Threat To Academic Freedom At Brooklyn College

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Brookllyn_College_LogoThe Political Science Department at Brooklyn College voted to co-sponsor a forum on the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. The BDS movement claims to be a campaign “to stop Israel’s rapacious occupation, colonization, and apartheid against the Palestinian people.” The all-but-unknown BDS movement has gained no traction in the U.S., but thanks to Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, it has achieved a new amount of publicity.

Dershowitz has written an editorial in the Daily News and blog post at HuffPo denouncing BDS and his alma mater. Dershowitz writes: “Freedom of speech, and academic freedom require equal access to both sides of a controversy.” However, it seems to be Dershowitz and the numerous NYC politicians that threaten free speech and academic freedom when they demand “Brooklyn College’s Political Science Department to withdraw their endorsement of this event.”

Brooklyn College president Karen L. Gould responds:

Unfortunately, some may believe that our steadfast commitment to free speech signals an institutional endorsement of a particular point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brooklyn College does not endorse the views of the speakers visiting our campus next week, just as it has not endorsed those of previous visitors to our campus with opposing views.

A similar situation occurred when the University of Pennsylvania hosted a BDS conference last year. To counter the BDS conference, pro-Israel groups set up their own event that featured keynote speaker Alan Dershowitz. Penn’s Political Science department, which refused to co-sponsor the BDS conference, co-hosted Dershowitz’s lecture.

Dershowitz claimed that the “Brooklyn College political science department should get out of the business of sponsoring one-sided political propaganda.” It’s just a guess, but I’m assuming that Dershowitz’s concerns about Brooklyn College Political Science department’s co-sponsorship of their BDS conference where not present when Penn’s Political Science department co-hosted his “speech.”

Dershowitz’s claim that Israel is being “singled out” is quite bizarre. Implicit in this claim is a moral equivalence between Israel and other nations deserving the BDS treatment. While I agree that many nations have an appalling record regarding human rights and deserve the BDS treatment, it is unusual to find Dershowitz admit that Israel is one of them.

Criticism of Israel’s current occupation and its treatment of Palestinians has drawn claims of anti-Semitism, a classic ad hominem fallacy. Such claims have a, desired, chilling effect on political discourse. When criticizing Israeli policies, those making the fallacious argument of anti-Semitism demonstrate a fear that the criticism is valid.

H/T: Glenn Greenwald, Brian Leiter, Samir Chopra, John Protevi, Philip Weiss, Max Blumenthal, Kieran Healy.

27 thoughts on “Threat To Academic Freedom At Brooklyn College

  1. I completely agree with this writer on this subject. In the interest of fairness, I would like to point out that the other side of the debate about Israel’s actions, also make similar mistakes when they gloss over the terrorist activities of the Palestinians. So while I agree that Israel is acting against the human rights of Palestinians and is engaged in a racist campaign against them, some of their measures ARE justified given the terrorist activity on the other side.

    Unfortunately, the pro-Zionists gloss over the extremely vicious actions of the IDF in many of their actions. They do the same thing as the Chicago officials who try and defend the grossly illegal and vicious activity of some of their cops. We have to hold ALL sides accountable for their actions.

  2. I think criticism of current Israeli policies are actually pro-Israel and pro-Jewish survival. The path that the current Israeli government is on is one that will lead to the destruction of the country as they become even more of a minority surrounded by an increasingly hostile majority.

    BTW – the ONLY place on Earth where people are not allowed to express that opinion is in the US. There is a very hot debate of the polices going on inside Israel and the recent election shows (like that of recent ones in the US) of a drift toward sanity. But to say these things in the US will lead to condemnation as an anti-Semite and exclusion from the public forum.

  3. I have always admired Alan Dershowitz as a really smart lawyer; however, when it comes to politics his opinion is worth exactly the same as anyone else. I try to stay out of I/P discussions because they tend to devolve into flame wars. As a (more or less) disinterested observer from a distance, I am beginning to think in terms of a pox on both their houses. I am aware there are reasonable people on both sides, but the fundies and extremists drown them out. Which is exactly why there are I/P flame wars.

  4. “Dershowitz claimed that the “Brooklyn College political science department should get out of the business of sponsoring one-sided political propaganda.” It’s just a guess, but I’m assuming that Dershowitz’s concerns about Brooklyn College Political Science department’s co-sponsorship of their BDS conference where not present when Penn’s Political Science department co-hosted his “speech.”” (nal)

    Like shooting fish in a barrel. Of course, arrogant twits like Dershowitz can’t even conceive that they might be called out for blatant hypocrisy. Pretty much like the Israel Lobby can’t conceive that anyone might object that they have lobbying status even though they should be made to register as the agent of a foreign power.

    ———————————–

    Greenwald had a column related to this issue, and the comments are hot and heavy

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/02/brooklyn-college-bds-alan-dershowitz?commentpage=1

  5. I don’t think the article provides enough information to determine if there is any threat to academic freedom or freedom of speech.

