The BDS Controversy at Brooklyn College

The BDS Controversy at Brooklyn College
Brooklyn College by annandboni on Instagram

The Brooklyn College political science department’s panel on BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) that’s scheduled for today has had people arguing about the principals of academic freedom. Missed out on the debate? Here’s some background about the controversy that’s been brewing at our nearby school:

The Times describes BDS as an “international lobbying movement that advocates Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian territories,” while a columnist in the Post says “it promotes ethnic cleansing.” You may have heard about it last year when there was a plan to boycott Israeli products at the Park Slope Food Co-op.

• Our Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, State Senator Kevin Parker, and Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs are among public officials who sent a letter to Brooklyn College to ask the political science department to withdraw their endorsement of the event, but then sent a follow-up to pull that back a bit and simply encourage “action to make a more diverse range of views heard on this issue.”

• The political science department noted last week that though they’d welcome a speaker or event that voices the alternate views, “no group has contacted the political science chair requesting the department’s co-sponsorship of a specific event or actual speaker representing alternative or opposing views.”

Another letter, which got a bit more play, came from Council Members Lewis Fiddler, David Greenfield, and others, which appeared to threaten funding to the school: “We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City — many of who would feel targeted or demonized by this program — want their taxpayer money to be spent on.”

• Karen Gould, the president of Brooklyn College, issued a statement that says the college encourages “educational discussion and debate,” but is under “no obligation, as some have suggested, to present multiple perspectives at any one event.”

• Yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he agrees with the college’s decision, even though he disagrees with the BDS movement.

So should a college be allowed to host any kind of panel, no matter how controversial, on the basis of free speech and academic freedom? Or if they host it, does that imply support and validation of the ideas at that forum?

Photo by annandboni

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