BDS Panel at Brooklyn College Draws Crowd: Detractors Humiliated
03 March 2013
By Karin Friedemann
Judith Butler began her February 7 talk at Brooklyn
College in support of Boycott, Divestment and
Sanctions (BDS) against Israel by saying, "Usually one
starts by saying that one is glad to be here, but I
cannot say that it has been a pleasure anticipating
this event. What a Megillah! I am, of course, glad
that the event was not cancelled, and I understand
that it took a great deal of courage and a steadfast
embrace of principle for this event to happen at all."
In response to the public furor of last week, the
Mayor of New York spoke out in defense of Brooklyn
Bloomberg said he "couldn't disagree more violently"
with the BDS movement, but "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."
"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 and
base funding decisions on the political views of
professors," said the mayor. "I can't think of
anything that would be more destructive to a
university and its students."
Bloomberg's decisive words effectively ended the New
York City Council's campaign against Brooklyn College
for holding the Students for Justice in Palestine
Political Science teacher at Brooklyn College Robin
Corey reported delightedly: "Now that the mayor, the
New York Times, and just about everyone else have come
down hard on all the government officials and
politicians who tried to force my department to
withdraw its co-sponsorship of the BDS panel, the
"progressive" politicians have issued a second letter
to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, in which
they backpedal, backpedal, backpedal pull back from
their earlier position. No longer, it seems, must we
"balance" this panel or withdraw our co-sponsorship."
BC Philosophy professor Samir Chopra sighs, "That it
took a billionaire mayor to explain these simple
matters to our progressive leaders is, well, what can
"While it was gratifying to see Dershowitz forced into
retreat it is important not to exaggerate Bloomberg's
role," writes commentator John Halle.
"Some of those targeted by Dershowitz turned out to be
experienced organizers and more than a little media
savvy, deluging the twitter accounts of the officials,
demanding answers from them and circulating via
facebook a petition which quickly received over 2,500
signatures. Within days those local officeholders
concerned with maintaining their reputations among
their liberal constituents withdrew their names from
the Fidler letter clearing the way for Bloomberg and
the Times to issue ringing endorsements of academic
freedom. And so what began as a potential fiasco ended
as an inspiring lesson in grassroots organizing."
As the instigator of the threats against Brooklyn
College, Alan Dershowitz found himself at the brunt of
not only mockery but the public shredding of his
Opined fellow New York attorney David Samel on
Mondoweiss: "People often comment that Dershowitz is a
clown who does not deserve the time and effort to
discredit him. I could not disagree more... His brazen
hypocrisy and serial dishonesty should be challenged
"The outside agitators, like Alan Dershowitz, did us a
favor. If they hadn't tried to shut it down with City
Council members, it would have been just another
ho-hum event on campus," said Jane Hirschmann, a
member of Jews Say No (to occupation).
As a result of all the publicity, the panel discussion
between Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti drew hundreds
to the audience, filling the room to capacity, with
more people turned away.
Butler exclaimed, "I thought it would be very much
like other events I have attended, a conversation with
a few dozen student activists in the basement of a
Gail Sheehy reported in the Daily Beast that "the
forum went off without a single hateful word. At most,
100 protesters stood across from the Student Center...
Police, out in force, were confined to directing
BDS, the largest pro-Palestine civil movement, states
three goals: end the occupation, end apartheid, and
guarantee the right of return of Palestinians to their
homeland. When Barghouti characterized the Israeli
apartheid as more brutal than what American blacks
went through before Martin Luther King Jr., he
received a standing ovation.
Chemi Shalev reports in Haaretz, Israel: "Overzealous
Israel defenders used a five-megaton bomb to swat a
fly, and it blew up in our faces...The result of all
of this surfeit and excess was a clear-cut, perhaps
unprecedented PR coup for BDS and a humiliating defeat
for Israel's interests... the "pro-Israel camp" found
itself, not for the first time, portrayed not only as
heavy handed but a bit unhinged as well."
Shalev concludes that "far too much of the public
discourse on Israel has been dominated and dictated by
super-conservatives and ultra-nationalists and the
billionaires who fund them... who view any measured or
nuanced debate about Israel as treason, who are hell
bent on making their observation that liberals are
turning away from Israel into a self-fulfilling
prophecy... and will eventually erode the genuine
bedrock of support that Israel enjoys in America."
Professor Chopra is not so sure. "The pressure brought
on Brooklyn College from the outside was an attempt to
regulate discourse on campus. And in that, I fear it
has succeeded in many ways. For one, this event does
not make the controversial panel discussion on campus
more likely. It makes it more unlikely. Which
department or university administration wants to go
through this fiasco again?"
This author does not share Chopra's pessimism. For
decades, BDS and other Palestine Solidarity groups
have been kicked off campuses around the US due to
angry threats from pro-Israel activists. The academic
attack on Brooklyn College is standard. What is new is
that the administration remained strong and refused to
cancel the event.
Meanwhile, Gaza farmers are renewing a call for
boycott of Israel to protest the destruction of their
land and property as well as the 2006 Israeli ban on
Palestinian exports, which devastated Palestinian
agriculture, reports Electronic Intifada.
Palestinian farmers joined together with protesters
Saturday to plant olive trees on Israeli-razed
farmland and to implore international supporters to
join the boycott of Israeli agricultural produce. They
say the boycott is the "only hope for justice for
Palestinian farmers being targeted by the Israeli army
and oppressed by Israel."
"We hope that it will put pressure on Israel to stop
targeting us and allow us to farm our land as we used