Students protest Brooklyn College BDS forum support


Students and politicians are mobilizing to denounce Brooklyn College’s president and political science department for supporting and sponsoring an anti-Israel presentation on campus on February 7th.

The forum “BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) Movement Against Israel” will feature two speakers, Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (and who is currently studying in Tel Aviv University), and Judith Butler, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Both are BDS supporters and outspoken anti-Israel, anti-Zionists.

Notes American Friends for a Safe Israel, “sponsorship of such an anti-Israel event by a Department of the College is something that would not occur with any other country. Only Israel is subjected to such hatred, disguised as “academic freedom.”

In the latest development, Political Science Department head Paisley Currah “backed out” of a scheduled meeting called by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz with New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind called for February 6th at 9 am in Markowitz’s office. Yehudah Meth, Hikind’s spokesperson, said that Currah said that he “wasn’t feeling up to it. He backed out.” Currah did not respond to or return phone calls.

“We never said not to have this loathsome event,” said Meth, “just that the department should not be co-sponsoring, endorsing and putting their name on it. The school wouldn’t endorse other events of this nature targeting different groups. They are comfortable with this. (Brooklyn College President) Karen Gould can pretend that it’s a freedom of speech issue. It’s not about freedom of speech.” As of now, he said, they have no plans to attend the meeting.

Hikind noted that, “the boycott campaign against Israel today and the philosophical war demonizing Jews and denying the rights of Jews to self-determination and equality, is the modern incarnation of anti-Semitism. Same stink, different excuse. This lecture, which is funded by tax dollars, gives a platform to the BDS movement, whose goal is to delegitimize Israel’s existence. Like its philosophical brothers in Hamas, BDS aims to eliminate the State of Israel from the map.”

Tanger Hillel at Brooklyn College issued a statement: “All students on campus have the right to explore and peacefully discuss their points of view. However, Jewish students are upset that a Brooklyn College academic department, specifically the Political Science department, is co-sponsoring an event they feel is antagonistic not only to their beliefs, but also to the facts. They expect that Academic departments should be a facilitator of dialogue, rather than a promoter of one side of the conversation. Our Board is concerned that Academic Freedoms are being abused at the expense of Academic Responsibility. So, too, this event threatens to besmirch our Political Science Department and even Brooklyn College. By providing an imprimatur to something so extreme and lacking in academic rigor, it dilutes their credibility and the College’s standing.”

Hillel estimates that there are 3,500 Jewish students on campus. Yelena Azriyel, the program director at Hillel there, noted that they are working on educating the student body and their goal is to “maintain a civil environment on campus the day of the event.”

Hikind is calling for Gould’s resignation. He said that he is for freedom of speech, “we’re not arguing that, we are fighting Brooklyn College” because they are “giving the seal of approval for this event. The latest flier from this group says that the political science department supports the event.” Gould, stressed Hikind, said that the department “took a vote” but she didn’t know who voted. “It’s outrageous!” he stated. He also pointed out that Currah did not return his calls. “A real chutzpah,” he said. “Is he afraid to talk to an elected official?”

“Many of the groups sponsoring the event are not campus clubs, rather, they are a collection of anarchist and extreme-left groups,” emphasized Azriyel. “In fact, we are proud to have working relationships with every campus group other than the Palestinians. Moving forward, we hope to work with the Administration to ensure that the Political Science Department demonstrates that even though individual professors have a decided bias, the department is able to host events that reflect all sides of an issue.”

In a letter to Tanger Hillel, Gould said that she does not endorse or support the BDS movement against Israel and stated that CUNY has ties and exchanges with Israel and Israeli universities. She called for civil discourse, respect for diverse opinions, and for those who disagree to attend and “challenge any ideas with which they disagree.” The Wolfe Institute for the Humanities will host programs with “different perspectives” on the issues of the forum, she said.

The BDS forum will “go on as scheduled,” said Jeremy Thompson, the executive director of communications at Brooklyn College. He said that it is hosted by a student group, co-sponsored by the Political Science Department and non-campus organizations. “I don’t know a lot about it,” he said. “The college has hundreds of events every year, many sponsored by department and student groups. It is within the rights of the students and faculty; it’s a matter of freedom of speech.” He said that there were “no tax dollars” involved and it is being sponsored “in name only,” even though it is being held at the student center. He said that the student center is a “separate non-profit, not owned by the college” although he conceded that it is “closely affiliated” with the college. He said that there were some invitations for those from off campus to attend but it is “primarily for members of the college community. Each of the speakers will give a brief lecture and then there will be a Q and A. We encourage students and faculty who disagree to come to the event and challenge the points of view and ask tough questions.”

In a response to Gould’s letter, Nadya Drukker, Executive Director and Howard Wohl, President of the Board of Directors issued a statement representing Brooklyn College Hillel. They noted that one of the BDS forum’s sponsors is a campus club, Students for Justice in Palestine. “We are not advocating that this event be canceled, we simply call upon the Political Science Department to remove its sponsorship and de facto endorsement of this propaganda event. This Department must surely recognize that their sponsorship will only serve to heighten tensions on campus and make many students feel targeted…. Sadly, this is not the first time that the Political Science Department has chosen to exploit their role on campus to advance their biased agenda. Their choice of professors and literature consistently reflect a hostile, anti-Israel viewpoint... we have communicated our concerns to President Karen L. Gould after reading her lackluster response to the Department’s continuing biased actions. While she contends that being a co-sponsor of the event does not imply endorsement, we strongly disagree.”

Students launched a petition, now with over 1000 signatures, for the department to remove its sponsorship, met with the College’s administration and have been educating the student body. “We continue to work with several pro-Israel and community organizations to educate our students so that they can develop the necessary skill-set to deal with the changing environment on campus.”