A panel on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel (BDS) was hosted at Brooklyn College on February 7, 2013. The BDS movement views Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state as illegitimate. Activists call for undermining Israel — and the Jewish State alone — by boycotting its commerce, disinvesting from its economy, boycotting Jewish-Israeli academics, and imposing sanctions against the Jewish state.
The event consisted of lectures by Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler. Omar Barghouti is the founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and a leading light of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS).
Judith Butler is a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature department at UC Berkeley and a well-known supporter of the BDS-movement. She is also known for comments on Hamas and Hezbollah in 2006 when she said, “understanding Hamas/Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important.”
Chemi Shalev writing for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz criticized pro-Israel activists at Brooklyn College and in New York City for being vocal about their objections. American Jews should keep their opinions to themselves or risk increasing the number of those who act against Jewish interests.
Shalev claims that “the distressing tone and self-defeating tactics of the most vocal elements of the so-called pro-Israeli camp in America” resulted in a clear-cut, perhaps unprecedented PR coup for BDS and a humiliating defeat for Israel’s interests. “A few kids meeting on campus” mushroomed and then boomeranged, giving the hitherto obscure BDS activists priceless public relations that money could never buy.
In contrast, Melanie Goldberg and other Jewish students on the campus of Brooklyn College took the view historically associated with Ze’ev Jabotinsky that Jews must fight against hatred.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky wanted to create a new type of Jew, someone who was not a passive victim but who was ready to fight in self-defense. “I would like to point out one permanent assignment that is entrusted to each of us, the defense of our people’s honor.
Jabotinsky had two main approaches for fighting the hatred faced by Jews. First, be strong – Jews are easy targets because they don’t fight back. Second, strengthen the inner presence of Jews through “Hadar”: a Hebrew word meaning outward appearance, dignity, courtesy and faithfulness, compelling even an enemy to recognize that this is a nation deserving of respect.
Melanie Goldberg is a senior Journalism and TV/Radio major with a minor in Marketing at Brooklyn College. She is in the Brooklyn College Presidential Scholars Program, serves as a Hasbara Fellow at the College Tanger Hillel, and is the advisor to the JLIC Orthodox Club on campus. Her previous experience includes interning for Frank PR, FOX News and serving as head of public relations and as an advisor to The OC. She currently interns for the corporate team at 5W PR (PR agency).
The political science department, consisting of Chairman Paisley Currah and 16 departmental colleagues, voted to co-sponsor the event which had only pro-BDS speakers along with a campus club, Students for Justice in Palestine, and a number of non-campus anarchist and extreme left-wing organizations. The decision was “justified” on freedom of speech and academic freedom grounds. The poster for the BDS event, however, specifically said that the event is being “endorsed by… the political science department at Brooklyn College.”
This is not the first time that the Political Science Department has chosen to advance a biased agenda. Their choice of professors and literature consistently reflect a hostile, anti-Israel viewpoint. Two years ago the department hired “a supposed Middle East scholar, who applauded terrorism against Jews, to present a one-sided course favoring the Palestinian position.”
Chairman Paisley Currah, sent out an email to all other department chairs asking them to support his department’s decision by joining it as a cosponsor of the evening. While the Faculty at Brooklyn College supported BDS’s right to free speech, no department agreed to join political science in co-sponsoring the talk.
Hillel at Brooklyn College published a statement that an Academic Campus provides an appropriate venue for serious discussion of important issues and Hillel believes in the First Amendment’s right of free speech. “Yet this event has little to do with those guiding principles, and we are deeply troubled that the Political Science Department, under the guise of Academic Freedom, has chosen to support a one-sided presentation by a radical group that actively works against peace.”
In response to media requests, the political science professors refused to explain what so attracted them to these anti-Israel extremists that their department formally voted to get on board with the talk.
