January 30, 2013

The Backlash Grows in Brooklyn

The New York Daily News had a question yesterday about the coming anti-Israel hatefest in the city: "Why is Brooklyn College's political science department officially sponsoring a one-sided event that calls for divestment, boycotts and sanctions against Israel?" As they have done on other campuses, anti-Israel activists talk colleges into sponsoring events featuring rabid Israel haters (in this case Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler), then scurry to raise an academic freedom defense, while allowing no speakers at all who disagree.

Harvard Law Professor (and Brooklyn College graduate) Alan Dershowitz called it "shocking" and "wrong" that an academic department at a public university could sponsor such an event. Dershowitz challenged the "academic freedom" defense, arguing that "academic freedom simply does not include the power to proselytize and propagandize captive students whose grades and futures depend on faculty evaluations." And he wondered whether the political science Department would be willing to officially endorse "a radical, pro-settler, Israeli extremist to propagandize their students." (Wonder no more--it woudn't.)

The department's chairman refused to respond to questions from the News and Dershowitz on the extent of the department's support for the event. But it does appear that at least one question they posed can be answered.

On Facebook, before the "no comment" policy took hold, political science professor Corey Robin said that the department formally voted to sponsor the anti-Israel event. In so doing he indicated that a majority of the department supports a boycott, including a boycott against fellow professors, solely on the basis of nationality. Still left unclear from Robin's posting is whether the department authorized use of any taxpayer funds to bring the anti-Israel speakers to campus, a move that likely would violate New York law.

It appears unlikely, however, that the administration will rebuke the political science department. In the end, the college would have been better served by following the guidance of the AAUP--which, despite its usually tenacious defense of the academic status quo, made clear that boycotting Israeli academics (much less Israeli businesses and society as a whole) violates the basic premise of academic freedom. "The Association believes that the boycott of academic institutions serves only to curtail the most basic academic freedom, the free exchange of ideas. It calls upon those who have endorsed this boycott to end their support and to work with the entire academic world to enhance the free exchange of scholarship and ideas. It is only through such exchanges that the means to resolve the world's awful conflicts can emerge." 

Comments (1)

David White:

A few years ago, a faculty union at one of the English schools proposed a boycott of Israeli faculty. There was a proper brouhaha over this, one result of which was the distribution of tee-shirts with "I am an Israeli academic" emblazoned across a Star of David on the front, and below it "Oppose the boycott." I regret now that I had to retire it; obviously it is needed again.

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