NEW YORK – Brooklyn College hosted an event Thursday evening organized by the
Students for Justice in Palestine, during which two speakers, and dozens of
their supporters, called for the boycott, divestment and sanctioning of the
State of Israel.
The evening went ahead as planned despite an uproar that
ensued after the public college’s political science department officially
sponsored the event, sparking a debate over the weight of such a sponsorship and
its appropriateness in an academic environment.
New York City officials
have called for the financial sanctioning of Brooklyn College for allowing the
department to make such a definitive endorsement, though the college rejects
that characterization of the sponsorship. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
has come out in defense of the event, calling it an obvious exercise of free
speech on campus.
“It’s the college coming out in support of a vicious,
hateful group, plain and simple,” New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind told The
Jerusalem Post at the rally. “This isn’t about free speech. The issue is very
simple: The sponsorship is inappropriate.”
NYC police officers blocked
off two areas of the campus to accommodate counter protests outside of the
event, held in the campus student center. More than 60 protesters came out in
support for Israel, including alumni, concerned residents, members of the
college’s Hillel Jewish student center and local government
“What this event means is that there’s a clear anti-Israel
bias from the administration.
And projecting that opinion on students is
just wrong,” said Moshe Berman, a sophomore at the school. “If a department has
to sponsor an event like this, the only way to do it properly is to present both
The event featured two speakers, Omar Barghouti, a founding
member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of
Israel, and Judith Butler, a University of California, Berkeley professor and a
member of Jewish Voice for Peace.
“[The event’s critics] don’t much care
about consistency or plausibility,” Butler told the attendees. “They fear that
if the speech is sponsored by an institution such as Brooklyn College, it will
not only be heard, but become hearable, admitted into the audible world. The
fear is that viewpoint will become legitimate, which means only that someone can
publicly hold such a view and that it becomes eligible for contestation. A
legitimate view is not necessarily right, but it is not ruled out in advance as
hate speech or injurious conduct.”
A smaller group of protesters opposite
the pro-Israel rally called for an end to the State of Israel, made up of a mix
of about half a dozen self-proclaimed socialists and approximately 15 hassidic
Jews, chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be freed.”
think it’s ironic that Alan Dershowitz, a civil rights lawyer, would try to
infringe on the right of free speech,” said Natalia Tylim, a member of the
International Socialist Organization with no ties to the
Dershowitz, a Brooklyn College alumnus and a regular Jerusalem
Post contributor, condemned the college’s endorsement of the event and offered
to speak at it to provide an alternative perspective.
organizers did not take him up on his offer.
One student representative
for the Students for Justice in Palestine expressed concern that the event was
being billed as anti-Semitic by large media outlets.
“It’s just a talk
that’s meant to bring about public awareness,” said Sal Awad. “We’re not against
Jews, at all. One of our speakers is Jewish. Jewish students helped organize
this event tonight. This is about government policies, not the people they claim
“I come here as an Israeli, as a Jew and as a local
concerned,” said Sara Michael, holding a sign with a blue Star of David. “These
sorts of things just stir up a lot of hate.
And they become dangerous
when met with silence.”