Brooklyn College & Israel Event

Via the Guardian newspaper:

Brooklyn College’s academic freedom increasingly threatened over Israel event

New York politicians join the Alan Dershowitz-led campaign to dictate to colleges what academic events they can hold

Glenn Greenwald

dershowitz2, Saturday 2 February 2013 10.35 EST

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz is leading the campaign against an event featuring Israel critics, sponsored by the Political Science department of Brooklyn College. Photograph: AP/Sergei Chuzakov

On Tuesday, I wrote about a brewing controversy that was threatening the academic freedom of Brooklyn College (see Item 7). The controversy was triggered by the sponsorship of the school’s Political Science department of an event, scheduled for 7 February, featuring two advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) aimed at stopping Israeli oppression of the Palestinians [one speaker is a Palestinian (Omar Barghouti) and the other a Jewish American (philosopher Judith Butler)]. The event is being co-sponsored by numerous student and community groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, the college’s LGBT group, pro-Palestinian Jewish organizations, and an Occupy Wall Street group.

When I wrote about this earlier in the week, opposition to the event was confined to the usual suspects devoted to so-called “pro-Israel” advocacy, including many with a long history of trying to destroy anyone critical of the Israeli government. The controversy was largely fueled by BC alumnus Alan Dershowitz, who denounced the event in a New York York Daily News Op-Ed as a “hate orgy”. Dershowitz – with whom I had a lengthy and contentious email exchange yesterday on this and other topics (see below) – previously led the successful campaign to pressure DePaul University into denying tenure to long-time Israel critic Norman Finkelstein (after his tenure had been approved by an academic committee), all but destroying Finkelstein’s career as an academic.

Dershowitz has been joined in his current crusade by a cast of crazed and fanatical Israel-centric characters such as Brooklyn State Assembly member Dov Hikind. Ignoring the BDS movement’s explicit non-violence stance, Hikind publicly (and falsely) claimed that the event speakers (to whom he referred as “Barghouti and…the lady”) “think Hamas and Hezbollah are nice organizations, and they probably feel the same way about Al Qaeda”.

Hikind called on the college’s President, Karen Gould, to resign, recklessly insinuating (needless to say) that she’s an anti-Semite: “Perhaps President Gould wasn’t bullied; maybe she secretly approves. . . . I can only speculate to what her motivation or lack of motivation is in allowing this irresponsible endorsement of this loathsome event by her College.”). In 2011, Hikind led the campaign to force Brooklyn College to fire the young adjunct professor Kristofer Petersen-Overton for the crime of writing a pro-Palestinian paper (after firing him, the college rehired him days later).

One of the key members of Brooklyn College’s board of trustees, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, is notorious for having led the 2011 effort to block CUNY from granting an honorary degree to Tony Kushner in light of Kushner’s Israel criticisms (“My mother would call Tony Kushner a kapo,” Wiesenfeld said of the Jewish playwright). When a New York Times reporter writing about the Kushner controversy asked Wiesenfeld whether one side of the Israel/Palestine debate should be suppressed, Wiesenfeld objected that “the comparison sets up a moral equivalence.” When the Times reporter asked him: “equivalence between what and what?”, Wiesenfeld replied: “between the Palestinians and Israelis. People who worship death for their children are not human.”


Read the complete article here.

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1 Response

  1. Poo says:

    Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz should mind his own business. Last year Harvard had its own issues promoting a pro-Palestinian ‘One State Conference.’ That’s his school. Let him tend to his garden. Not that I approve of anti-Semitic or racist rallies and gatherings but let he who cast the 1st stone and so forth.

    Today free speech has been politicized and corrected beyond all meaning. Words like ‘racism’ are freely bandied about and affixed to those who might have the temerity to disagree with anyone over anything.

