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April 16, 2013 10:55 am

Brooklyn College Criticizes Itself Over Anti-Israel Event

avatar by KC Johnson

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Picture of the east quad of Brooklyn College.

This past February, in the final act of Brooklyn College’s BDS fiasco, four Jewish students were kicked out of the talk. (Brooklyn’s Political Science Department had formally voted to affiliate itself with the talk, which featured two speakers who advocated a nationality-based boycott against Israelis, divestment from Israel, and international sanctions against the Jewish state.) An investigation ensued, and CUNY vice chancellor and general counsel Frederick Schaffer has now issued a report on the expulsion.

The major finding of the report: “It is clear that there was no justification for the removal of the four students.”  An initial college statement that “official reports” indicated that the students had engaged in disruptive behavior was not accurate. And while there’s no reason to believe that the students were removed because they’re Jewish, “a more plausible inference can be drawn that the removal of the four students was motivated by their political viewpoint.”

The report’s key judgment: “The Brooklyn College administration did not handle this event well.  It was probably a mistake, once the forum became such a large and controversial event, to give the students (and a few faculty recruited by the students) primary responsibility for maintaining order unless there was a threat to physical safety.  Even if that was the correct decision, it was not sufficiently elaborated and communicated either to the student volunteers and faculty marshals or to the public safety officers.  In particular, insufficient consideration was given to the question of how a verbal disruption would be handled; certainly, none of the public safety officers received clear instructions about this.  Furthermore, no decision was made as to who would have the authority to remove members of the audience in the case of a verbal disturbance. As events unfolded, no senior administrator intervened to determine what the evidence was for the alleged disturbance or whether the facts justified the removal of the four students from the room and then the building.  Nor did any of the public safety officers check with a superior before removing the students.  Instead, all of the Brooklyn College personnel deferred to the request of a single, interested person, who, unbeknownst to them, was not even a student at Brooklyn College.”

To repeat: at a public college, in an event co-sponsored by one of its academic departments, four students were likely expelled from the event because of their political beliefs. Presumably this finding will cause even the president of the college, Karen Gould, to publicly apologize to Brooklyn’s student body. But given Gould’s performance to date, this may be expecting too much.

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The Schaffer Report also brought to light at least four previously unreported facts:

(1) The false information about the students’ allegedly disruptive behavior as “based on official reports” came not from the BDS student organizers but from a Brooklyn College dean, Milga Morales–who doesn’t exactly have a history of pro-Israel activism on campus. The report notes that the “public safety officers who removed the students had not witnessed the alleged disturbance.” Morales nonetheless communicated this misleading information to the college communications staff and (presumably) to senior administrators. The Schaffer Report does not explain why a veteran, senior college administrator elected to pass misleading (at best) information to her superiors and to the college press office.

(2) At least five “faculty marshals,” selected in consultation with the BDS organizers technically presided over the affair, with responsibility for handling security concerns. Yet none of these self-styled defenders of academic freedom, several of whom enjoy robust campus reputations for their hostility to Israel’s security concerns, raised a peep as four students were improperly removed from the event. While their inaction should come as little surprise–for champions of the academic status quo, too often academic freedom applies only to those who embrace the majority’s viewpoint–the disinclination of these “faculty marshals” to stand up for the improperly expelled Jewish students exposes the hollowness of their professed concerns with “academic freedom.”

(3) One of these “faculty marshals” termed the atmosphere at the anti-Israel gathering a “love fest.” Imagine the appropriate outrage if a professor at Brooklyn College–or, indeed, at any institution of higher learning–described an event championing a nationality-based boycott of Arabs, Africans, or Latin Americans as a “love fest.”

(4) Though it was established at the time that a reporter from the Daily News, which had editorialized against the gathering, was barred from the discussion, the Schaffer Report reveals that another anti-BDS reporter, representing Frontpage Magazine, likewise was denied admission.

The report provides some background on the role of the press at the event. Initially, the student organizers wanted to allow no journalists into the talk–even as they did permit some non-Brooklyn College students to attend. Incredibly, the college administration went along with this demand. At some point, however, this hard-and-fast opposition waned, and the organizers only insisted that any reporters refrain from videotaping the event. As a result, at least three journalists were in the room during the BDS panel, with one each from the Daily Beast, the New York Times (whose editorial page had strongly defended the performance of President Gould), and the far-left 972mag (whose coverage was wildly tilted in favor of the event). The report found no evidence that panel organizers deliberately excluded skeptical journalists. That said, the ideological balance in journalists who got into the room is quite a coincidence.

The report leaves unanswered the question as to why President Gould–given her purported support for the open exchange of ideas–did not step in to ensure that all accredited journalists were able to attend a public event that was, after all, co-sponsored by an academic unit of the college.

In general, the Schaffer Report portrays a chaotic, poorly-organized event. Some Jewish students were excluded from the talks, but at least one Islamic student was, as well; organizational incompetence, rather than ethnicity-based malevolence, seems to have explained the treatment of students who didn’t get into the talk even though they had signed up in advance.

It should be noted that one agency of the college–the college press office–comes across extremely well in the Schaffer Report. The report describes Ernesto Mora, of the college’s Office of Communications and Marketing, as doing his best to accommodate the interests of the media, and also notes that Mora told student organizers “that they could not decide to selectively admit certain journalists; it had to be all or none.” And, of course, the college press office was wholly blameless for the inaccuracies in the initial college statement on the event.

