Commentary Magazine


Topic: Brooklyn College

BDS: Hate Speech, Not Free Speech

Today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg became the latest to weigh in on the issue of allowing college campuses to be used as venues for promotion of the BDS campaign against Israel. Bloomberg, who touts himself as one of the greatest supporters of Israel in New York, claimed that those who condemned the decision of the political science department at the city’s Brooklyn College were, in effect, enemies of free speech. According to the New York Observer, Bloomberg said the following:

“I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS,” Mr. Bloomberg explained. “As you know, I’m a big supporter of Israel–as big of a one as I think you can find in the city. But I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”

But contrary to the mayor’s typically highhanded formulation, this is not a free speech issue. Using a public university to promote hate speech in which the one Jewish state in the world is hypocritically singled out for isolation and destruction is not a matter of tolerating a diversity of views. What is so frustrating about the debate about BDS is the willingness of even those who do not support it to treat as a merely one among many defensible views about the Middle East or, as the New York Times referred to it in an editorial on the subject yesterday, a question of academic freedom whose advocates do not deserve to be spoken of harshly. As I wrote last week about a related controversy at Harvard, the BDS movement is not motivated by disagreement with specific Israeli policies or the issue of West Bank settlements. It is an economic war waged to destroy the Jewish state and is morally indistinguishable from more traditional forms of anti-Semitism that do not disguise themselves in the fancy dress of academic discourse.

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Today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg became the latest to weigh in on the issue of allowing college campuses to be used as venues for promotion of the BDS campaign against Israel. Bloomberg, who touts himself as one of the greatest supporters of Israel in New York, claimed that those who condemned the decision of the political science department at the city’s Brooklyn College were, in effect, enemies of free speech. According to the New York Observer, Bloomberg said the following:

“I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS,” Mr. Bloomberg explained. “As you know, I’m a big supporter of Israel–as big of a one as I think you can find in the city. But I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”

But contrary to the mayor’s typically highhanded formulation, this is not a free speech issue. Using a public university to promote hate speech in which the one Jewish state in the world is hypocritically singled out for isolation and destruction is not a matter of tolerating a diversity of views. What is so frustrating about the debate about BDS is the willingness of even those who do not support it to treat as a merely one among many defensible views about the Middle East or, as the New York Times referred to it in an editorial on the subject yesterday, a question of academic freedom whose advocates do not deserve to be spoken of harshly. As I wrote last week about a related controversy at Harvard, the BDS movement is not motivated by disagreement with specific Israeli policies or the issue of West Bank settlements. It is an economic war waged to destroy the Jewish state and is morally indistinguishable from more traditional forms of anti-Semitism that do not disguise themselves in the fancy dress of academic discourse.

As Yair Rosenberg noted today in Tablet, the BDS movement has as its declared goal Israel’s destruction via implementation of the Palestinian “right of return.” This is consistent with their overall rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a separate Jewish state and their opposition to any means of self-defense against Palestinian terrorism.

It needs to be understood that those who take such a position are, in effect, denying the Jewish people the same right of self-determination that they support for every other nation on the planet. That is a textbook definition of bias and such bias when used against Jews is called anti-Semitism. That is why the various members of the City Council and New York State legislature who have spoken out on this issue are right to try to exert pressure on Brooklyn College to cancel the event and the Times and Bloomberg are wrong to defend the decision to uphold it.

Were Brooklyn College or any other state institution to hold a conference whose purpose was to oppose integration or the rights of African-Americans with academics who support the agenda of the Ku Klux Klan, there would be no question that this would be considered beyond the pale rather than free speech that deserved defense. The same standard should apply to those who wish to destroy Israel by waging economic warfare on it and its citizens.

Mayor Bloomberg is also wrong that opponents of BDS do their cause a disservice when they attack those who wish to appropriate college campuses for this cause. Rather than treat the BDS movement as an unfortunate but tolerable eruption of anti-Israel agitation or mere dissent about the settlements, it must be labeled for what it is: a hateful movement based in prejudice whose agenda serves the cause of those who wage violent war against the Jewish people. BDS advocates crave the legitimacy that events such as the Brooklyn College event affords them since it allows them to emerge from the fever swamps of the far left where they normally reside.

One may debate Israel’s policies or those of any nation (though it is fair to note that BDS supporters are uninterested in human rights except as that phrase can be manipulated to bolster their war on Israel), but a movement based in denying Jewish rights is anti-Semitism no matter how high-minded its supporters and its useful idiot enablers pretend it to be. Those who cannot draw a line between BDS and legitimate debate are defending hate speech, not free speech.

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BDS Controversy Raging in Brooklyn

There’s another BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) controversy brewing in Brooklyn, this time at the publicly-funded Brooklyn College. Brooklyn College’s political science department has decided to co-sponsor an anti-Israel BDS conference, despite growing outrage at the school and department’s tendency to sponsor events that only portray one side of the Mideast debate. Yesterday Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a trustee at the City University of New York (the larger network that Brooklyn College is a member of) wrote a scathing op-ed about the conference in Algemeiner in which he admonished the school for its decision to go ahead with the program:

I call upon taxpayers to draw a line here and make it known: taxpayer dollars should not fund illegitimate, racist and anti-Semitic activities by any academic department. Those of us who care about Israel would do no less if others were similarly treated. Indeed, the Jewish community in particular historically has done no less. Additionally, academic administrators should be reminded that Jewish students are no less entitled – under applicable federal law – than other students to an educational environment free of intimidation and prejudice.