    Even in my day universities tended to tilt left but free speech existed. You got a better hearing if you ranted left, marched and carried signs but the rest of us could be heard too. Academic freedom is a wonderful thing as long as everyone has it. Too often only one group does. The other is shouted down, or worse. Those that oppose are wrong! I’m sure that Brooklyn College would also be happy to promote a pro-Israel conference and no doubt has. Hasn’t it? They need not be at the same time (too much yelling) but academic freedom would demand all opinions be heard otherwise it is not academic freedom we are talking about but one dimensional brain washing.

    Other words like “oppression,” “genocide” and “victims” always seem to represent those who live to suffer and feel some misguided moral authority over those of us who recognize what century it is and the need to press forward rather than backward. I know cars come equipped with a reverse gear but they are not meant to be used all the time. They are also quite slow. I’m bad at it too.

    At University, I once ended up on the Student Council. It was an accident. I did not run for the position but was nominated and acclaimed by an auditorium of students who wanted no part of the job. I was busy chatting up the girl who sat beside me at the time and missed the entire procedure. I lasted 2 meetings before resigning. The organization of protest marches on the American Embassy was virtually all that was discussed during those 2 intrusive (for me) meetings. What did that have to do with my school or my studies? How would that facilitate relationships between students, professors and the University? Besides, I generally like Americans and, though I do not always agree with them, I don’t picket my friends when I disagree with them either. I do recall the vital issue of bra-burning coming up as well. As a bit of a bumbler with bras, I was for it. I could see, however, no possible reason why there should be a bloody vote on it at a Student Council meeting, on a date maybe but not at Council surely. Hopefully they have better things to do at today’s meetings but from what I read, apparently they do not.

    I noted in the article that “opposition to the event was confined to the usual suspects devoted to so-called “pro-Israel” advocacy, including many with a long history of trying to destroy anyone critical of the Israeli government.” Well, the “usual suspects” were promoting the event. Isn’t that how it works? Alan Dershowitz is a lot of things, mostly self-serving, but I rather doubt he would, even if he could, “destroy” anyone. When the rhetoric goes over the top, it loses me. How do you “all but destroy” a career? Either it is or it isn’t. You cannot be “all but” pregnant either.

    I note that Dershowitz and his “cast” are “crazed and fanatical Israel-centric characters.” Is that like pro-Palestinian radicals, only different?

    It’s the same all over. We are no exception. I am going to give you some Canadian examples in an attempt to illustrate that the deterioration of free speech is universal. I also dislike appearing regularly as someone who constantly carps on American issues. We have issues too. Think of it as sharing.

    A couple of years ago My Old School, as Steely Dan would sing, had one of its many foofrahs. York University has become a hotbed for protest. The teaching assistants close the school at the end of each contract, so badly are they treated. I still have a bank account there and am not allowed to access it unless I wait an hour or more while they pout about their hardships and hold up traffic. Why is that those with nothing to do spend so much time interfering with those that do? I can see once but all the time? Can’t they find something better to do or someplace else? Apparently not. They are forced to endure indentured slavery to York. There is no escape.

    Among the students it is much worse. The Gays protest, the anti and pro abortionists protest, the Christians protest, the anti-Christians protest, the Occupiers protest and the Muslims and Jews duke it out with embarrassing regularity.