    In my sometimes troubled association with several universities I saw many organizations with a wide range of political viewpoints make use of campus facilities. To the best of my knowledge non of those many groups were ‘endorsed’ by the university or departments in it..

    It seems to me that the issues of academic freedom and speech have to do with access to make a point.

    The issue of endorsement, that is using the universities name to promote an event, is quite different. Before any one or any group uses the universities brand to legitimize and promote a point of view, perhaps the entire university should be given a choice and a voice in the decision.

    Finally, it seem to me that meaningful discussion of the issues in this article require that we clearly distinguish allowing access to university facilities by outside groups, from sponsorship of an event, or endorsement of a group or an event.

    Many of might support access to university facilities while drawing the line at endorsement.

  6. I do think Israel oversteps it reaction often.

    Not that it makes it any better, but just imagine how the U.S. Govt would respond if it took even 1/10th of the hits Israel takes in terrorist activity or rocket launches from across the border.

    There would be no self-discipline or measured response as Israel is often called upon to assert.
    The U.S. would totally wipe them clean off the map.

  7. Dershowitz is way too self-important to see two sides of anything, ever. He sees only HIS side and the WRONG side. That said, the idea that freedom of speech requires equal access to the forum at which the speech is made is just plain crazy. It would be a great idea, I guess; it would require a constitutional amendment. Also, there would be no way to correct for the fact that here, where we are, at our status quo position, we have not had a history of equal access for the “other side” of anything, and as a result, we could never return to any “status quo ante.”

    Universities need to host whatever they want to host; people need to make decisions about what universities to donate their money to by checking out who is being given platforms at those universities and who is not; and Dershowitz needs to keep away from those mushrooms.

  8. ” the idea that freedom of speech requires equal access to the forum at which the speech is made is just plain crazy.”

    Good point Malisha. Freedom of speech requires access to make a point – not equal access at the same event, on the same forum, at the same time.

    If someone thinks an event is one sided they should have their own event.

  9. @ Gary T “but just imagine how the U.S. Govt would respond . . . There would be no self-discipline or measured response as Israel is often called upon to assert.”

    Gary, with respect, you seem trapped in the classic chicken/egg dilemma, a staple, by the way, of each ‘side’ of the I/P drama. If you can confidently attribute cause and reaction, attack and retaliation to the 50+ years of conflict in the region, good for you. Of course, the main stream US media has no problem in this regard: Israel is always attacked, but never does the attacking. And the media verbiage always tell it like that. And matters of proportionality are totally foreign to slavish Western interpretations. And of course stealing Palestinian land could never be considered an attack. Oh no.

  10. There is a very simple solution for this situation. When you have a BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) against Israel you also have one in another building against Palestine. Free speech is great! We can then choose exactly who we want to hate.

  11. Dershowitz was the scumbag who organized a campaign to prevent historian Norman Finkelstein from obtaining tenure at De Paul University.

    http://normanfinkelstein.com/

    Finkelstein has the gall to tell the truth about Palestine and Israel over the past century (e.g. the deliberate eradication of Palestinian towns to leave no evidence of their existence). Allowing him to have a position where he couldn’t be silenced or harassed out of a job was untenable to self-serving hypocrites and warmongers.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/11/29/what-really-happened-in-gaza/

  12. For over a half century now Israel has gotten its way over U.S. policy by exercising a form of political terrorism that has made cowering fools of U.S. legislators and executives. The threat of losing the American Jewish vote, which is top-heavy in monetary support and control of media channels, has caused us to take the wrong side of issues of international fairness time and time again.

    Mr. Dershowitz, who may have a brilliant mind for appellate law and procedure, is one of the crudest examples of the clouded emotional thinking that oils the pistons of this extremely harmful foreign policy engine. So much of international terrorism, for example, is born and fueled by the obvious and shocking unfairness carried out daily by our skewed Middle East policy.

    Because of the enormous power of the Jewish lobby, I can only hope that Jewish Americans of good will and clearer thinking are going to bring about a change that will force a negotiated peace that has so long been thwarted by Israeli fanatacism. Mr. Dershowitz could do a lot to bring about a peace agreement if he would stop thinking with his emotions and start acting from his heart.

  13. No one can bring about a peace agreement. Forget that one. There is a three state solution. It is called Egypt, Jordan and Israel. Move the border of Jordan back about halfway into the so called West Bank of what was Jordan. Move the Egyptian border all the way into Gaza and have them run that. Israel holds those two countries strictly accountable for terror activities within their borders. Those Arabs living in the West Bank are Arabs and Jordanians. There is no such thing as a Palestinian. That is a post ’67 War construct.
    The UN needs to police the borders. No tunnels. No trade. There is plenty of room for Arabs in the middle east. There is no room for Hamas. Gaza is about the size of a parking lot in Texas. The West Bank is best suited to be back in Jordan.
    If you think you can talk to Hamas or Hezbullah then you are nuts.
    Dershowitz is a wacko.

