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.