Despite protests and opposition to the Political Science Department at Brooklyn College co-sponsoring a BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) event aimed at Israel on Thursday, it took place, in part justified as a matter of free speech and academic freedom. During the event, however, multiple people were removed, according to student accounts, because they were presumed to be hostile to the intentions of the gathering.
Melanie Goldberg, an Israel Campus Coalition intern says she and three other students were escorted out by security because they would not relinquish BDS fact sheets that were in their possession.
“One of the SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine, which organized the event) members came over and got really close to my face and told me to give him the sheets, or he would call security. I told him I would not. We were simply taking notes so we could ask informed questions like we were encouraged to do by the school and Political Science Department,” Goldberg told The Algemeiner.
The SJP member, identified only as Carlos, alerted security who then made Goldberg and the other three students leave.
Brooklyn College Vice President Milga Morales was nearby during the incident, but when asked to intervene by Goldberg declined to do so.
“I told her this was a clear violation of academic freedom, she just looked at me and said ‘this is their event, they can do what they want,’ which is not true, the political science department co-sponsored it,” Goldberg recounted.
Goldberg initially was unable to gain entry to the event despite having signed up for it three weeks before, receiving two separate confirmations (posted below) and then having Morales put her name down the day of the event. When she arrived she was told by organizers her name was not on the RSVP list. Ultimately it was Milga Morales who had to escort her in.
“I was at the event to hear what all the controversy was about to try to understand the arguments the BDS movement makes, its aspirations, and the actions that it calls for,” Ari Ziegler, a CUNY graduate student studying experimental psychology, said. “I was sitting with the three other students holding the info- sheets on the BDS movement, and I was forcibly removed from my seat.”
“We were forced out of the meeting because we were reading informational material to ask informed questions,” Yvonne Juris, a CUNY graduate, added. “The silencing and removing of us students is a clear example of violation of academic freedom.”
In a statement last week Brooklyn College President Karen Gould defended the school’s decision to continue its sponsorship of the event by saying in part: “I expect all who attend or present at next week´s event to engage in civil discourse at all times, and I encourage those who do attend with opposing views to participate in the discussion, ask tough questions, and challenge any ideas with which they disagree,” she wrote.
Several students who objected to the event and let it be known among the political science professors, were told that if they had a problem with the department co-sponsoring the event they should show up and debate.
Hindy Poupko, director of Israel & International Affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, was in touch with Hillel on campus and was involved in protests outside the facility. She told The Algemeiner that she was aware of just one student who was able to get in a dissenting question during the event. “Judith Butler told him ‘you obviously didn’t listen to my speech’ then everyone laughed. It didn’t seem like a place open to dialogue or dissenting opinions,” she said.
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a CUNY Trustee who opposed the event, said that he received emails about the treatment of pro-Israel students at the event. “There were complaints” he said, but wouldn’t go into detail saying that the incidents were merely symptomatic of anti-Israel sentiment on campuses across the country. “This problem can be mitigated and it must be mitigated, because if it’s not, I assure you that it will increase in frequency,” Wiesenfeld cautioned.
Jeremy Thompson, a Brooklyn College spokesman, told The Algemeiner that the school had a different understanding of what occurred. “My understanding is that these students were in the room along with the rest of the audience. From the first speaker they began to speak out, they were becoming vocal and disruptive to the members around them and one of the student organizers of the event went to them and said ‘you really need to be quiet you’re disrupting other people around you.’ They then did not comply and a couple of police officers asked them to come out into the lobby.” Thompson also claimed that school officials in attendance, including Morales, confirmed this account.
Below are screenshots of the emails sent to The Algemeiner which confirm Melanie Goldberg’s RSVP for the event, which was later denied by the organizers.