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There’s another BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) controversy brewing in Brooklyn, this time at the publicly-funded Brooklyn College. Brooklyn College’s political science department has decided to co-sponsor an anti-Israel BDS conference, despite growing outrage at the school and department’s tendency to sponsor events that only portray one side of the Mideast debate. Yesterday Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a trustee at the City University of New York (the larger network that Brooklyn College is a member of) wrote a scathing op-ed about the conference in Algemeiner in which he admonished the school for its decision to go ahead with the program:

I call upon taxpayers to draw a line here and make it known: taxpayer dollars should not fund illegitimate, racist and anti-Semitic activities by any academic department. Those of us who care about Israel would do no less if others were similarly treated. Indeed, the Jewish community in particular historically has done no less. Additionally, academic administrators should be reminded that Jewish students are no less entitled – under applicable federal law – than other students to an educational environment free of intimidation and prejudice.

This afternoon Brooklyn College President Karen Gould released a statement explaining the school’s decision to carry on with the conference, despite the outrage of many members of the Jewish community in Brooklyn as well as the student body. Despite a long history of Jewish enrollment at Brooklyn College in addition to its current large population of Jewish students (30 percent of Brooklyn College’s population self-identified as Jewish in 2011), the school has become known as a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. A friend and former student, Dani Klein, told me,

Ten years ago as a student at Brooklyn College, I was the President of NYSIPAC, the Israel advocacy club on campus at the time. We held events frequently. Sometimes individual professors came to speak, or promoted it, but we never had any department sponsor our events, let alone the political science department. Similar, one-sided, anti-Israel events were held on campus back then too, some comparing Israel to Nazis. These same groups have changed their tactics. Instead of shock and awe, they promote BDS. But their goal is the same — the destruction of Israel. 

In response to the controversy, Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind has called for President Gould’s resignation, releasing a statement earlier today:

Allowing her Poli-Sci Department Chair to bully her into letting them co-sponsor and support a racist, anti-Semitic lecture series is not the right thing. Or perhaps President Gould wasn’t bullied; maybe she secretly approves. Or perhaps she’s apathetic. I can only speculate to what her motivation or lack of motivation is in allowing this irresponsible endorsement of this loathsome event by her College.

Either way, President Gould should not be steering this ship. It is heading for a barge. She should give someone else the helm, someone who understands how to manage a situation like this and protect Brooklyn College’s entire student body. The chilling effect upon Brooklyn College students will have long-term ramifications. Tacit approval is approval. Karen Gould should resign.”

Tomorrow, at 11 A.M., Assemblyman Hikind will be joined by numerous elected officials and community groups who will condemn Brooklyn College’s official endorsement and sponsorship of the event “BDS Movement Against Israel” which calls for a unilateral boycott against Israel and Israeli businesses.

Despite President Gould’s insistence that the conference will go on as planned, pressure seems be mounting, not dissipating, for its cancellation. If the event goes as scheduled it will surely continue to stoke tension in the community, which appears to be the only thing that BDS events seem to accomplish. 

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Did Taxpayers Pay for Professors’ Iran Propaganda Trip?

MEMRI has publicized a clip from the Islamic Republic’s Press TV which shows American professors in Tehran for an Occupy Wall Street conference. A Press TV correspondent interviews three American professors: Brooklyn College’s Alex Vitale, Fordham University’s Heather Gautney, and City University of New York’s John Hammond.

Unasked—and hitherto unanswered—is the source of the funding for the Tehran jaunt. The City University of New York (CUNY) is, of course, a public college, and Brooklyn College is part of the CUNY system. Did New York taxpayers foot the bill for Vitale and Hammond’s trip to Iran? CUNY’s administrators can plead academic freedom, but that should not absolve them from transparency. If CUNY departments and finances were not involved, then who footed the bill for the trip and how was the selection of the professors made? In the past, that would be the Alavi Foundation’s job. Perhaps they are now back at the job, or perhaps the Islamic Republic has found a new engine for its propaganda.

MEMRI has publicized a clip from the Islamic Republic’s Press TV which shows American professors in Tehran for an Occupy Wall Street conference. A Press TV correspondent interviews three American professors: Brooklyn College’s Alex Vitale, Fordham University’s Heather Gautney, and City University of New York’s John Hammond.

Unasked—and hitherto unanswered—is the source of the funding for the Tehran jaunt. The City University of New York (CUNY) is, of course, a public college, and Brooklyn College is part of the CUNY system. Did New York taxpayers foot the bill for Vitale and Hammond’s trip to Iran? CUNY’s administrators can plead academic freedom, but that should not absolve them from transparency. If CUNY departments and finances were not involved, then who footed the bill for the trip and how was the selection of the professors made? In the past, that would be the Alavi Foundation’s job. Perhaps they are now back at the job, or perhaps the Islamic Republic has found a new engine for its propaganda.

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