The City University of New York’s (CUNY) Brooklyn College is again provoking passions, playing host this week to an anti-Israel activist who many, citing his published writings, believe to be anti-Semitic.
Ben White, who describes himself as a writer, freelance journalist and researcher on his Twitter page, will give a talk Thursday, November 14th called “Israel: Apartheid not Democracy,” as part of a mini-tour of college campuses that will also include a stop at John Jay College in Manhattan. The event is to be hosted by the school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
White has in the past compared Israel’s policies to those of Nazi Germany — classified as anti-Semitic by the U.S. State Department; once declared he can “understand” why some people are anti-Semitic; and has served as an apologist for previous Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s Holocaust denial.
The event comes on the heels of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) talk in February that many members of both Brooklyn College and the New York community objected to. The controversy reached a crescendo when four Jewish students were forcefully removed from the event because of what organizers said was a disruptive presence. The school later conducted an inquiry into the incident and determined “there was no justification for the removal of the four students.”
Because of White’s comments and the BDS event incident, his appearance has become another point of contention between the university and its Jewish community.
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a CUNY trustee, was infuriated by the news.
“No academic setting of which I am aware would tolerate open racism directed against any other group in such a forum. In the very least, we would hear hearty condemnations left and right,” he told The Algemeiner. “I will state plainly: his relativism on the Holocaust and his other pronouncements make him an out-and-out anti-Semite. His appearance is a black mark at Brooklyn College, which follows several others and is outside the realm of measures by the board and Chancellor which continue to advance CUNY.”
Melanie Goldberg, who graduated last spring and was one of the four students evicted from the BDS talk, said that Jewish students she has spoken to on campus aren’t happy, but feel as if they have no power over the situation.
“They’re waiting to see what happens. We’re not really surprised considering that following the BDS event last year the SJP was actually given more funds by the school,” she told The Algemeiner.
She added that, taking into account his past statements, she considers White to be anti-Semitic.
To compound the problem, as the students see it, is the fact that the Political Science and Sociology Departments are co-sponsoring the event.
Paisley Currah, head of the Political Science Department, claimed that his department “is not a ‘supporter,’ advocate, champion, or endorser of these events and the views that will be expressed there,” adding “We co-sponsor events because we as a department value the open and free exchange of ideas. As educators, we place great value on learning, inside and outside the classroom.”
For its part, Brooklyn College cited the First Amendment as reason for allowing White’s appearance on campus. In an email to The Algemeiner the school said it “will protect speech, including matters that touch on public concerns, even if we strongly disagree with the content… As the United States Supreme Court has stated, the First Amendment reflects ‘a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.'”
The school’s president, Karen Gould, however, did not issue any public comment on White’s appearance.
Kenneth L Marcus, President and General Counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, wasn’t buying the excuse — or Gould’s silence.
“Federally funded colleges must promptly and effectively respond to hateful incidents that are so severe or pervasive that they deny equal educational benefits to students based on race, color or national origin. This is the case when a hostile environment is crested for Jewish, Israeli, or other minority students,” he said.
“When hateful speakers come to campus, some college presidents mistakenly believe they must decide between suppressing free speech or permitting open bigotry. In fact, the right answer is never to do nothing. Even if the speech is constitutionally protected, university leaders may forcefully speak out against it. There is no legal reason why President Gould cannot firmly explain that such prejudice has no place in an institution of higher learning.”
Responding to a Twitter request for comment on the controversy, White replied “What Controversy?”