A College Behaves Badly Over Israel

The Brooklyn College pro-BDS event–with which the
school’s Political Science Department formally voted to affiliate itself–has
come and gone. The big news from the gathering last Thursday came not in
anything the two pro-BDS speakers said (their anti-Israel ramblings were
entirely predictable) but in reports from Tablet and the Daily News that four anti-BDS
students were expelled from the proceedings, all while a senior college
administrator stood idly by. The move only reinforced concerns that the
Political Science-backed event was far more propaganda than anything
approximating academic discourse.

Beyond that, a few general points:

First, college president Karen Gould distinguished
herself for what amounted to an anti-anti-BDS position, like that of the
anti-anti-communists of the late Cold War era–those who didn’t necessarily
support communism, but who considered anti-communists to be the far greater
threat to world peace and American national interests. In her two statements on
the affair, she strongly (almost glowingly) defended the Political Science
Department whose formal vote triggered the crisis. Unlike Mayor Mike Bloomberg
and CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein, she couldn’t bring herself to condemn
BDS. In her first statement on the event, she implied, without saying so
outright, that BDS could be considered as among the “issues of importance to our world.” In a follow-up
statement, after a public, media, and alumni outcry, she allowed that she
didn’t “endorse” BDS, but refused to say if she condemned it, or if she would
continue various college cooperative ventures with Israel if a majority of the
faculty formally endorsed BDS. It’s little wonder that many of the strongest
critics of Israel on the faculty publicly praised Gould for her conduct.

And while the president also urged BDS opponents to
attend the event and make their views known, her administrator’s apparent
inaction amidst the expulsion of the four anti-BDS students seemed to speak of
the administration’s unseriousness on this score.

Second, the Political Science Department distinguished
itself for its hypocrisy–wrapping itself in claims of “academic freedom” while
refusing to explain to students or to the public whose tax dollars help fund
its members’ salaries and why it voted to formally affiliate itself with the
event. Requests from the Daily News were stonewalled. A departmental
statement supposedly clarifying the faculty’s sponsorship policy was little
more than word salad, concealing the selection criteria. And the sole
department member to publicly offer a rationale for the departmental vote
offered criteria (speakers who “are heterodox and that challenge
the dominant assumptions of society”
) that would seem to justify
departmental sponsorship of a David Duke campus appearance.

Finally, the event provided a reminder–if one were
needed–that few segments of American society are more hostile to Israel than a
typical college campus. 

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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