Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) Condemns Brooklyn College’s Continuing Support of the Radical BDS Campaign

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Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is concerned that on November 14th The City University of New York’s (CUNY) Brooklyn College , spearheaded by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), is hosting yet another well-known anti-Israel speaker—Ben White, whose talk will be “Israel: Apartheid not Democracy.” White, a British journalist, is the author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide and Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy.

White is also known for his 2006 defense of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after he publicly expressed the vile notion that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” White responded that “Ahmadinejad had not necessarily, as many assumed, called for an apocalyptic battle to wipe out the Jews,” and argued on his website that Ahmadinejad was not speaking genocidally but was merely referring to “Palestine’s cartographic absence.”

Two academic units of Brooklyn College, the Sociology Department and the Political Science Department, are co-sponsors of the White event. As is often the case when radical speakers are invited to present their view on campus, the sponsors of this event claim that their motives are merely to help facilitate academic debate on serious issues. “We co-sponsor events because we as a department value the open and free exchange of ideas,” said Paisley Currah, head of the Political Science Department. “As educators, we place great value on learning, inside and outside the classroom.”

This past February, the same Political Science Department and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) co-sponsored a forum entitled “Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti: BDS Movement for Palestinian Rights,” BDS, of course, standing for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.  This movement advocates economic war against Israel, with the central objective being the weakening, and eventual destruction, of the Jewish state.  The supposed grounds are human rights violations, but even if these allegations were true, which they are not, no other state — including incontestable rights violators like North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia or Egypt — is targeted by the BDS movement.  It is an anti-Israel movement, not a human rights movement.

Pronouncements attempting to appeal to the conscience of academics supportive of the BDS movement often depict Israel as a Nazi-like state, as Ben White himself regularly does. These views—once labeled extreme—have become increasingly mainstream as academics call for Israel’s destruction, not by might or power, but by bad analogies and misguided ideas.

The controversy over the February event at Brooklyn College had little to do with free speech, and everything to do with politicization of the academia — in this case, by disingenuous anti-Israel ideologues. The Political Science Department at Brooklyn College, a public institution partially supported by taxpayers’ dollars, elected to publicly support this forum, with the expressed intention of providing a venue where a vigorous debate on an important issue could take place.

But while the Political Science Department referred to the event as a “forum,” only one view – extreme anti-Israel activism – was represented, a point of view that will be repeated with the appearance of Ben White. SPME is concerned that student groups, sometimes with academic unit co-sponsors, regularly give platforms on campus to radical propagandists with well-known anti-Israel, anti-Semitic agendas, and disingenuously claim that there is a compelling scholarly reason to initiate “debate” about important issues. The problem, however, is that events like these do not promote vigorous debate, but are one-sided, biased pseudo-academic events meant to demonize Israel and advance the corrosive BDS campaign.

Universities are obliged to foster the unfettered and free exchange of ideas for members of their own academic communities, but are under no obligation to provide a podium for the views of speakers from outside the campus walls. This is especially true, as in this case, where the invited guests are well-known for their anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, and where their speech may well contribute to the creation of a climate of fear, harassment, and intimidation for Jewish students and other supporters of Israel.

Faculty, administrators, and student groups have no trouble identifying corrosive speech when it is expressed by homophobes, xenophobes, Islamophobes, racists, or sexists—in those extremely rare instances when such speakers are even invited to speak on campuses in the first place—and would never co-sponsor a speech by someone propagating such attitudes because they purportedly “value the open and free exchange of ideas.”

So, in allowing a speaker like Ben White to promote his well-known campaign to excuse anti-Semitism, provide intellectual cover for Holocaust deniers, and promote a campaign which has as its central purpose the destruction of the Middle East’s only democracy, the Jewish state, Brooklyn College is demonstrating very clearly that it only tolerates the “open and free exchange of ideas” when those ideas conform to a pre-conceived world view which excludes actual debate from different sides an argument. That is not true academic free speech and to invoke that term is disingenuous and symptomatic of a double standard on campuses concerning who may say what about whom.

SPME rejects the politics of hatred that the BDS movement represents and urges all institutions of higher education to ensure that none of its academic units sponsor this racist, counter-productive campaign in the form of panels, symposia, conferences, or other school-sponsored events that politicize scholarship and are intellectually biased against Israel.

We condemn all efforts to use academia to promote boycotts, divestiture, and sanctions against Israel, including the promotion by student governments of resolutions calling for divestiture, as they represent an abandonment of scholarly principles, a degradation of campus civility, and a violation of the precepts of unbiased, rational academic inquiry.

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) Condemns Brooklyn College’s Continuing Support of the Radical BDS Campaign

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Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is not-for-profit [501 (C) (3)], grass-roots community of scholars who have united to promote honest, fact-based, and civil discourse, especially in regard to Middle East issues. We believe that ethnic, national, and religious hatreds, including anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, have no place in our institutions, disciplines, and communities. We employ academic means to address these issues.

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