standard Brooklyn College Urged to Cancel Student Palestinian Event Thursday Evening

A recent protest / event by Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College (via Students for Justice in Palestine)

A recent protest / event by Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College (via Students for Justice in Palestine)

Local politicians are asking Brooklyn College to cancel a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) discussion scheduled tomorrow, while civil rights and Arab-American groups believe the event should be allowed to go forward.

SJP, a grassroots network of students and recent graduates with chapters on university campuses throughout the country, has planned a conversation tomorrow between Professors Steven Salaita and Katherine Franke. The event will focus on “the constant push by Zionists to silence academic discourse on the Palestinian struggle and criticisms of Israel,” according to the event’s Facebook page.

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn) wrote a letter  to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, urging her to cancel tomorrow’s lecture, despite it being co-sponsored by several academic departments. Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) has also asked the university to withdraw its invitation to the speakers for the event. The requests come just a day after a terrorist attack upon worshippers at a synagogue in Jerusalem, which prompted the NYPD to ramp up security at Jewish houses of worship throughout the five boroughs.

“With daily terror attacks raging throughout Israel and the Middle East, academic departments should be sponsoring events that promote unity and reconciliation — not hatred and division.”

“Yesterday, innocent people were attacked with axes and guns while they stood in synagogue with their heads bowed in prayer,” said Assemblyman Hikind. “These men were not settlers—they were rabbis and teachers living in Jerusalem. The Jews attacked in France and Belgium aren’t so-called settlers either. But they are targeted because hatred against the Jewish people is spreading further and further.”

“With daily terror attacks raging throughout Israel and the Middle East, academic departments should be sponsoring events that promote unity and reconciliation — not hatred and division,” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said.

Assemblyman Cymbrowitz, who has criticized Brooklyn College twice before for sponsoring SJP events and spoken out against what he fears is a growing trend of anti-Semitism under the cloak of anti-Israel fervor, added that he was incensed by what he called the college’s “repeated tone-deafness.” Similar uproar occurred last year when SJP invited Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler to speak at Brooklyn College about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, leading to denunciations of the event by politicians, pro-Israel protests outside and an investigation as to whether SJP excluded journalists and removed attendees who were unsupportive of the BDS movement. Though the investigation ultimately cleared SJP of any wrongdoing, Assembylman Cymbrowitz remains steadfast in his opposition to Brooklyn College’s holding of such events.

“As a publicly funded institution, Brooklyn College has no right to provide a mouthpiece either to Salaita, whose anti-Semitic diatribes on social media rightly cost him a job at the University of Illinois, or to the SJP, an inflammatory group that (according to your own investigation) intentionally silenced Israel supporters during a previous lecture at your college,” Cymbrowitz wrote in his letter to Gould.

But civil rights groups and Arab-Ameican associations defended the event in the interests of free speech.

“It’s never okay to silence academic freedom,” said Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab-American Association of New York. “We don’t have to agree on content, but we can agree on right of students to hold events.”

“Ideological expression is a core American right and central to academic freedom,” said Jennifer Carnig, Director of Communications for the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The legislators are free to express their opinions, but they may not use the government to punish those whose speech they disagree with.”

“The legislators who tried to shut down [last year’s] panel are trying to silence an event precisely about the silencing of dissent.”

“SJP, as well as any other student group, should be allowed to hold events and exchange ideas without worrying about lawmakers trying to censor them,” said Ashoka Jegroo, a journalist in Brooklyn who frequently writes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The legislators who tried to shut down [last year’s] panel are trying to silence an event precisely about the silencing of dissent.”

However, Alan Dershowitz, a lawyer, author, and political commentator who frequently weighs in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, disputes the notion that the university is truly interested in the free exchange of ideas.

“Brooklyn College refuses to invite me to speak about Israel, despite repeated requests,” Dershowitz said. “Departments that  sponsor anti-Israel hate speech refuse to sponsor me to advocate a two-state solution. It is those departments, especially the Political Science Department, that are stifling the free exchange of ideas.”

The university’s Political Science Chair, Corey Robin, is scheduled to join the guests at the event Thursday evening. Assemblyman Hikind added that Robin has hardly allowed a balanced approach to any academic considerations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his department.

“Just look at who the Political Science Department invites to speak to Brooklyn College students year after year. The pattern—and Robin’s personal agenda—are very clear,” Hikind said.

Other SJP chapters have also made the news in recent years. The Chapter at Northeastern University was banned in March after critics complained about a variety of intimidating and hostile tactics, including allegations of “crashing” an event during the school’s Holocaust Awareness Week (the local chapter disputed the claim, insisting they were only involved in “a silent walkout of an IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] event”). The ban was ultimately overturned and the group was reinstated.