Alan Dershowitz commented on the sponsorship by the Political Science Department at Brooklyn College of a BDS event by stating that freedom of speech and academic freedom require equal access to both sides of a controversy, not official sponsorship and endorsement of one side over the other. The heavy thumb of an academic department should not be placed on the scale, if the marketplace of ideas is to remain equally accessible to all sides of a controversy. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-dershowitz/brooklyn-college-politica_b_2582561.html
But the event in question is pure propaganda and one-sided political advocacy. There is nothing academic about it. Shame on the Brooklyn College political science department for falsely invoking academic freedom and freedom of speech to deny equal freedoms to those who disagree with its extremist politics.
The chairman of the political science department, a radical leftist, would be complaining that his academic freedom was being denied if other college departments officially endorsed positions with which he disagrees. The president of the college, known for her feminist views, would not likely remain silent in the face of an official departmental endorsement of the right to life.
Brooklyn College President Karen Gould defended the school’s decision to continue its sponsorship of the event. But she refused to condemn the BDS movement. In a letter written to the Hillel Board, Gould promised that the forum would promote academic freedom and free speech. ¨I expect all who attend or are present at next week’s event to engage in civil discourse at all times, and I encourage those who do attend with opposing views to participate in the discussion, ask tough questions, and challenge any ideas with which they disagree,¨ she wrote.
Several students, who objected to the event and let it be known among the political science professors, were told that if they had a problem with the department co-sponsoring the event they should show up and debate.
The forum is far from being the first problem with Brooklyn College’s flirtation with the BDS agenda. In 2010, as part of a “common reading” requirement, the college ordered all incoming freshman to read a book by yet another endorser of the BDS movement, Moustafa Bayoumi.
His volume asserted that between 1987 and 2001, the US government approach toward “Arab Americans” was “more often used to limit the speech of Arab Americans in order to cement US policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Bayoumi offered no evidence for his wild claim.http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4344736,00.html
The debate about the forum was especially heated at Brooklyn College because of the public college’s large Jewish and Muslim populations. The college sits in the heart of the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn, home to a large population of Orthodox Jews, many of whom are staunch Zionists. Likewise, the college also has a burgeoning Muslim student population, including many supporters of the pro-Palestinian BDS movement.
Congressman Jerry Nadler joined three House colleagues and every prominent New York City Democrat running for mayor in penning a public letter urging the department “to withdraw their endorsement of this event, rather than send the message to its students and to the world that the divisive perspective offered by the organizing groups is Brooklyn College’s official view.”
Ten New York City Council members sent a letter to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould calling on her to cancel the forum, or face a cut in the university’s funding. “We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City — many of who would feel targeted or demonized by this program — want their taxpayer money to be spent on,” the letter stated. “We believe in the principle of academic freedom. However, we also believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended Brooklyn College decision to co-sponsor the BDS panel discussion. Bloomberg said he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with the movement but said that a university should be free to sponsor a forum on any topic, “including ideas that people find repugnant.” and that its critics should “apply to a school in North Korea.”
There were about 300 spectators outside the assembly hall at about 8 p.m. on Feb. 7, 2013 leading to shouting matches between supporters and critics of Israel. “I believe BDS is anti-Semitic by promoting the one-state solution, where they only believe in an Arab-Muslim state, and not a Jewish state, so that in itself is anti-Semitic,” said protester Melanie Goldberg.
Despite the claims of the university that the forum would be an exercise of free speech, those who opposed BDS were silenced when they were either denied access to the event or pushed out. There is, apparently, strong evidence to corroborate the accounts that pro-Israel students, especially those wearing yarmulkes – making them visibly observant Jews – or “looking” Jewish, were deliberately excluded, even though they secured written permission to attend.
The royalty of New York’s Palestine activist community were out in force. Students, with the exception of those organizing, largely failed to get in at all. As a sophomore I spoke to afterward put it, “If this is about academic freedom, why are students being shut out?”
Melanie Goldberg said she had registered three weeks early and received two emails confirming that she had a spot reserved, but then arrived and was turned away because her name was not on the list. “I knew I´d have problems getting in,” Goldberg said.
Because I saw that registration was open, I decided to register early to ensure that I would be able to participate in any discussion that followed the event, as President Gould had promised. On January 31st, I received this email from Brooklyn SJP confirming my registration to attend the event:
We are emailing you to confirm your attendance to our event on Feb 7th.
