More Anti-Israel Activism at Brooklyn

Brooklyn
College – my home institution — doesn’t exactly enjoy the best reputation for
fair-mindedness regarding Israel. A few years ago, the institution embarrassed
itself
by requiring incoming freshmen to read one and only one book, written
by Moustafa Bayoumi, containing unsubstantiated, inflammatory attacks on U.S.
policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict. To its credit, the college leadership
subsequently reformed the book selection policy, a necessary move after
revelations that the English Department, which up until that time had sole
authority to choose the freshman book, unanimously endorsed the Bayoumi
selection.

Middle
Eastern matters have returned the college to the news, in a less-than-flattering
way. The New York Post reports that a
handful of CUNY student groups, joined by one academic department–Brooklyn’s
Political Science Department–will sponsor a campus appearance from two
anti-Israel extremists, Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti. (The official
announcement for the event
actually claims that, contrary to an assertion
by the Brooklyn College spokesperson, the Political Science Department has
“endorsed” the event.) The duo will be speaking on behalf of their joint
efforts to promote an international boycott/divestment/sanctions against
Israel. Barghouti has penned a book on the concept, which even the status
quo-oriented AAUP opposes,
while Butler’s hostility to Israel has led her to make such bizarre claims as
her assertion
that “understanding Hamas/Hezbollah
as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part
of a global Left, is extremely important.”

In
response to protests from students and some in the community, college spokesman
Jeremy Thompson noted,
“As a university, we are committed to academic freedom and the free exchange of
ideas. We don’t tell student groups or academic departments what topics they
can or cannot discuss.”

The
spokesperson’s remarks were superficially reasonable but divorced from reality.
First of all, academic departments have limited time and resources; they don’t
sponsor talks from random crackpots off the street. So it matters to see what sort
of talks they do sponsor. That an
academic department chose to sponsor a talk from BDS extremist speaks to its
values and overall intentions. Would the Political Science Department have been
willing to sponsor–or in this case, at least according to the official
announcement, “endorse”–a talk from figures who sought to delegitimize China?
The current government in South Africa? Sweden? To ask the question illustrates
its absurdity.

Second,
on Middle Eastern matters, the Brooklyn Political Science Department reflects the
broader situation within the academy: there’s little, if any, indication that
the department seeks to stimulate discussion by exposing students to a wide
variety of perspectives on the Arab-Israel relationship. There’s certainly no
indication that the department would even consider “endorsing” a talk by
figures at the opposite extreme from Barghouti and Butler–which in this case
would be, perhaps, an MK candidate from the far-right fringe of the far-right
Otzma LeYisrael party list.

Too
often in the academy, it seems, the “free exchange of ideas” on matters related
to Israel proceeds only in one direction.

KC Johnson

KC Johnson

KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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