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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 College.

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 event.

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 one say?"

"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 arguments.

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 regularly."

"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 student center."

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 traffic."

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 to."



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