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SHORT TAKES


February 12, 2013

A College Behaves Badly Over Israel

The Brooklyn College pro-BDS event--with which the school's Political Science Department formally voted to affiliate itself--has come and gone. The big news from the gathering last Thursday came not in anything the two pro-BDS speakers said (their anti-Israel ramblings were entirely predictable) but in reports from Tablet and the Daily News that four anti-BDS students were expelled from the proceedings, all while a senior college administrator stood idly by. The move only reinforced concerns that the Political Science-backed event was far more propaganda than anything approximating academic discourse.

Beyond that, a few general points:

First, college president Karen Gould distinguished herself for what amounted to an anti-anti-BDS position, like that of the anti-anti-communists of the late Cold War era--those who didn't necessarily support communism, but who considered anti-communists to be the far greater threat to world peace and American national interests. In her two statements on the affair, she strongly (almost glowingly) defended the Political Science Department whose formal vote triggered the crisis. Unlike Mayor Mike Bloomberg and CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein, she couldn't bring herself to condemn BDS. In her first statement on the event, she implied, without saying so outright, that BDS could be considered as among the "issues of importance to our world." In a follow-up statement, after a public, media, and alumni outcry, she allowed that she didn't "endorse" BDS, but refused to say if she condemned it, or if she would continue various college cooperative ventures with Israel if a majority of the faculty formally endorsed BDS. It's little wonder that many of the strongest critics of Israel on the faculty publicly praised Gould for her conduct.

And while the president also urged BDS opponents to attend the event and make their views known, her administrator's apparent inaction amidst the expulsion of the four anti-BDS students seemed to speak of the administration's unseriousness on this score.

Second, the Political Science Department distinguished itself for its hypocrisy--wrapping itself in claims of "academic freedom" while refusing to explain to students or to the public whose tax dollars help fund its members' salaries and why it voted to formally affiliate itself with the event. Requests from the Daily News were stonewalled. A departmental statement supposedly clarifying the faculty's sponsorship policy was little more than word salad, concealing the selection criteria. And the sole department member to publicly offer a rationale for the departmental vote offered criteria (speakers who "are heterodox and that challenge the dominant assumptions of society") that would seem to justify departmental sponsorship of a David Duke campus appearance.

Finally, the event provided a reminder--if one were needed--that few segments of American society are more hostile to Israel than a typical college campus. 

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