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Lawmakers Threaten Funding of Brooklyn College for Hosting Event on Campaign Against Israel

Heated politics over a major event for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is one of many issues often sparking controversy on college campuses. But in what could be a first, a showdown over a public event featuring a Palestinian author and a Jewish-American professor is leading to threats of one school losing its funding. It’s happening right here in New York City.

On Thursday night, Brooklyn College is set to host a forum with two members of the BDS movement, a nonviolent campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction the Israeli government until it complies with international law. The Brooklyn College Political Science Department is among the event’s co-sponsors. In response, a group of New York City councilmembers has threatened Brooklyn College with the potential loss of taxpayer support.

AMY GOODMAN: A joint letter from 10 councilmembers to Brooklyn College says, quote, "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," unquote.

The councilmembers’ threat is just one of several efforts by New York lawmakers, from Congress on down, to pressure Brooklyn College. Speaking at Brooklyn College last week, New York State Assemblymember Dov Hikind called on administrators to remove the school’s sponsorship.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER DOV HIKIND: Extreme radicals, as I said, who basically want the state of Israel to disappear from the face of the earth. And I’ve got a problem with that. They are sponsoring this event. They are supporting this event. That is the issue. And that is absolutely outrageous.

AMY GOODMAN: In response to the criticism, Brooklyn College President Karen Gould is refusing to cancel the event or withdraw the school’s sponsorship.

Well, we’re joined now by one of the speakers at [the] Brooklyn College event, author and activist Omar Barghouti, founding member of the BDS movement, the author of  Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.

And we’re joined via  Democracy Now! videostream by Glenn Greenwald, columnist for  The Guardian. He is the author of  With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. He has written extensively about the Brooklyn College controversy over the last week.

We invited a number of New York lawmakers who have opposed the BDS event coming on the broadcast, but they declined our request, including Congressmember Jerrold Nadler and Councilmember Brad Lander, Councilmember Lewis Fidler and State Assemblymember Dov Hikind.

Let’s go first to Omar Barghouti. What do plan to say tomorrow night?

OMAR BARGHOUTI: I plan to explain why the BDS movement is not at all odious, actually. It follows in the steps of the civil rights movement in this country and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, calling for equal rights, calling for end to the occupation, and calling for respect for international law. There’s absolutely nothing odious about that. It’s just when we talk about Palestinian rights that some people are trying to criminalize and make it completely unacceptable speech to address Palestinian rights under international law.

AARON MATÉ: Let’s go to New York City Councilmember David Greenfield speaking at Brooklyn College last week. Greenfield used a dictionary to denounce the school’s sponsorship of the BDS event, which he called part of a, quote, "hate-filled, anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist movement."

CITY COUNCILMEMBER DAVID GREENFIELD: The president of the university should be familiar with the basic meaning of words. The word "sponsorship," according to the dictionary, means one who vouches or is responsible for another thing. So it really is intellectually dishonest for the administration to turn around and say, "Oh, we’re only sponsoring the event." What that means is: "We’re only vouching for this event. We’re only responsible for this hate-filled, anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist movement."

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