New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday rejected suggestions by city politicians and Jewish groups that a panel discussion on boycotts and sanctions against Israel at Brooklyn College scheduled for Thursday be canceled.
“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,” The New York Times quoted Bloomberg as saying at a press conference at City Hall.
The New York mayor stated that, while he personally "couldn't disagree more violently" with the BDS movement, a university should be free to hold a discussion on any topic it wants.
Several members of the New York City Council had sent a letter to the college's president last month threatening to cut its funding if the event was not canceled.
Bloomberg said of the threat, “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,” he said. “I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.”
The event was scheduled to feature Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the BDS movement, and Judith Butler, an academic who openly speaks sympathetically about Hamas and Hezbollah, according to the New York Daily News, which wrote an Op-Ed piece decrying the event. Barghouti has compared Israelis to Nazis, according to the newspaper.
A representative from the college, however, said the event does not demonstrate that the department endorses the BDS movement, which advocates the boycott of Israeli products, but that the “department’s support is simply for providing a forum for discussion and debate about the topic. Nothing else is implied.”
The primary host of the event is the Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that says it is aimed at “helping end Israeli apartheid and the illegal occupation of Palestine.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York strongly condemned the college’s decision to lend its name to the event, writing to JTA that “while we vigorously defend academic freedom, we believe that these freedoms do not extend to faculty and academic bodies exploiting their association with the university to enhance their biased and hateful agenda.”
The JCRC called on the political science department to remove its name from event.
Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz has referred to the BDS movement as one of the most "immoral, illegal and despicable concepts around academia today."
JTA contributed to this report.