  14. Dog, Israel, too, is a construct. What makes it less valid than Palestine? Oh, I forgot, they get a qualitative edge in weaponry from Uncle Sucker and license to kill, whenever, wherever, also issued by Uncle. Just add up the dead bodies, and means counting non-Israelis as humans.

  15. NYC officials threaten funding of Brooklyn College over Israel event

    The threat to academic freedom posed by this growing lynch mob is obvious: if universities are permitted to hold only those events which do not offend state officials and “pro-Israel” fanatics such as Alan Dershowitz, then “academic freedom” is illusory. But on Sunday, that threat significantly intensified, as a ranking member of the New York City Council explicitly threatened to cut off funding for the college if his extortionate demands regarding this event are not met.

  16. Nal, thanks for posting on this conflict. It’s ugly, ugly, ugly. From the academic freedom angle, for sure, which has only been used as a ruse to cover for actual cause behind the conflict — i.e., the power of the pro-Israel presence in the NYC area and it’s controlling effect on politics in the region. Which leads to the twin ugly factor, i.e., NYC as a microcosm of the I/P morass and it’s corrosive effects on the democratic process in the US in general.

  17. Watched a documentary some time ago, the American Radical, or some such title. It was about Dr. Finkelstein. It made such an impression on me that I emailed the man to send him my respect.

    That Brooklyn College allowed itself to be intimidated into denying him tenure was a cowardice and betrayal of whatever ideals it may have claimed to stand for. No pity from me now.

    How Dershowtiz can look at himself in the mirror after that “schooling” he took at the good Dr’s hands is also beyond me. I bet he never did pay that $10,000 wager he lost. Not a sporting man, that one, and in my eyes not even a man.

  18. NY TImes:

    Litmus Tests

    The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests. J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that was formed as a counterpoint to conservative groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has argued for vibrant debate and said “criticism of Israeli policy does not threaten the health of the state of Israel.” In fact, it is essential.

  19. Bloomberg to City Council: Back the F*ck Off!

    Well look, I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS as they call it, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. As you know I’m a big supporter of Israel, as big a one as you can find in the city, but I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. I mean, if you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.

  20. More Bloomberg

    The last thing we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run and base funding decisions on the political views of professors. I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.

    If you want to promote views that you find abhorrent, this is exactly the way to do it. What the protesters have done is given a lot of attention to the very idea they keep saying they don’t want people to talk about! They just don’t think before they open their mouths.

    H/T: Brian Leiter.

  21. Corey Robin:

    It’s over. The politicians have backed down. We won.

    Now that the mayor, the New York Times, and just about everyone else have come down hard on all the government officials and politicians who tried to force my department to withdraw its co-sponsorship of the BDS panel, the “progressive” politicians have issued a second letter (their first is here) to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, in which they backpedal, backpedal, backpedal pull back from their earlier position. No longer, it seems, must we “balance” this panel or withdraw our co-sponsorship.

  22. Glenn Greewald, today – “Brooklyn College update”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/07/saudi-arabia-drones-media-concealment

    “I wrote several times in the last week about the growing censorship campaign aimed at Brooklyn College over an event some of its students organized and its Political Science department sponsored regarding Israel and the BDS movement. There is now very good news to report: namely, both Brooklyn College and academic freedom – as a result of serious public protest over the censorship efforts – have triumphed over the bullying campaign directed at the college.

    The censorship campaign began to unravel when two City Council members who originally signed onto the letter threatening the College’s funding renounced the letter and withdrew their support; one of them, Stephen Levin, began sending an apologetic email to constituents angry about his signing onto that letter. Then, the college’s President issued a defiant and principled defense of academic freedom, and the school’s Political Science Department chair did the same.

    Yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, while emphasizing what a stalwart defender of Israel he is, delivered a steadfast defense of Brooklyn College’s right to hold whatever events it wishes, and strongly condemned the threats to its funding. Said the Mayor:

    “The last thing that we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run, and base funding decisions on the political views of professors. I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.”

    Then, the political officials who signed the original letter demanding the withdrawal of the department’s sponsorship of the event completely reversed course and backed down, trying to save face by pronouncing themselves satisfied with the school’s stated willingness to host anti-BDS speakers in the future (something they were willing to do from the start).

    This important and surprising victory demonstrates what principled leadership combined with public activism can achieve. It can defeat even the most monied and organized factions, as it did here. All of you who made yourselves heard should be proud of the role you played in this victory (I was on Democracy Now yesterday with one of the event speakers, Omar Barghouti, talking about this controversy; the transcript and video are here.”:

    http://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/6/lawmakers_threaten_funding_of_brooklyn_college

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