If for some reason you cannot make it, please let us know so we can allow more people to RSVP.
To prevent any issues I might have entering, I also signed up at the table outside Whitehead Hall on February 6th at around 12:40 PM. I signed up with Katrina, a writer for The Excelsior, as she was interviewing me at the time. I was number 69 and Sundus Seif was manning the table. On February 6th, the night before the event, I received this email confirming that indeed I would be able to attend the event. It is unclear from which registration I was going to be able to attend, but the fact stands I was going to be able to go:
From: brooklyn collegesjp < [email protected]>
Sent: Wed, Feb 6, 2013 11:48 pm
Subject: RSVP Confirmation *please read carefully*
This is an email to confirm that you are on the RSVP list. Doors open at 5:30pm and close at 6:30pm. We suggest you come early because there will be a very long line. Please don’t be late or else you will lose your seat, because after 6:45pm we will start letting in the people on the waiting list. Also, any kind of recording ‘inside’ the event is prohibited.
On Thursday morning February 7th, I arrived at the Brooklyn College Hillel and saw the director Nadya Drukker. She asked me if I had received confirmation that I could attend the event later that day, and I said I had. She then asked if I wanted her to add my name to a list she was making to send to VP Milga Morales, since she was told that Morales was going to allow those few names into the event for sure. I said yes, hoping this would prevent any possible problems I might encounter. I know Michael Ziegler and Ari Ziegler were also names on that list.
Throughout the day, preparations were made for a peaceful counter protest to the event outside SUBO. We created fact-sheets, questions to ask at the event, and picked up signs to use at the protest. At around 6:05 PM, Ari, Michael and I went on line to get into the event. When we reached the front of the line, they couldn’t find any of our names on the list. We argued with them saying we knew our names must be on it since Drukker had called Morales that day. Suddenly, they found Ari’s name and let him in. They still did not allow Michael and I to enter,
There are witnesses to prove that my name was indeed removed deliberately from the RSVP list by SJP. That is prevention of a student to an open campus-sponsored event.
Norma Chiabott, a 20-year-old undergraduate, had a similar story. “I signed up yesterday and was second on the wait list and still didn´t get in,” she said.
Members of media outlets — including Reuven Blau, a Daily News reporter, who was wearing a yarmulke — were also removed from the event despite reserving places to cover the forum.
Separately, after holding press conferences and inviting the media, Students for Justice decreed that the program would be closed to the press. While a New York Times journalist was admitted or found her way inside,
We called Hillel Director Drukker, who then called VP Morales, and she escorted us through the first two checkpoints. When we made it upstairs, the people manning the front doors did not allow us to enter since we weren’t on their lists. So a member of the administration escorted a few others and us downstairs to sort this out. That’s when we met Yvonne Juris, a girl I knew from a previous Journalism class I had taken.
After about fifteen minutes, VP Morales came back and escorted us back upstairs and through the doors to the event, adding our names to their list. The event had already started at this point.
Michael and I joined his brother Ari Ziegler, graduate student at Brooklyn College, who had saved us seats, and Juris sat next to me. Immediately, I took out my fact-sheets and questions sheets I had prepared. I had wanted to take notes on them. Michael asked for a few and so did Juris, so I gave them some. Ari asked for none, although I know he read what was on Michael’s lap.
Ten minutes later, I was approached by SJP member Carlos Guzman, and asked to hand over all the sheets. I quietly offered him one, but refused to hand over the rest. “Give us the papers or you’ll be removed,” he said sternly to the four of us.
Let me reiterate that I was quiet this entire time at the event, that I was not disruptive, nor was I disseminating the material. Audio and video files from the event can prove that. Carlos then came very close to my face and threatened to have me forcibly removed if I did not hand all my documents over.
I refused, turning to VP Morales for help. She was standing at the door to the event at the moment this was going on and I was sitting four seats in. She made eye contact with me but turned away, leaving my classmates and me to deal with security on our own. Juris got a bit rowdy when they asked her to leave, but only for a moment. None of us resisted security.