Efforts by the group to divest and boycott Israeli-made goods and services have had a mixed record. Successful divestment measures have passed at UC Berkeley, Riverside, and Irvine, and most recently, UCLA, while a resolution at Loyola University in Chicago was vetoed. SJP claimed victory when Hampshire College agreed to divest from several major companies in February 2009, but the administration said the decision was made for other reasons. A divestment initiative at Cornell University failed, as did a campaign for DePaul University to boycott Sabra hummus.

Here in Brooklyn, Assembylman Cymbrowitz’s letter called on Gould to cancel the event “immediately, as it would serve no other purpose but to further incite anti-Semitism throughout your campus.”

Brooklyn College and Students for Justice in Palestine (both National SJP and the Brooklyn College chapter) did not return requests for comment by press time.

Update: we received the following statement from Political Science Chair Corey Robin:

“Contrary to the assertions of Professor Dershowitz or Assemblyman Hikind, the political science department is more than happy to co-sponsor talks and events from a variety of opposing viewpoints, from across the political spectrum. As we have made repeatedly clear, if a student group or academic unit wishes to hold a talk in support of the State of Israel, we will co-sponsor it. (That is our written policy, unanimously adopted by the department, which can be found on our department website.) In the spring of 2013, we did just that: prominent defender of Israel Elliot Abrams spoke and we co-sponsored the talk. This semester, a former member of the Israeli Knesset is teaching a course on Israeli legislative politics in our department. I think what Professor Dershowitz is most upset about is not that our department doesn’t co-sponsor talks or air views from across the spectrum — clearly, we do — but that we have not invited him to speak in recent years. Then again, in all the years that Professor Dershowitz was a professor at Harvard Law School, he and his colleagues never once invited me to speak, so I’m not exactly clear what all the fuss is about. Be that as it may, if Professor Dershowitz’s goal is to speak at Brooklyn College, he should have a student group bring him to campus — just as the SJP is now bringing Steven Salaita and Katherine Franke to campus — and we will be happy, if asked, to co-sponsor his talk. If no student group wishes to bring him to campus, I’m afraid I can’t do anything about that.”

Maria LaHood, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents Professor Salaita, and represented Brooklyn College SJP in the CUNY investigation, offered the following statement: 

“Assemblyman Cymbrowitz should at least check his facts before he attempts to silence, ironically, a discussion about Academic Freedom in the context of conversations about Palestine/Israel.  Professor Steven Salaita’s tweets not only condemned anti-Semitism but raised concerns that conflating anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel undermines the struggle against true anti-Semitism, as noted in his Chicago Tribune op-ed.  Cymbrowitz also misrepresents the findings of the CUNY investigation regarding last year’s Brooklyn College BDS event – that Cymbrowitz also tried to stop – which did not find that Students for Justice in Palestine intentionally silenced anyone because of their viewpoint.  Cymbrowitz’s attempt to prevent students and faculty from even discussing efforts to chill speech critical of Israel is insidious, and part of a nationwide effort to silence such speech.”

  • BDSlist

    I recently heard Prof Salaita speak in Berkeley and I found his smiles and generous nature inspiring, considering the sustained attacks he has been facing for criticizing Israel’s recent bombardment of Gaza. The many terrible events in Jerusalem should surely be prompting all of us to learn more and discuss vigorously the issues, and it is shameful of representatives to try to silence such discussions. Sadly this seems to be happening all too often: when there is criticism of Israel, there is a mindless hurling of epithets like “anti-Israel” and “anti-Semitic” in response. Read and listen to Prof Salaita and you will quickly learn how wrong Steven Cymbrowitz, Dov Hikind and Alan Dershowitz are in their characterizations of him and the movements to hold Israel to account.

    I’m very pleased to read Corey Robin’s support of academic freedom. His statement caused me to smile fondly at some academic’s delusions of importance.

  • Mandy

    These assemblymen are trying to silence a discussion about silencing speech. They’re just building SJP’s case.

  • FreeArabWorld

    It seems the US is well on the road to Fascism “with a little help from their friends”(The Zionists).

  • Samuel

    I just saw him at NYU!

  • MG
  • Madman Defarge

    As a Jew and a former BC student I am alarmed and dismayed at the opportunistic hacks who seek to silence the voices of those within the BC community who are brave and decent enough to stand against the State of Israel’s many crimes against the Palestinian people.

  • Crusty

    I don’t understand why some pro-Israeli group doesn’t put him out of his misery and invite Dershowitz to speak.

  • Rafael Antonio Ruiz-Ayala

    Pandering to the pro Israhell lobby even to the point of spitting on the First Amendment.

