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How Brooklyn College Legitimized BDS

February 15, 2013 12:44 am 8 comments

Omar Barghouti. Photo:

The controversy over a “panel discussion” at Brooklyn College has little to do with free speech, and everything to do with politicization of the academia — in this case, by disingenuous anti-Israel ideologues.

Back in December, the political science department at Brooklyn College, a public institution partially supported by taxpayers’ dollars, formally voted to sign on to a talk that took place on February 7th. A student group had scheduled an address by University of California professor Judith Butler and graduate student Omar Barghouti to propagandize on behalf of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This movement seeks to isolate Israel from the world, ostensibly to punish the Jewish state for its security policies.

Though the political science department referred to the event as a “forum,” only one view – extreme anti-Israel activism – is represented. Professor Butler so despises Israel that she has unapologetically whitewashed Israel’s foes, labeling Hamas and Hezbollah “social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left.”

Barghouti, meanwhile, hypocritically urges Americans to boycott all Israeli professors, as he benefits from these same academics as a student at Tel Aviv University.

In fact, during the forum it was those who opposed BDS who were silenced when they were either denied access to the event or pushed out. As Brooklyn College senior Michael Ziegler stated, “I was escorted out for nothing more than the fact that I was holding a paper that would help me assess my decision on my feelings over BDS.”

The BDS double standard smacks of anti-Semitism: Targeting Israel and only Israel, advocates hold the world’s only Jewish state to a far different standard than other democracies, much less Islamic, African, or Latin American dictatorships. Amidst flowery anti-imperialist rhetoric, the movement misleadingly implies that ending specific Israeli policies, generally deemed “apartheid,” would satisfy its backers. In fact, BDS supporters envision the replacement of Israel as a Jewish state with a bi-national, majority Palestinian, entity.

Hollow core

The Brooklyn event is, in short, not an academic forum, but little more than agitprop designed to drum up hostility to Israel – just as similar BDS events at institutions such as Penn and Duke have done. What happened at Brooklyn could have occurred at virtually any university; few places in the United States are as hostile to Israel as the typical college campus.

And while the Brooklyn student group has every right to bring even vile speakers to campus, an academic department formally voting to endorse (or co-sponsor, as the political scientists subsequently, if disingenuously, described their tally) such drivel is a far different matter.

CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein has clearly and unequivocally expressed his personal opposition to the BDS cause, but Brooklyn’s president, Karen Gould, declined to do so. In two statements on the matter, she refused to condemn the BDS movement, while invoking “academic freedom” to defend her department’s actions.

On campus, though, any free exchange of ideas flows only in one direction: In response to media requests, the political science professors have refused to explain what so attracted them to these anti-Israel extremists that their department formally voted to get on board with the talk.

An optimist might hope that the faculty’s embarrassment for their actions explains this silence. A realist would understand otherwise. The forum is far from being the first problem with Brooklyn College’s flirtation with the BDS agenda. In 2010, as part of a “common reading” requirement, the college ordered all incoming freshman to read a book by yet another endorser of the BDS movement, Moustafa Bayoumi.

His volume asserted that between 1987 and 2001, the US government approach toward “Arab Americans” was “more often used to limit the speech of Arab Americans in order to cement US policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Bayoumi offered no evidence for his wild claim.

It’s no wonder that several pro-Israel students at Brooklyn recently admitted their fears of grade retaliation from pro-BDS professors down the road. Virtually abandoned on campus, these students’ cause has been championed by a group of politicians led by Jerry Nadler.

The congressman joined three House colleagues and every prominent New York City Democrat running for mayor in penning a public letter urging the department “to withdraw their endorsement of this event, rather than send the message to its students and to the world that the divisive perspective offered by the organizing groups is Brooklyn College’s official view.”

Those outside the academy who have witnessed an academic department’s exposing its hollow core on matters related to Israel should continue to ask hard questions about how on campuses around the country handle matters related to the Middle East. People of good faith need to continue to search for remedies that will restore a true diversity of ideas to American higher education.

KC Johnson is professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. Asaf Romirowsky, is acting executive director for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Forum and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. This column was originally published by YNet.


  • This is the story of an Israeli factory which creates soda bottles to replace plastic bottles. BDS wants to close this factory which happens to employ hundreds of Palestinians from West Bank. BDS creates massive unemployment in the West Bank.
    This is Sodastream’s factory

  • richard sherman

    BDS has supporters. So did the National Socialists…Sociopaths revere Muhammad because he personally decapitated 900 unarmed Jews at Quarayza…It is from this swamp of sociopaths that BDS has emerged from…

  • wow lets see who teaches their children to blow themselves up. By the way there is no such thing as a Palestinian that was a title Arafat co-oped. Anyone who lived in the area was called a Palestinian. I would bet that like jimmy carter Judith butler is funded by Arabs.

  • The arguments of this pro-Israel authors are totally weak. BDS is a non-violent movement with the aim to end the illegal settelment policy of the state of Israel which is illegal under international law, even in the judgement of every US-government since decades.
    Therefore the position of Butler and Bargouthi is main stream and the opposition of the politicians from New York are radical and extren and even violating free speech in a way that even the pro Israel hizzor of New York major Bloomberg told them to shut up.

    • Eva (Braun?)
      If advocating Genocide is non-violent than you are right. But, BDS advocates getting rid of Israel and replacing it with Palestine, where Jews will be privillaged to a second Holocaust. Genocide of Jews Main Stream? Eva you might be right at the rate things are going.

    • Saying that something is illegal under international law does not make it so. Real scholars of international law have repeatedly disputed this accusation, leaving this radical position a matter of propaganda, not law. Furthermore, even were this argument accurate – and I emphasize that it is not – the fact that BDS operates in support of numerous regimes which clearly & publicly state their intentions to wipe out Israel & kill all the Jews in the world would suggest that this is hardly the pacific & inspiring goal of BDS. If the Arabs wanted to solve the problem in the Middle East, they’ve had many decades to do so. Every other displaced person in the world during the 20’th Century has been resettled – that’s 100 million souls. Only the Arabs refuse to allow their brethren’s dislocated offspring to resettle. And they even, despite their enormous wealth, refuse to help support the same people they won’t allow to resettle, instead leaving that charity to the West.So we’ve been paying the tariff imposed by the Arabs for displacements caused by the repeated Arab attacks – and now we’re once again blaming the Jews. Some things don’t change.

  • My tax dollars well spent.
    Some citizens of NY support BDS and need to be represented in our taxpayer sponsored universites as well.
    Bravo BC!

    • There is a huge difference between intellectual examination of a topic and unfettered advocacy of that topic. Were this a real discussion of the issues, then anyone who tried to present other perspectives would not have been thrown out or denied entry. Such action isn’t academic, nor should there be any academic policy which holds firmly to only one side of any complex issue. I suppose you’d say that there should be university support for mass murders, since there are some citizens of our tax-paying populace who engage in such actions. Very, very insightful.

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