We were escorted out of the room, strong hands under our arms and badges at our backs.
We asked why we were being removed. College security’s response:
“We don’t have an answer.”
We asked for someone who could provide an explanation.
“We don’t have an answer for that, either.”
Upon exiting the room, Melanie Goldberg turned to VP Morales asking her why she was not allowed to have fact and question sheets on her lap, and why she was being evicted. Her answer shocked Goldberg. She said, “it’s their event and they’re calling the shots.” Being that the event was presented to the student body and the media as one promoting open conversation. Within minutes, we found ourselves led down six flights of stairs and then outside the building.
Hindy Poupko, director of Israel & International Affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, was in touch with Hillel on campus and involved in protests outside the facility. She told The Algemeiner that she was aware of just one student who was able to get in a dissenting question during the event. “Judith Butler told him ‘you obviously didn’t listen to my speech’ then everyone laughed. It didn’t seem like a place open to dialogue or dissenting opinions,” she said.
College officials and a member of pro-Palestinian group countered that Goldberg and fellow Hillel members Yvonne Juris, and brothers Avi and Michael Ziegler, were being “disruptive” and started distributing flyers during the event. “Based on official reports, they were being quite disruptive,” said college spokesman Jeremy Thompson.
From the first speaker they began to speak out, they were becoming vocal and disruptive to the members around them and one of the student organizers of the event went to them and said ‘you really need to be quiet you’re disrupting other people around you.’ They then did not comply and a couple of police officers asked them to come out into the lobby.” Thompson also claimed that school officials in attendance, including Vice President Milga Morales, confirmed this account. “Goldberg slammed the account as a “blatant lie.”
An audio recording obtained exclusively by The Algemeiner appears to indicate that Brooklyn College representatives misled the public in their account of events. http://www.algemeiner.com/2013/02/12/exclusive-audio-reveals-brooklyn-college-misled-public-on-eviction-of-jewish-students-from-bds-event-audio/
The audio file makes plain that the school was falsely accusing the students, and/or greatly exaggerating the claims made by SJP members that the students were being disruptive throughout their time at the lecture. The file captures the first speaker, Judith Butler, and terminates at the ejection of the four students.
At the 28:14 mark Melanie Goldberg can clearly be heard saying, “I’m not allowed to hold a pamphlet?” This appears to contradict the claim made by Brooklyn College that the students were simply asked to be quiet and did not comply, and one made by an SJP organizer that they were asked to quiet down and stop passing fliers between themselves before they were ejected.
At the end of the audio file you can hear Goldberg saying, “This is an oppression of freedom of speech, this is an oppression…” no time before that, despite the fact that according to The Algemeiner’s source the recording device was positioned only two rows in front of the Jewish students and was able to clearly pick up the voice of Judith Butler several rows ahead, does it appear that any disturbance was being caused.
CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein issued a statement in which he said an investigation into the incident would commence. “There were reports that some said they were asked without cause to leave the event. If this were true, it was wrong and we need to understand exactly what the circumstances were. At the request of President Karen L. Gould, I have asked General Counsel and Senior Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs Frederick P. Schaffer to quickly investigate these allegations. This investigation will be coordinated by CUNY’s Office of Legal Affairs, working with an independent consultant, and charged with reporting directly back to me,” Goldstein said.
A further complication for Brooklyn College is that the expulsion of the four Jewish students may be at odds with a non-discrimination policy requiring that students will not be excluded from participation in the programs of the college because of national or ethnic origin, or religion.
Indeed, Alan Dershowitz believes that the co-sponsorship by the Brooklyn College political science department of an anti-Israel event, from which pro-Israel students were excluded, may have violated the First Amendment. Had the event been sponsored only by student and outside private groups, their decision to exclude pro-Israel students and to prevent the distribution of anti-BDS leaflets would have been a private matter, that at worst may have violated the rules of the college.
But the official co-sponsorship of the event by political science department may have turned their exclusionary decisions into illegal “state action.” The students alone could not call the shots, when it comes to the First Amendment. The university assumed responsibility for assuring that the free speech of all students was equally protected.