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.
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.
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.