Brooklyn College hosts BDS event, counter protest

Event goes ahead as planned despite uproar after college's political science department sponsors anti-Israel conference.

Palestinians call for a boycott 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians call for a boycott 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 officials.
“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 sides.”
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.”
“I 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 college.
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.
The event’s 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 to represent.”
“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.”