    But in 2010 the school and Mamdouh Shoukri, the President, topped themselves. The university hosted a speech by George Galloway, the former UK MP, who had been banned from Canada the previous year. Mr. Galloway had himself filmed while handing wads of cash to the illegal, under Canadian law, terrorist group Hamas while on a highly publicized visit to Gaza. Mr. Shoukri had no problem with Galloway but when a local Jewish Rabbi, Aaron Hoch, criticized Galloway and encouraged people to participate in a peaceful protest against him, Shoukri had the university’s lawyer fax a letter demanding the Rabbi take down criticisms from his website. Further Shoukri claimed that encouraging people to peacefully protest against Galloway might “constitute criminal activity.” He even had the gall to demand a written apology from Rabbi Hoch! Galloway and his Hamas supporters enjoyed free rein at the university with security provided by Shoukri. Somehow, in the mind of the good President, Galloway protesters could be charged with crimes. Is it relevant at all to mention that Shoukri hales from Egypt the land of riots, Salafists and military rule? Am I a racist for mentioning it? Frankly, I don’t much care what they do in Egypt; I just don’t want them doing it here. Currently President Morsi is overseeing Egypt’s transition from a military-backed dictatorship to, well um, a military backed dictatorship. The beauty is that the people had the opportunity to vote for it, as they always had. The difference is that now and in the future the outcome is pre-determined. Oh sorry. That’s how it used to be. It’s so confusing. A fully free democracy in Egypt would deliver a far more virulent dictatorship than Hosni Mubarak could ever have imagined. Much to the horror of the young people who began the ill-named “Arab Spring”, that unemployed 25% of the population between the ages of 18 and 29, the results will perennially disenfranchise them. If not the Muslim Brotherhood then the even more radical and hateful Salafists will gain 50-65% of the vote. The young need a lot of old people to die and economic good times to return and in a hurry too. Oops! Not in their lifetime, as we say. But I digress. The point is, academic freedom includes free speech as well as peaceful assembly and it comes with a price. Like democracy, it is often messy but it is a Canadian tradition and it is the law not to mention good manners.

    Earlier that same year (2010) leggy, loud mouth Ann Coulter the right-winged U.S. commentator, received a rough reception in Canada. University of Ottawa president Allan Rock approved a letter written to her by his deputy threatening prosecution under the Criminal Code of Canada if she said anything untoward in her proposed campus speech. Huh? Rock is not from Egypt but rather is a former Cabinet Minister in a Liberal Government. Oddly, he wasn’t fired for attempting to restrict freedom of speech let alone academic freedom. Go figure.

    Leftist student activists took that letter as a green light to storm the event and shut it down. The University’s security did nothing to stop them. She fared a little better in London, Ontario but was warmly received in Calgary, Alberta. Go west if you’re looking for free speech here, I guess. Me, I can see where a mouthy, albeit long legged, blond could be a problem in a divorce court but I fail to see how her self promotion could possibly affect me in any other way. You don’t like, you don’t attend. Problem solved. The hooplah only increased her book sales and publicity and isn’t that why she came in the first place?

    I don’t know about Brooklyn but I know York and Ottawa were not like this way back in my day and yes, I rode a pony to school. I also wore ‘breeks.’ I am old. It was a long time ago and much has changed, not all of it good. Krisna Saravanamuttu, President of York University’s student federation at the time, knew Shoukri and his ‘rules’ well. Mr. Saravanamuttu was part of a self-acknowledged group of pro-Palestinian radicals who swarmed Jewish students on campus. This is what passes for Student Council business these days I guess. The Jewish students were forced to barricade themselves into a closed room for safety. Mr. Saravanamuttu was also filmed loudly cursing Jewish students who protested against Galloway. Such is the state of free speech at My Old School.

    Please do not think that My Old School is a hostile environment for all Jews. It is not. It is a most open place for those who make donations, especially large ones. They get schools and buildings named after them. Seymour Schulich donated $27 million to the business school. Barry Sherman gave $5 million to the Health Centre. The late Milton Harris, a passed president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and his family also donated in excess of $5 million mark. Not one of them received a threatening fax from Mr. Shoukri or the school’s lawyers. All of York’s biggest donors are, in fact, Jews. One wonders why.

    Carleton University, also in Ottawa our nation’s capitol, has made news here lately because a message board (like Bard’s) in the “free speech zone” was torn down. An activist, secure in the knowledge of his own righteousness and the inherent “hate speech” of those he disagreed with, tore it down. This free speech challenged avenger, one Arun Smith, had his 3 minutes of notoriety for vandalizing the message board. Apparently he found some of the postings on abortion and marriage offensive to his upside-down understanding of free speech. This is not uncommon on the university campuses of today which feature “speech codes” that actually limit debate rather than encourage it. Traditional mainstream views, particularly religious ones, are muzzled.

