Brooklyn in the spotlight: College showdown draws sharp views from around the globe • Brooklyn Paper

Brooklyn in the spotlight: College showdown draws sharp views from around the globe

Helen Freedman protests plans for pro-Palestinian lecture at Brooklyn College
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Forget the Barclays Center — or even bike lanes — the biggest story in Brooklyn right now is a college talk by a pro-Palestine group.

Voices from around the globe are weighing in on the controversy at Brooklyn College, which has divided the city between those who think that the school should withdraw its sponsorship or agree to host an alternate perspective and those that think that canceling the event would be a violation of the fundamental freedoms of speech and academia.

On one side, British rocker Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Walker, an opinion piece published by Al Jazeera network, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, and columnists at The Nation and The Los Angeles Times have all opined in support of the College’s co-sponsorship of the talk about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Movement with gender theorist Judith Butler and Palestinian human rights advocate Omar Barghouti.

“The threat to academic freedom posed by this growing lynch mob is obvious: if universities are permitted to hold only those events which do not offend state officials … then ‘academic freedom’ is illusory,” wrote Greenwald in a blog post comparing the reactions to Rudy Giuliani’s infamous crusade against the Brooklyn Museum. “It is truly extraordinary to watch ‘liberal’ officials in the largest city in the US expressly threaten the funding of a college for the crime of holding an event that is critical of Israel.”

In the other, the Daily News, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, four top Democratic mayoral hopefuls and a cadre of city politicians including Borough President Markowitz, several city councilmembers, state assemblymen like Dov Hikind (D–Borough Park) and Steven Cymberowitz (D–Coney Island), and US congressmembers like Hakeem Jeffries (D–Fort Greene) and Yvette Clark (D–Flatbush) criticized the college and its president, Karen Gould for cosponsoring the forum.

Some even floated the suggestion that funding cuts could follow such a decision by a City University of New York campus.

“A significant portion of the funding for CUNY schools comes directly from the tax dollars of the people of the State and City of New York,” read a letter from Lew Fidler (D–Mill Basin), and signed by ten other councilmembers including Michael Nelson (D–Sheepshead Bay), Letitia James (D–Fort Greene), and Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg), though the latter two eventually revoked their support. “We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City — many of who [sic] would feel targeted and demonized by this program — want their tax money to be spent on.”

Mayor Bloomberg offered a vigorous defense of the college at a press conference Wednesday.

“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea,” said Bloomberg, quoted in the New York Times.

“The last thing we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run.”

The event is scheduled for tonight. Refreshments will be served.

Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti discuss the BDS Movement tonight at Brooklyn College [2900 Bedford Ave. at Campus Road, Student Center Building Penthouse] 6:30 pm.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind says publicly funded Brooklyn College should not play host to pro-Palestinian speakers accusing Israel of aparteid.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

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