  • Barbara Lyons

    I heard Stephen Salaita speak at Northwestern. He made the point that if sensitive topics cannot be discussed on university settings WHERE can they be discussed.

  • Spoiler: It’s an animal

    What’s a Palestinian?

    • Free Speech in Brooklyn

      What is an “Israeli”? Ridiculous made up state that has been systematically massacring the Palestinians for 60 years.

      • Go back to your Arab country

        Lol well that’s all obviously false. But seriously, what’s a Palestinian? I’ve looked everywhere and can only conclude that there’s no such thing.

      • normalperson

        yeah really.. can you show me on the map i can’t seem to find it anywhere..never heard of it

      • normalperson

        where does it say palestine on the map??

  • post zionist and proud of it

    They should impeach Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz for incitement and non-representation of all public views in NYC – outrageous. As a Jew, I resent his “anti-semitic” and hate-mongering behavior

  • aviva1

    I think the world has gone completely mad. Israel aka, home of the Jews, for 3000 some years, exists on a small sliver of ancestral land.. which was for the most part uninhabited but for a few Arabs, now called Palestinians. Israel has been attacked repeatedly, and the world responds by blaming the victim. Have you all gone mad. Just keep on giving the terrorists the high five, and encourage them to hack at more innocent civilians. Shame on you

    • Viva Palestine

      That’s a bed story that you can tell only to your dogs and cats. The whole world know
      the historical fact that Palestinians has lived in historic Palestine for 5000
      years. That the genocide and ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians has been going on
      since 1947 and lately in Gaza where innocent children, women and elderly were
      killed in their homes by Israeli malicious military attack using illegal
      chemical weapons, drones and all types of
      weapons of mass destruction. The Jewish Palestinians are welcome to stay
      in Palestine if they share the land peacefully and stop attacking and killing Palestinians
      , all other illegal settler Zionists should go back to their homes in Europe
      and the rest of the world.

      • patrick

        This is a story you read to young children to breed hatred and violence. I hope your comment gets referred to for the world’s biggest idiots at some point in the future. Do some reading and educate yourself you ignorant fool. There are no Jewish Palestinians, it’s like saying a dog whose also a cat. If a Jew goes into the land of Palestinians, he will probably not leave the area and die-I know, I’ve been to Israel and the Palestinian territories (with protection, thank god), whereas there are Palestinian Muslims holding office in the Knesset in Israel, and Hamas terrorist family members being treated in cancer facilities in Israel. The chemical weapons warfare is in SYRIA and not Israel, not even anywhere near Israel. Jewish religion is not the religion that has to constantly claim that it’s religion is a religion of peace (That religion that has to claim that begins with an M). P.S. It is not your land to invite people to stay, so do not welcome our people into the land that you don’t have any claim to.

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  • Truth Speaker

    As a women who has lived in Israel or Palestine (as one commenter said) for 12 years, I believe to have insight that those who have not lived there do not know. Truthfully, if you haven’t lived in Israel or Palestine, your opinions are not based off of first hand experience, yet the stories you hear from the media, family and friends, many who probably have not lived there. First hand experience, or a witness, is always the best way to seek truth.In this video i see a girl talking about oppression the Palestinians have. I pity the Palestinians. The lack of water, lack of bomb shelters,and the abuse that women receive from their husbands. The cultural oppression they receive from their own people is common in most Arab like countries. Many of the results of oppression that this women iin the video is talking about has to do with how Palestine protects their people. The reason I and many of my friends and family are not dead right now is because of a fabulous thing that Palestinians lack, a bomb shelter. When I was 7 years old I was taught how to climb under the bus seats and how to stick my body to the floor in case a Palestinian shot towards the public bus. This fear was no joke. My sisters friend was murdered from a Palestinian in the neighborhood near mine on her way home from school. My friends brother was shot at by another Palistinian while on the bus a few years later. Palestinians shot into my own home, and two other homes right near me. The last two stories I am telling you doesn’t hit the media, and also is hardly spoken about among Israeli’s because it is very common. Living in terror is common. Living in fear is our way of life. To end off I want to say something that may anger pro-palistinians. They may feel anger towards me, but it is displaced for I am speaking truth not only in my opinion but what 12 years of living in Israel has proved to be true. My neighborhood was mostly Jewish. Othodox Jews, Ethiopians, Russians all lived there. There is a minority of arab families in this specific neighborhood, although the other Jewish neighborhood near mine has a large mix, with the arab population steadily growing. Near my home in Israel there are 4 Palestinian villages/neighborhood. Many of these Palestinians worked and work at the local stores. They came into the jewish neighborhoods, worked, hung out, and left. If I walked, drove or took public transportation into a Palestinian neighborhood 97% of the chances are that I would not come out the same way I came in, if at all, I would be stoned to say the least. In fact, the Israeli government created a new highway called Highway 1 so that jewish public transportation (which all arabs and Palestinians use too) won’t drive through these Palestinian neighborhoods. buses that drove through got stoned and shot at. Even years later you could see the marks on the windows, many were replaced, but some bullet proof buses have dozens of marks. Bullet proof buses I just said, yes, another reality for Israei’s passing by Palestinian neighborhoods. If your true belief is that we all deserve freedom, I hereby call on you, freedom seeker, to take a stand for the oppression Israel faces daily by the hands of the Palestinians. If you want to stand for justice alone, there is injustice that has been happening to Israeli’s for many years. I applaud you and every person in the video who believes they are taking a stand for the truth. Please go ahead, this time with knowledge and experience from both ends, with hatred left from your hearts so you can be objective, and stand for the truth.

