Upon arriving at Brooklyn College (BC) on the freezing evening of February 7th, I couldn’t help but notice the rows of police vehicles parked on the street, the police barricades on the sidewalks, the police officers monitoring protesters, counter-protesters, and lines of attendees waiting to enter the student center.
One could tell from blocks away that this was no typical student event. Unfortunately, the display of force wasn’t due to some prominent head of state making an appearance at BC; these flashing lights were for a peculiar anti-Israel fest taking place on campus.
The lecture, organized by a pro-Palestinian student group, was to promote the seemingly politically correct attempt to delegitimize the Jewish State through BDS –boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. What distinguished this from the usual anti-Zionist fringe gathering was the co-sponsorship of Brooklyn College’s Department of Political Science. Critics, including prominent alumni like Alan Dershowitz, state and city taxpayers, state and city legislators, and people like me were outraged; how could a publicly funded institution participate in promoting BDS, which seeks to eliminate the Jewish state?
The New York City Council suggested taxpayer money should not be used “to give official sponsorship to speakers who equate terrorists with progressives and the Israeli people with Nazis.” The university response ignored critics, claimed the college has the “academic freedom” to officially sponsor even the most odious of propaganda events, and Mayor Bloomberg arrogantly suggested critics apply to schools in “North Korea.”
A BDS supporter equates Zionists with Nazis while waiting to enter the Brooklyn College student center. Photo: Danielle Avel
At the student center, security measures were tight and included lines outside where names were cross-checked with IDs and the RSVP list, an achingly slow line through the metal detector, bag search, a personal escort to the elevator, another name/RSVP/ID check at the doors of the event, and countless police officers every step of the way.
In spite of the obsessive attention to security measures and the RSVP list, academic freedom was literally left at the door thanks to convenient “errors” that caused students known on campus as pro-Israel advocates like Melanie Goldberg almost denied access. Goldberg had been confirmed for the event three weeks prior and received a reconfirmation email the night before; however, organizers told her that her name was not on the list. She only was permitted to enter when BC Vice President Milga Morales escorted her in. Other pro-Israel students reported similar problems, while anti-Zionist agitators such as Sherry Wolf, Press Officer of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, were seated early.
As I entered the penthouse of the student center, it was apparent the room was stacked with anti-Israel obsessives: primarily members of the co-hosting pro-Palestinian student group along with the usual array of radical feminists, socialists, and greying zealots (often decked out in keffiyehs) that attend virtually every other anti-Israel event in the NYC area. Same crowd, different day.
With all the added security measures, the lecture started late and to the faint sound of chants from pro-Israel advocates stationed on the street. After a brief intro by a student organizer which included a “special thanks” to the BC Political Science Department for standing up to “bullying” by the city council, it was finally time for the two featured speakers, Professor Judith Butler of the University of California at Berkeley and Omar Barghouti, who promotes BDS even as he attends Tel Aviv University.
Judith Butler addresses the crowd as Omar Barghouti looks on. Photo: Danielle Avel
As for their remarks, it was standard anti-Zionist propaganda, only in this university co-sponsored sphere of legitimacy, their lies gained new authority. To lighten their remarks, though, both principal speakers utilized Jewish words, Butler: “What a Megillah!” and Barghouti: “What Chutzpah!”
The most disturbing part of the evening occurred early on. In the midst of Judith Butler’s soft-spoken rant, the audience was utterly silent until a voice near the door exclaimed, “This is an oppression of freedom of speech, this an oppression.” Looking over, I noticed Jewish students being removed from the room and thought to myself, “I guess kippas are not allowed.”
I later learned that the four students belonged to the campus Hillel organization; three were some of the same pro-Israel students initially denied entry because of the shenanigans with the RSVP list. Finally seated in the audience, they held information sheets in their hands with facts they could rely on to formulate questions later to challenge the speakers. Brooklyn College President Karen Gould herself had recommended “those who do attend with opposing views [should] participate in the discussion, ask tough questions, and challenge any ideas with which they disagree.”
One of the students, Ari Ziegler, published his account in the New York Daily News. Ziegler recounts how an organizing member attempted to confiscate the information, demanding, “Give us the papers or you’ll be removed.” The students refused and were forcibly removed by security. College spokesman Jeremy Thompson claimed that “Based on official reports, they were being quite disruptive.” If the students were being disruptive, however, why was the room silent other than Butler’s voice? I would have heard the disruption, had one existed, and there was none. City University of New York officials are now investigating the incident.
Organizers of the BDS lecture claimed to close the event to the press but let in friendly media, such as the New York Times, while excluding others. The Daily News reports that members of the media, including one of its reporters (who was wearing a yarmulke), were “removed from the event despite reserving places to cover the forum.” The university is also now investigating this problem.
The controversy and media coverage surrounding the lecture temporarily brought the anti-Israel fringe crowd into the spotlight, prompting BDS promoters to declare the evening a “victory.” At Brooklyn College this translated into university-sanctioned anti-Israel propaganda, controlled media access, pro-Israel students targeted for no valid reason, outright academic repression, and investigations into misconduct in what has become an embarrassing debacle.
This, of course, could have been anticipated; after all, the strategy of BDS itself was born out of the anti-Semitic Durban I conference, and its ultimate goal is the end of the Jewish State–the same goal as terror organizations Hamas and Hezbollah. Though student groups are free to spread BDS propaganda, the political science department had no business adding official sanction to the circus that took place on February 7th.
As Brooklyn College deals with the fallout, universities everywhere can learn a simple lesson: legitimizing the totalitarian ideology of anti-Israel obsessives can only lead to disaster.