This affair was an embarrassment from start to finish for the college.

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  • Zyx

    This conference managed to draw 300 students only, according to the organizers and ended in an other fiasco for BDS. This is a very meager result after almost 20 years of relentless anti Israel activism.

  • Tabitha Korol

    The entire event should never have taken place. If an event is made to single out one entity only, then it is wrong. If the point is to delegitimize one county only, without balance to the opposition, it is wrong. If there is to be a fair debate against Israel, schedule equal time, speakers and coverage against the Palestinians. This fiasco was intentionally planned by bigots, by anti-Jews and anti-Israel; there’s no excuse for it. Those who allowed it to happen are incompetent in the widest definition, and deserve no place in academia, where they are permitted to affect the minds of the vulnerable.
    This was more than a fiasco; it was downright evil, from plan to enactment.

  • Robert

    This is not the first time President Gould and Dean Morales have displayed hostility to Israel and Jews. Their whole handling of this vicious event was inept. They are inept! They should be given their walking papers & told not to slam the door on their way out. I graduated from Brooklyn College at a time its top administrators were not anti-Semitic.

  • Isaac Barr MD

    AGREE. JEWS WERE INTIMIDATED AND ONLY 4 TOOK ACTION. ISLMOFACISM WON> AGAIN> WITH FACULTY HELP. YES Is the Palestinian conflict the most important global event???? Common Muslims! What about Syria with 80000 dead?

  • jansuzanne

    I would like to know if the lessons learned here by Brooklyn Colleges’s administration and community will still be evident next year when the Pro-Palestinian students rally for a another ‘Israel is Apartheid week’, which will be the 10th year of this horrific event. The Jewish students are incredibly intimidated by professors and anti-Israel students into a silence. As in Florida’s FAU where Jewish students got eviction notices, and in Great Neck, NY where freedom-fighter Pamela Geller was to speak and the Rabbi was threatened to the point of submission, it takes ‘in-your-face’ threats to wake up people up to unite and take action…Evil thrives when good people are silent. Silence will be the death of us for ‘Never Again’ can become Yes, Again.

  • Michael Garfinkel

    President Gould and Dean Morales’ behavior was particulalrly egregious.

    Can someone explain why these two women continue in their positions at the college?

  • Pam Green

    It’s not enough for Brooklyn College to criticize itself. There have to be consequences. It is just appalling that faculty members feel safe to take partisan positions on political issues, abuse students, promote false and one-sided information, and demonstrate to the student body that it’s okay to be bigoted! Where is the objectivity we expect scholars to maintain? Milga Morales should be forced to personally apologize and perform some sort of community service. Possibly she should be forced to organize a pro-Israel symposium, and attend it, in order to educate herself. If something concrete isn’t done to rectify this situation, I hope that the four abused students will sue the school. This is just unconscionable. And does Brooklyn College get state or federal funding? Maybe it shouldn’t, if it is allowing racism and bigotry to dominate its campus.

  • an embarrassment? why? they did a great job of pulling off an event which should not have taken place the way it did.
    the affair was not an embarrassment. it was a victory in the process to the confuse, pervert and eventually destroy the fabric of American college campuses.
    it shows how quiet Jews stay when things get sticky. we never learn.

  • Fredric M. London

    It is very simple, cut funding for this private institution (surely no public institution would be allowed to get away with this), sanction Gould, have the college officially disavow the event, and see to it that no more one-sided such event be sponsored by any college or individual, in the name of the college, again. I know, and Iran is going to be peaceful, dream on.

  • Mel

    Is it unheard of for the Middle States College Association to withdraw accreditation from a member institution?
    The real world fires non-performing adminis-traitors. Academia honors and promotes it. Political Correctness effectively destroys any and all creativity possessed by students. America’s labor no longer has the skillset to solve problems independent of their workstations.
    America is essentially cooked, and the recipe isn’t kosher!

  • Robert Weisberg

    Your headline, “Brooklyn College criticizes itself…” is incorrect. The criticism of Brooklyn College came from an outside law firm hired by CUNY (not Brooklyn College) to investigate the February 7 BDS event. Fred Schaffer, General Counsel for Legal Affairs at CUNY engaged the law firm of Bryan Cave to investigate the event and the handling of it by Brooklyn College.

    Now it is up to the Chancellor to react to the report.

    In the meantime Brooklyn College has its own group looking into the matter. President Karen Gould has asked the External Relations Committee to convene and address the issues raised by the CUNY report.
    A key issue is whether or not a Department at the College should co-sponsor an event which is clearly an “advocacy” event. In the case of the February 7 BDS event the Political Science department co-sponsored the event thus putting at risk charges of violation of the First Amendment. New York state and Federal law prohibits just the kind of activity that took place on Feb. 7 according to the CUNY report.

    The four involved students who were forced to leave the auditorium for no good cause would probably have a good case to bring against the school and CUNY.

  • Peter

    I hope the four students sue for violation of their civil rights and freedom of speech. While I generally hate the litigious nature of the US, it is unfortunately true, especially in situations like this, that the only way to cause change is to sue and hit the school with a huge liability. Otherwise it’s just business as usual and no one will be held to account for what happened.

  • richard sherman

    correction: the antisemite is MORALES!

  • richard sherman

    This will always happen when you give antisemities(Milagros) and antisemitic Jews(Gould) authority on campus.

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