Progressive Brooklyn and Citywide Elected Officials’ and Leaders’ Letter Regarding Brooklyn College Endorsement of Anti-Israel BDS Event

Jan 31, 2013 Issues: Foreign Affairs/Israel

NEW YORK, NY – Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler and Councilman Brad Lander, joined by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, NYC Comptroller John Liu, NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, State Senator Kevin Parker, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs, Assemblyman Karim Camara, Assemblyman James Brennan, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, Assemblyman Walter Mosley, Councilwoman Tish James, Councilman Steve Levin, and former Comptroller Bill Thompson, sent a letter to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, urging withdrawal of the Political Science Department’s endorsement of an event entitled “BDS Movement Against Israel.”

“While students and professors must remain free to express their views, and engage in open and vigorous debate, we believe that when the institution decides to take sides and refuses to permit all voices to be heard, that is the antithesis of academic freedom,” wrote the elected officials.

Below is the full text of the letter:

January 31, 2013
            
President Karen L. Gould
Brooklyn College
2900 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11210

Dear President Gould:

As progressive elected officials from Brooklyn and city-wide leaders, we are writing about the upcoming event sponsored by the Brooklyn College Political Science Department entitled “BDS Movement Against Israel.”  We collectively believe that the BDS movement is a wrongheaded and destructive one, and an obstacle to our collective hope for a peaceful two-state solution.  These simplistic and one-sided approaches do a disservice to the cause of peace and stability by unfairly placing blame entirely on one side, and by attempting to delegitimize one party on the world stage, and will do nothing to bring either party back to earnest negotiations or enhance a better understand of complexity of this conflict.  It is our understanding that at this event, a strategy of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel will be encouraged, and there will be no counter-perspective offered.

That said, we of course believe that students and academics should have the opportunity to openly express their views – however much we may disagree with them – and that universities have the responsibility to protect this important First Amendment right and the values of academic freedom.  We are, however, concerned that  an academic department has decided to formally endorse an event that advocates strongly for one side of a highly-charged issue,  and has rejected legitimate offers from prominent individuals willing to simultaneously present an alternative view.  By excluding alternative positions from an event they are sponsoring, the Political Science Department has actually stifled free speech by preventing honest, open debate.  Brooklyn College must stand firmly against this thwarting of academic freedom.

While students and professors must remain free to express their views, and engage in open and vigorous debate, we believe that when the institution decides to take sides and refuses to permit all voices to be heard, that is the antithesis of academic freedom.

We are calling for Brooklyn College’s Political Science Department to withdraw their endorsement of this event, rather than send the message to its students and to the world that the divisive perspective offered by the organizing groups is Brooklyn College’s official view.  In addition, we ask that you remain vigilant in ensuring that events bearing the official imprimatur of the College provide adequate opportunity for diverse perspectives to be heard.  We believe that this is the very hallmark of academic freedom.  

Congressman Jerrold Nadler
Councilman Brad Lander
Speaker Christine Quinn
Comptroller John Liu
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio
Borough President Marty Markowitz
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries
Senator Kevin Parker
Senator Daniel Squadron
Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs
Assemblyman Karim Camara
Assemblyman James Brennan
Assemblywoman Joan Millman
Assemblyman Walter Mosley
Councilwoman Tish James
Councilman Steve Levin
Former Comptroller Bill Thompson