    I should mention that I am what used to be called a WASP. Not that I ever actually was but I have read the term. I am not religious but do find my self saying ‘rest his/her soul’ when a dead person’s name is mentioned. I do so not out of superstition or any deep seeded religious belief but rather because I feel that being dead is enough. No one need be restless on top of it. It seems like overkill to me.

    Anyhoo, the “seventh year” human rights major and Free Speech Degrader learned everything he knows about “human rights” and “free speech” in school. Just think, it took him 7 years to get this far and he’s still there. One gasps at the possibilities awaiting him upon his graduation should such a feat ever occur. His moral compass, such that he has one, points directly inward. What others say is “hate.” This idiotic guardian of free speech tears up property and labels “hate speech” that which he disagrees with and, more probably, that which he cannot understand.

    As a young man, I once harboured aspirations of attending Carleton, a renowned school of Journalism in its day. It probably still is, I don’t know, but one has to wonder how they could spend 7 years teaching and presumably passing such a deep thinker from the shallow end of the pool. Like the Brooklyn argument, everyone on his side is honest and good, seekers of truth while everyone on the other side comprises a cast of bigots, “crazed and fanatical,” “the usual suspects.” What a juvenile and utterly simplistic way to look at the world. How can a school, a university in fact, produce a student that sees himself as so completely right and right all the time? They would be doing him a favor by charging him with vandalism. At the very least he might learn what he would experience in real life should he ever attempt to participate in it. As it is, his is not the pursuit of knowledge; it is narcissism for which no reading is required, no study, no exams. One needs only a mirror. This is about “correctness” and there is nothing right in that.

    As the Sign Destroyer himself said, “If everyone speaks freely, we end up simply reinforcing the hierarchies that are created in our society.”

    There you have it. He’s right. You’re wrong.

    Sadly today, the Arts and Humanities departments, where I wandered about for somewhat less the 7 years, seem capable of producing far too many ideologically rigid and intolerant clones like the Sign Deranger. That’s not fair I know but there are no jobs in today’s society for such thinkers unless they return to school and teach more of the same inward looking narrow mindedness. The Arts and Humanities used to be where one was taught to think, organize those thoughts and express them. A wide world of creative and philosophical thought was laid bare before us. We could believe or not. We were neither pushed nor pulled in any pre-conceived direction. We were expected to form our own opinions. We were only required to defend them. The Arts and Humanities are building blocks upon which one forms a greater education. Business schools, like the aforementioned Schulick, are requiring their MBA students to take Arts and Humanities courses in order to broaden their outlooks, to open themselves to the world in which they will live. It is hard to see how such an inward looking, self-delusional course of study, one that would encourage, rather than suspend, the destruction of a free speech board would be helpful to anyone.

    I vaguely recall Herbert Marcuse and his theory of Repressive Tolerance. I’m sure it is around here somewhere in some book. It was new in my day, nonsense but new. I guess he is now taught reverently in some places like York, Ottawa U. or Brooklyn. “The restoration of freedom of thought,” he argued, “may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions.”

    There you have it again. He’s right. You’re wrong and he will restrict you’re learning until you get it.

    We live in a world dependent on advancements in Science and Technology and the graduation of students with a firm grasp of same. It worries me that the Arts and Humanities, my personal favorites, will be down graded, even eliminated in some schools if Marcuse or any of his acolytes become the model upon which they are rooted.

    I don’t like much what I see and read about my school, Brooklyn or many others. Free speech seems only to apply to one group. The others are simply wrong. And that is not right. But then, what’s right got to do with anything? It never much interested me simply because it was so subjective. But at least I got to read, think and speak about those things that interested and mattered to me. Opposition is not by definition “hate speech.” It is a difference in opinion regarless of how loudly or even rudely it may be expressed. I was never shouted down, swarmed or threatened with legal action. I was never even called names except once in an Antiguan bar when a drunken woman called me a “Honkie.” She was white. I never did know quite what she meant but I bought her a drink anyway. But that was then. Today I suppose she’d have me picketed, shunned, cursed and perhaps worse. We’ve come a long way baby, if you count backwards as a direction.

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