Thursday, January 31, 2013

BDS Controversy Raging in Brooklyn

BDS Controversy Raging in Brooklyn

Bethany Mandel

There’s another BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) controversy brewing in Brooklyn, this time at the publicly-funded Brooklyn College. Brooklyn College’s political science department has decided to co-sponsor an anti-Israel BDS conference, despite growing outrage at the school and department’s tendency to sponsor events that only portray one side of the Mideast debate. Yesterday Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a trustee at the City University of New York (the larger network that Brooklyn College is a member of) wrote a scathing op-ed about the conference in Algemeiner in which he admonished the school for its decision to go ahead with the program:

I call upon taxpayers to draw a line here and make it known: taxpayer dollars should not fund illegitimate, racist and anti-Semitic activities by any academic department. Those of us who care about Israel would do no less if others were similarly treated. Indeed, the Jewish community in particular historically has done no less. Additionally, academic administrators should be reminded that Jewish students are no less entitled – under applicable federal law – than other students to an educational environment free of intimidation and prejudice.

This afternoon Brooklyn College President Karen Gould released a statement explaining the school’s decision to carry on with the conference, despite the outrage of many members of the Jewish community in Brooklyn as well as the student body. Despite a long history of Jewish enrollment at Brooklyn College in addition to its current large population of Jewish students (30 percent of Brooklyn College’s population self-identified as Jewish in 2011), the school has become known as a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. A friend and former student, Dani Klein, told me,

Ten years ago as a student at Brooklyn College, I was the President of NYSIPAC, the Israel advocacy club on campus at the time. We held events frequently. Sometimes individual professors came to speak, or promoted it, but we never had any department sponsor our events, let alone the political science department. Similar, one-sided, anti-Israel events were held on campus back then too, some comparing Israel to Nazis. These same groups have changed their tactics. Instead of shock and awe, they promote BDS. But their goal is the same — the destruction of Israel. 

In response to the controversy, Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind has called for President Gould’s resignation, releasing a statement earlier today:

Allowing her Poli-Sci Department Chair to bully her into letting them co-sponsor and support a racist, anti-Semitic lecture series is not the right thing. Or perhaps President Gould wasn’t bullied; maybe she secretly approves. Or perhaps she’s apathetic. 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.

Either way, President Gould should not be steering this ship. It is heading for a barge. She should give someone else the helm, someone who understands how to manage a situation like this and protect Brooklyn College’s entire student body. The chilling effect upon Brooklyn College students will have long-term ramifications. Tacit approval is approval. Karen Gould should resign.”

Tomorrow, at 11 A.M., Assemblyman Hikind will be joined by numerous elected officials and community groups who will condemn Brooklyn College’s official endorsement and sponsorship of the event “BDS Movement Against Israel” which calls for a unilateral boycott against Israel and Israeli businesses.

Despite President Gould’s insistence that the conference will go on as planned, pressure seems be mounting, not dissipating, for its cancellation. If the event goes as scheduled it will surely continue to stoke tension in the community, which appears to be the only thing that BDS events seem to accomplish.