New York City Democratic mayoral candidate William C. Thompson joined in the chorus of opposition directed at the Brooklyn College’s political science department, which is co-sponsoring an event aimed at promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the State of Israel.
The event, which is scheduled to take place February 7 and is being organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, features virulently anti-Israel speakers, including Omar Barghouti, founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Campus Boycott of Israel, and Judith Butler, a professor of rhetoric and comparative literature at the University of California’s Berkeley campus and a supporter of the BDS movement.
“You do not have a right, and should not put the name of Brooklyn College on hate,” said Thompson at a news conference with more than a dozen elected officials, students and BDS opponents outside the campus on Thursday. “They should be heard, but not with the official stamp of this college.”
Assemblyman Dov Hikind, prominent law professor Alan Dershowitz and the Anti-Defamation League, among others have all spoken out against the event, demanding that the college revoke its sponsorship.
“New York has always been a city where people from all backgrounds come together. We will not allow it to become a place where communities are driven apart. Taxpayer-funded institutions, like Brooklyn College, should not endorse divisive rhetoric, whether it’s anti-Israel, anti-Arab, or targeting any particular group,” Thompson, a former city comptroller, wrote in a message posted to his website.
“The 1st Amendment right of free speech extends to every single American, including those we may disagree with. However, it doesn’t mean a city college should endorse that speech,” he wrote.
“I call on Brooklyn College to end its support of this anti-Israel forum. As mayor, I will bring together New Yorkers from all backgrounds for constructive dialogue that fosters tolerance and cooperation among all,” Thompson affirmed.
Pro-Israel groups have demanded that the political science department also bring in a pro-Israel speaker, but the department has not responded, president of the Israel Club on campus, Ahuva Kohanteb, told The New York Times. She said, however, that she did not want to mount a public attack on the department because she was a political science major.
“That’s going to put a target on my back,” she said.
According to The Times, Kohanteb’s anxiety reflects what several protesters called the “chilling effect” that the department’s decision would have on Jewish students on campus, who may be inclined to silence their own views for fear of angering their virulently anti-Israel professors.
Toby Sklar, a Jewish junior at Brooklyn College, recalled how one of her political science professors had explained in a lecture that she had voted for the event to promote “an open marketplace of ideas.”
Sklar said that while she would have raised her hand to argue, it was only the second day of class and she did not want to antagonize the professor so early in the term.
“I’m not afraid of arguing,” she told the paper. “But it’s an uncomfortable feeling to be in class with a professor who voted for it.”