  • Billy

    You may be interested in reading this. i would have written it here in my own words, but this is written better.
    This says something all too well about the culture of Palestine. Please don’t be blind to the hatred and words said in the name of hatred. How can they be objective when they are filled with hate and celebrate murder?

    • Free Speech in Brooklyn

      Yes just like the “Death to Arabs” racist and murderous culture of Israel where dehumanizing and killing Arabs, including shooting children, is something many people celebrate.

  • Free Speech in Brooklyn

    2500 people massacred in Gaza but not a peep from Zionists. I guess killing “unpeople” is justified while killing Zionists is a crime. Mass murderers and colonizers.

    • patrick

      If you cared about the ‘massacre of unpeople’ why is there not a group that propagates awareness of the mass killings in Syria and Iraq? According to wikipedia, 30,000 people were massacred this year alone and 74,000 last year most through chemical warfare, , with 260,000 dead in total, and as a parallel, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there were 34 casualties in 2013….I don’t see a club that’s inviting speakers to promote awareness of that, but there are clubs to promote hate, violence, and bigotry. Care to comment?

      • Dee

        The whole world has protested against the massacres in Syria and Iraq and Syria is under sanctions while America is bombing Isis in Iraq. Perhaps you can give the readers some idea of how you would address these issues. However America has not only said nothing about the carnage that Israel created in Gaza but actively rewards it with weapons, praise in the Congress and support in the United Nations. Thus is America complicit in the war crimes that human rights organisations charge Israel with. Meantime American media provide space for Israeli propagandists to defend their turkey shoots. At the same time the sycophantic American media deny Palestinians a platform to show the reality. If you are truly interested in free speech perhaps you shoul approach the American meda and ask for balance in their reporting.

        • patrick

          How is this relevant to my comment? I stated why is there not a group that promotes awareness about this speaking in the school, not American ignorance. What carnage? Have you even been to Israel or Palestine? Do you know that these statistics are true? Were you there? Or are you just overgeneralizing due to what the news channels told you? Yeah, no sh*t America provides space for Israeli news because it actually makes sense and actually calls for peace. Look on Youtube and I bet you will not find a single reputable Palestinians news source that somehow does not call for the destruction of Israel in some way (which in modern day terms is called propaganda). This is not even our problem, Egypt doesn’t even want to deal with this, closing their borders to Palestine a few weeks ago. What else do you have to say for this?

    • Guest

      More people died in Syria this year than in 70 years of war with Israel.

      OF THE 11 MILLION MUSLIMS killed in wars in thr past 100 years, less than 1% died fighting against Israel.

      These people in the SJP are hardcore racists, plain and simple. They are on the same level as the shooters, stabbed, and rapists who are attacking Jews in France and Israel.

    • Craig Eisenberg

      More than 52% of those killed in Gaza were terrorists / enemy combatants. This has been proven without a doubt by culling the names of the deceased. Terror groups often cover up their casualties for obvious reasons.

      Of the 11 million Muslims killed in wars over the past 100 years, fewer than 0.5% were killed fighting against Israel and the Jewish people. Last year in Syria more people were killed than in 70+ years of Arab Muslim attacks on Jews! (About 23,000 “Palestinians” have died fighting with Israel since the 1940’s.)

      The SJP is a hardcore racist supremacist group akin to the KKK, Muslim Brotherhood or Boko Haram.

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  • patrick

    So if the KKK got a student group to invite a renowned guest speaker on campus, ushered out all the people against their ideals, brought in all those who support it, and called it a successful debate, would Brooklyn College be ok with this too?

    • mendel keller

      yes, and thats a good thing.

  • patrick

    PS: Omar Barghouti, who started the BDS movement is getting his education in an Israeli university (and has not been expelled although there has been sentiment to do so). Please tell me more about your BDS movement and all the horrors and naz-ism of Israel!

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