The group behind the failed Park Slope Food Co-op boycott of Israeli products is at the center of another controversy, this time at Brooklyn College, where a lecture about a pro-Palestine movement is prompting outrage from local pols.
The college’s political science department is sponsoring the lecture to discuss the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement — but assemblymen Dov Hikind (D–Borough Park) and Steve Cymbrowitz (D–Brighton Beach) are calling on the publicly funded school to cancel the event, scheduled for Feb. 7.
“The issue is that it’s being sponsored with tax-payer dollars,” said Cymbrowitz, who helped organize a Thursday morning rally against the lecture.
The event, billed as a lecture “on the importance of [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] in helping end Israeli apartheid and the illegal occupation of Palestine,” features two speakers, Berkeley Professor Judith Butler, a philosopher and Palestinian rights advocate who is best known for her work on gender, and Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights advocate.
Brooklyn College officials say that cancelling the event is out of the question, arguing that part of its mission is to hold events of this nature.
“As an institution of higher education, it is incumbent upon us to uphold the tenets of academic freedom and allow our students and faculty to engage in dialogue and debate on topics they may choose,” said Brooklyn College President Karen Gould in a statement. “Some may believe that our steadfast commitment to free speech signals an institutional endorsement of a particular point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Still, Cymbrowitz claims this has nothing to do with freedom of speech at all.
“If a student club wants to have these forums, let the forums continue, but it should not be sponsored by Brooklyn College,” he said.
Legal experts said the issue isn’t entirely cut and dry in the school’s favor.
“I don’t think the school has any constitutional obligation to show what is one side of a hot-button issue; suppose they only showed a Democratic candidate, but turned down the Republican one?” said free speech expert Jesse Choper, the Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University of California, Berkeley — a school that is no stranger to free speech controversies. “If they had someone there who was as far to the right as Judith Butler is to the left, then that would be another matter.”