Mayor Bloomberg & the New York Times Got It Wrong on What Constitutes Academic Freedom
February 7, 2013
More than a few people in China were arrested today because: they criticized a Communist party official, openly practiced religions that the government has declared illegal; they attempted to breach internet filters the government has imposed so people can research particular subjects or follow non-government controlled news sources.
But are you aware of any organized efforts around the world or in this country to promote a boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) campaign against China? In fact, most Americans probably bought multiple items today that were manufactured in China.
More than a few people are languishing in Russian prisons at this moment because they tried to expose the corruption of Vladimir Putin’s government. More than a few people are arrested in Russia everyday for being gay, for practicing freedom of speech, posting videos on You-tube, for not paying off the right government bureaucrat, for trying to arrange an adoption for Russian orphans with loving American family, etc. etc.
But are you aware of any organized efforts around the world or in this country to promote a boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) campaign against Russia?
Shall we review the status of human rights in many Muslim and third world countries? Shall we have an informed discussion about the many governments in the world today who promote bigotry and intolerance against Jews, women, gays, intellectuals, Christians, and other minorities?
But are you aware of any organized efforts around the world or in this country to promote a boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) campaign against any of those countries?
Unable to make peace with the State of Israel, supporters of Palestinian nationalism have been actively encouraging their friends and supporters the world over to engage in a nefarious BDS campaign against the Jewish State.
This “J-Street” Zionist has no problems with people criticizing Israel. I don’t agree with many Israeli policies and I am profoundly troubled by Israel’s now 45-year-old military rule over 2 million plus Palestinians who are not citizens of Israel and have no say in how they are governed. What I cannot accept as legitimate, is the promotion by so-called “progressive” and “enlightened liberals” in politics and academia who are championing the BDS campaign against Israel as if the Jewish State were the only or the worst violator of human rights in the world.
If you are a BDS proponents who is not Palestinian and have little interest in, or concern for human rights violations taking place around the world at this moment, I have to question what your real agenda actually is.
On Thursday evening, February 7th, the Political Science Department at Brooklyn College (CUNY) hosted a symposium that included Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, two renown activists who are promoting the BDS movement. No critics of BDS or supporters of Israel were invited to participate in this “academic forum” which is being co-sponsored by a number of student groups.
Had this program which is obviously intended to promote the BDS campaign been sponsored exclusively by student groups, I don’t think many of us would have given the event a second glance. It is and should be the right of student groups to host lectures and forums of interest to them. But the co-sponsorship of this event by an official department of the College is troubling.
Why did the poli-sci department not insist that opposing points of view be included? Or, why did the poli-sci department not also schedule a separate event at which critics of BDS could make their case?
In recent days, both Mayor Bloomberg and the New York Times have expressed disapproval of those of us who are critical of the Brooklyn College forum by suggesting that the only issue is ‘academic freedom.’
Anyone who knows me personally or follows my blog and columns can affirm that politically speaking, I’m a die-hard progressive supporter of human rights. As a Jew, as a son and grandson of Holocaust survivors and a gay man, I’m passionately committed to advancing the civil liberties of all people, even those who would challenge my own rights.
Palestinian nationalism is no less legitimate than Zionism. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians will not be possible without mutual recognition and respect of the national desires of both people.
But let’s be honest: The BDS movement has become a convenient camouflage for non-Muslims who are either anti-Semitic or would deny Jewish claims to nationhood. (Many respected figures in history including Martin Luther King have suggested that rejection of Zionism is an expression of anti-Semitism).
Objecting to Brooklyn College’s co-sponsorship of tonight’s event is NOT an attempt to stifle academic freedom. On the contrary, criticizing the school’s co-sponsorship is all about academic freedom. Doesn’t a school promoting academic freedom have and ethical obligation to make sure that BOTH sides of the story are told?
For the record, until I learned of this event, I was a proud graduate of Brooklyn College with a BA in political science. For the moment at least, I feel betrayed and let down by my alma mater. But, I will follow the lead of a fellow alum, Alan Dershowitz, who has said in recent days that he will continue to support Brooklyn College but actively work to broaden the faculty of the political science department to be more balanced and inclusive of differing points of view.
Mitch Gilbert is a social worker, writer, and religious educator. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he has done community development work in Washington DC, Cleveland, Akron, Vancouver, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Mitch earned a BA at Brooklyn College (CUNY), a Master of Science in Social Administration degree from Case Western Reserve University. In addition, Mitch has done graduate studies in Jewish tradition, history, and culture at New York University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Mitch is actively involved with the Democratic Party and progressive causes and organizations that advance human rights, protect animals and save the environment. He currently resides in Bexley, Ohio.