alan Dershowitz, who has been leading the onslaught, told the columnist Glenn Greenwald that “if and when I come to Brooklyn College to speak against BDS, I do not expect the event to be cosponsored by the political-science department. … I would oppose a pro-Israel event being sponsored by a department.” That’s odd, because when Dershowitz spoke against the BDS movement at the University of Pennsylvania, in February 2012, his talk was officially hosted by the political-science department there.

The other charge is that the event lacks balance. Congressman Nadler and his fellow signatories accuse the department of “excluding alternative positions,” of rejecting “legitimate offers from prominent individuals [Dershowitz, perhaps?] willing to simultaneously present an alternative view.” Dershowitz makes the same accusation: “It is Professor Currah and his department that are denying the students of Brooklyn College the ability to hear the free expression of contrary ideas.”

Again, we didn’t plan this event, and the students did not consult us on the choice of speakers. But who says that academic freedom requires that both views be presented at the same time? Certainly Dershowitz doesn’t. In May 2008, he gave a talk—at Brooklyn College, where he is an alumnus and has spoken many times—in which he argued in favor of torture warrants. He was alone at the podium. He did not demand that an alternative position be represented.

Dershowitz’s hypocrisy aside, it’s important to argue against mandates that both sides (or all sides) of an issue be represented simultaneously. Debates have their place, but thoroughly understanding an argument requires sustained and concentrated attention. Focusing on one idea at a time does not entail the suppression of opposing ideas. It’s a very limited vision of education to imagine that it should take the form of a tennis match, with ideas truncated into easily digestible sound bites.

Under great pressure from politicians, donors, alumni, and some students, President Gould has been steadfast in her defense of our decision to cosponsor the event and of the larger principles at stake. For this immediate crisis, the tide may be turning—perhaps. The New York Times has published an editorial stating that the elected officials’ “intimidation chills debate and makes a mockery of the ideals of academic freedom.” Even the editorial page of the Daily News, which has attacked our sponsorship of the BDS event, called the elected officials’ threat “wrongheaded.”

The damage wrought by this controversy, however, could be long-lasting, and the lesson for other colleges is, I think, instructive. Many people have written letters and signed petitions in support of the principle of academic freedom, and my colleagues and I appreciate those efforts. But what we have learned at Brooklyn College is that supporting the principle of academic freedom is one thing; exercising that freedom by organizing or cosponsoring an event on a highly charged subject, like BDS, is another.

Paisley Currah is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College.

Letter from Lewis Fidler,  David Greenfield, and seven others

Brooklyn College Political Science Department’s Israel Problem

By Alan Dershowitz, Huffington Post
January 30, 2013

The international campaign to delegitimate Israel by subjecting the Jewish state — and the Jewish State alone — to divestment, boycotts and sanctions (BDS) has now come to the most unlikely of places: Brooklyn College. The political science department of that college has voted to co-sponsor a campaign event at which only pro-BDS speakers will advocate a policy that is so extreme that even the Palestinian Authority rejects it.

The poster for the BDS event specifically says that the event is being “endorsed by… the political science department at BC.” The BDS campaign accuses Israel of “Apartheid” and advocates the blacklisting of Jewish Israeli academics, which is probably illegal and certainly immoral. The two speakers at the event deny Israel’s right to exist, compare Israel to the Nazis and praise terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

The president of Brooklyn College claims that this co-sponsorship does not constitute an endorsement by the college and that this is an issue of freedom of speech and academic freedom. But when a department of a university officially co-sponsors and endorses an event advocating BDS against Israel, and refuses to co-sponsor and endorse an event opposing such BDS, that does constitute an official endorsement. Freedom of speech, and academic freedom require equal access to both sides of a controversy, not official sponsorship and endorsement of one side over the other. The heavy thumb of an academic department should not be placed on the scale, if the marketplace of ideas is to remain equally accessible to all sides of a controversy.

I have no problem with a BDS campaign being conducted by radical students at Brooklyn College or anywhere else. Students have a right to promote immoral causes on college campuses. Nor do I have a problem with such an event being sponsored by the usual hard left, anti-Israel and anti-American groups, such as some of those that are co-sponsoring this event. My sole objection is to the official sponsorship and endorsement of BDS by an official department of a public (or for that matter private) college.

I was once a student at Brooklyn College, majoring in political science. Back in the day, departments did not take official positions on controversial political issues. They certainly didn’t sponsor or endorse the kind of hate speech that can be expected at this event, if the history of the speakers is any guide. The president of the university says this is a matter of academic freedom. But who’s academic freedom? Do “departments” — as distinguished from individual faculty members — really have the right of academic freedom? Does the political science department at Brooklyn College represent only its hard left faculty? What about the academic freedom of faculty members who do not support the official position of the department? One Brooklyn College faculty member has correctly observed that:

“[B]oycotting academics is the opposite of free speech. It symbolizes the silencing on people based on their race and religion.”

Does the political science department not also represent the students who major in or take courses in that subject? I know that as a student I would not want to be associated with a department that officially supported divestment, boycott and sanctions against Israel. My academic freedom would be compromised by such an association. Also, I would worry that a department that was so anti-Israel would grade me down or refuse me recommendations if I were perceived to be pro-Israel, or even neutral. I would not feel comfortable expressing my academic freedom in such a department. I’m sure there are many students at Brooklyn College who feel the same. What can they do to express their academic freedom? Should they fight fire with fire by advocating divestment, boycotts and sanctions against the political science department or against Brooklyn College? Would that too be an exercise of academic freedom?

If I were a Brooklyn College student today and an opponent of BDS against Israel, I would not major in political science. I would worry that my chances of getting into a good law school or graduate program, would be put at risk. I would pick a department — or a school — that was less politicized and more academically unbiased.

Academic freedom does not include the power of department or faculty members to prosthelytize captive students whose grades and future depend on faculty evaluations. That’s why academic departments should not take political positions that threaten the academic freedom of dissenting students or faculty.

I can understand the department of political science sponsoring a genuine debate over boycotts, divestment and sanctions in which all sides were equally represented. That might be an educational experience worthy of departmental sponsorship. But the event in question is pure propaganda and one-sided political advocacy. There is nothing academic about it. Would the political science department of Brooklyn College sponsor and endorse an anti-divestment evening? Would they sponsor and endorse me, a graduate of that department, to present my perspective to their students? Would they sponsor a radical, pro-settlement, Israeli extremist to propagandize their students? Who gave the department the authority to decide, as a department, which side to support in this highly contentious debate? What are the implications of such departmental support? Could the political science department now vote to offer courses advocating BDS against Israel and grading students based on their support for the department’s position? Should other departments now be lobbied to support divestments, boycotts and sanctions against China, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, the Palestinian Authority or other perennial violators of human rights?

Based on my knowledge of the Brooklyn College political science department, they would never vote to sponsor and endorse an anti-BDS campaign, or a BDS campaign against left-wing, Islamic, anti-Israel or anti-American countries that are genuine violators of human rights. Universities, and some departments in particular, are quickly becoming more political than academic. This trend threatens the academic freedom of dissenting students and faculty. It also threatens the academic quality of such institutions.

The Brooklyn College political science department should get out of the business of sponsoring one-sided political propaganda and should stop trying to exercise undue influence over the free marketplace of ideas. That is the real violation of academic freedom and freedom of speech.

Shame on the Brooklyn College political science department for falsely invoking academic freedom and freedom of speech to deny equal freedoms to those who disagree with its extremist politics.

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