Progressive Brooklyn and Citywide Elected Officials Respond to Steps Taken by Brooklyn College to Resolve Controversy Over Co-sponsorship of Anti-Israel BDS Event, Send Follow Up Letter to President Karen Gould

Feb 6, 2013 Issues: Education and Children, 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, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, Assemblyman Walter Mosley, Councilwoman Tish James, and Councilman Steve Levin – sent a new letter to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, in follow up to their previous letter of January 31st, regarding the Political Science Department’s co-sponsorship of a student-organized event entitled “BDS Movement Against Israel,” and to note important steps taken as a result of ongoing dialogue.

Below is the full text of the letter:

February 6, 2013

President Karen L. Gould

Brooklyn College

2900 Bedford Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11210

Dear President Gould:

We are writing to follow up on our letter to you of January 31, 2012, regarding the “BDS Movement Against Israel” event taking place tomorrow at Brooklyn College.  We want to thank you for your leadership on this issue.

In our letter, we expressed concern that the Political Science Department’s co-sponsorship of this student-organized event suggested that it was an official position of the college, and encouraged action to make a more diverse range of views heard on this issue.

Equally, although it has been obscured in some media accounts, in our letter, we stood strongly for academic freedom for students and academics.  We affirmed the right of students to sponsor the event.  We did not request its cancellation.  We did not, and would not, threaten the funding of Brooklyn College.  We will continue to oppose efforts that would seek to undermine the free and open debate of critical issues.  

We are grateful that the following steps have now been taken:

  • You affirmed the strong traditions of free expression at Brooklyn College, making clear that departmental co-sponsorship of a student-organized event does not imply endorsement of that event, and that “Brooklyn College does not endorse the views of the speakers visiting our campus next week, just as it has not endorsed those of previous visitors to our campus with opposing views.  We do, however, uphold their right to speak, and the rights of our students and faculty to attend, listen, and fully debate.”  At the same time, you encouraged “students and faculty to explore these issues from multiple viewpoints and in a variety of forums so that no single perspective serves as the sole source of information or basis for consideration.”  This is the model of academic freedom and inclusive dialogue that we were seeking to encourage, and that fact been lost in too much of the media coverage on the issue.
  • In your letter to Brooklyn College Hillel, you made clear that Brooklyn College “does not endorse the BDS movement nor support its call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel,” affirmed the college’s “proud history of engagement with Israel and Israeli universities,” and that you “deeply value our Israeli partners and would not endorse any action that would imperil the State of Israel or its citizens.”
  • The Political Science Department has put in writing its policy for considering co-sponsorship of student-organized events, making clear that requests from “any groups, departments or programs organizing lectures or events representing any point of view … will be given equal consideration.”  However, as has been clear in this instance, the departmental practice of co-sponsorship of specifically student-organized events has caused real confusion among students regarding intent and endorsement of views (as evidenced by Student Body (CLAS) President Abraham Esses’ “Open Letter” in this regard).  We, therefore, believe that the policy would be strengthened greatly by the explicit inclusion of language that you and the Department have used on this case – that sponsorship does not imply endorsement.
  • Planning has begun for additional event(s) at Brooklyn College’s Wolfe Institute on the Humanities that will bring a range of additional viewpoints on these issues to campus in the coming months.  While these are not required as a matter of free expression, we believe that they will help contribute to the cause of understanding and dialogue.  We hope the Political Science Department will follow its newly codified policy and co-sponsor these events as well.

As we stated in our letter, we are strongly opposed to BDS.  We continue to 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.” 

Others disagree, of course, and we will fight for their right to do so.  But we will also continue to argue strongly against them.  We note, for example, that many advocates of the BDS movement have called for a boycott of Israeli scholars and institutions, which would, of course, deny them their academic and free speech rights. This hypocritical position should not undermine our commitment to the fundamental values of a free society, but it speaks to the nature of the BDS movement.

In closing, we share your goal that Brooklyn College “should be a place free from hate; one where diverse points of view, on even the most controversial topics, may be debated without intimidation or fear of reprisal.”

Again, thank you for your leadership, dialogue, and action on this matter.

Sincerely,

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

Assemblywoman Joan Millman

Assemblyman Walter Mosley

Councilwoman Tish James

Councilman Steve Levin

 

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