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Politicians Threaten to Kill College Funding Over Israel Boycott Panel

New York politicians are coming down hard on the college over its hosting of a panel this week on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israeli human rights violations.
 
 
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Palestine solidarity protests on March 28, 2009 at Place du Chatelet in Paris, France. The banner says 'Boycott Israel'
Photo Credit: Olga Besnard / Shutterstock.com

 
 
 
 

Brooklyn College is at the center of a storm over censorship, academic freedom and the boycott movement targeting Israel. New York politicians, even progressive ones, are coming down hard on the college over its hosting of a panel this week on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Politicians are threatening the college’s funding from the city and the state and are pressuring the Political Science Department to rescind its co-sponsorship of the event.

At issue is a February 7 discussion featuring Omar Barghouti, a leading Palestinian BDS activist, and Judith Butler, the world renowned professor and philosopher who supports the BDS movement.

The storm of criticism of the college began with Alan Dershowitz, the famous lawyer who pops up everywhere there is harsh criticism of Israel’s human rights violations. Dershowitz authored a January 30 Op-Ed in the New York Daily News, decrying Brooklyn College’s “anti-Israel hatefest.” But his main point--that the Political Science department should not co-sponsor a “one-sided event”--is rendered moot when you look at Dershowitz’s own record.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote in The Guardian, Dershowitz, no stranger to controversial views like the advocacy of torture, has spoken at Brooklyn College events which the Political Science Department also sponsored. He also spoke at a University of Pennsylvania Political Science department-sponsored event against the BDS movement last year--without demanding there be “balance” to his talk.

“This controversy has nothing whatsoever to do with objecting to one-sided academic events sponsored by academic institutions. Such events occur constantly without anyone uttering a peep of protest,” wrote Greenwald. “This has to do with one thing and one thing only: trying to create specially oppressive rules that govern only critics of Israel and criticisms of that nation's government.”

But the controversy has now gone beyond Dershowitz and other ardent Israel advocates, like Dov Hikind, a supporter of the violent figure Meir Kahane who has called on Brooklyn College president Karen Gould to resign over the fact that the event is taking place on her campus. New York elected officials are now weighing in to pressure the college over the event.

One letter sent to Brooklyn College was from a group of progressive legislators in the city who demanded that the Political Science Department rescind its co-sponsorship of the event. But by far the most disturbing of the letters was sent by the City Council’s Assistant Majority Leader Lew Fidler, who threatened the college’s funding. Fidler’s letter (which I first reported on for Mondoweiss), was co-signed by otherwise progressive officials Gale Brewer and Letitia James, who have now joined the ugly mob of people trying to shut down discussion of a non-violent movement dedicated to stopping Israeli human rights abuses.

“We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City--many of who would feel targeted and demonized by this program--want their tax money to be spent on,” wrote Fidler in the letter to Brooklyn College’s president. “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.”

In a separate post, Greenwald blasted the Fidler letter. “These officials are expressly stating that no college or university is permitted to hold events that contain views that are ‘offensive’ or which these officials ‘find to be odious and wrong’ without having their funding terminated,” Greenwald noted. “How can anyone not be seriously alarmed by this? These threats are infinitely more destructive than any single academic event could ever possibly be...Plainly, this entire controversy has only one ‘principle’ and one purpose: to threaten, intimidate and bully professors, school administrators and academic institutions out of any involvement in criticisms of Israel.”

The students involved in organizing the event have refused to back down. The fact that politicians are pressuring the college “just shows how complicit our government is with the State of Israel and how they do not want the public to know how our tax dollars are used to fund the oppression of Palestinians,” Brooklyn College student Carlos Guzman, a member of the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, told Mondoweiss.

Guzman also praised his college president. “The way they’ve been handling it shows the true leadership of [college president] Karen Gould. She’s upholding academic freedom, and on top of that they’re not succumbing to bullies like Alan Dershowitz and Dov Hikind.”

Alex Kane is AlterNet's New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

 
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