Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life (Hillel) is saddened and dismayed by recent events at Brooklyn College, one of the colleges of the City University of New York system. On Thursday, February 7, the College’s Political Science Department (PSD) co-sponsored an event featuring speakers for the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.
Despite requests by multiple stakeholders that the political science department withdraw its co-sponsorship from a program that seemed likely to be unfair, unbalanced and possibly even anti-Semitic, the college administration allowed the event to go forward with its co-sponsor in place.
Brooklyn College President Karen Gould stated that this presentation was an exercise in academic freedom and constitutionally protected speech. She did, however, call for the event to be a dialogue asking hard questions, and that it be conducted with tolerance and openness. Unfortunately, it failed to uphold the principles of either academic freedom or free speech.
Although it is troubling that such a one-sided event was scheduled with the sponsorship of a college department, even more disturbing is the way in which the event organizers seemed determined to suppress the open discussion of ideas that President Gould had called for prior to the program.
- Jewish students reported difficulty in registering for this event and, even after successfully registering; they further reported difficulty in attending the event.
- Some Jewish students were denied entrance, on the basis that their names were not on the registration list, and had to be escorted into the auditorium by college personnel.
- Organizers asked four visibly-Jewish students (two young men wearing yarmulkes, and two young women who were sitting with them) to leave the premises, and ultimately escorted the four students out of the auditorium for simply sitting quietly and reviewing papers they had brought with them.
- Event organizers selectively barred press from the event, and prohibited recordings.
- Organizers ended the event fifteen minutes early, preventing those in attendance from asking questions.
The school’s political science department did not, as promised, present the panel, and transferred control of the event to the student club Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). According to an article that appeared in the New York Daily News, “Shame on Campus,” the College’s personnel simply accepted SJP’s instructions, allowing them to fully control the event.
Hillel believes in and supports academic freedom and freedom of speech. This includes the right of those who have opposing or adversarial viewpoints to respectfully and civilly air their concerns. We support the four Jewish students who were apparently denied their rights to free speech and to attend an open forum – particularly one that was sponsored by the college they attend. We join with our colleagues at Brooklyn College Hillel calling for a full investigation of the circumstances that led to the events of February 7 and the implementation of measures that ensure that these conditions are not repeated in the future.
Hillel acknowledges the statement made by Brooklyn College President Karen Gould distancing Brooklyn College from the BDS movement and its goals. Hillel supports the February 15 statement of Brooklyn College Hillel (the full statement follows) and its commitment to an academic environment that is dedicated to excellence in an open and inclusive atmosphere that is free from fear.
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FEBRUARY 15, 2013
TANGER HILLEL AT BROOKLYN COLLEGE
STATEMENT ABOUT BDS EVENT AT BROOKLYN COLLEGE
Nadya Drukker, Executive Director, and Howard Wohl, President of the Board of Directors, state the following on behalf of Brooklyn College Hillel.
Where We Stand Today:
- The four students who were unjustly ousted from the event have our unconditional support and we are assisting them in their response to the incident on February 7th. We also stand behind all those who were insulted, felt intolerance, and experienced anti-Jewish discrimination.
- We are working with the College administration to implement the guidelines that President Gould enumerated in her letter to Hillel.
- We intend to review the results of an independent investigation of the circumstances leading up to and including what occurred at the misguided BDS event.
- We insist that the Administration take appropriate action to penalize those Campus clubs which abused the privileges the College provided.
- We insist that the Administration establish new regulations that will ensure that these disgraceful circumstances never recur.
- We look forward to the results of a full investigation of the Political Science Department, which has continually ignored the tenets of Academic Integrity.
- We expect the Administration to implement changes that ensure that neither this nor any other department will be permitted to act in such an arrogant and callous manner.
- We insist that the Administration take appropriate action to penalize those members of the Faculty and other College staff, who willingly contributed to these actions and/or neglectfully allowed undemocratic and hateful activities to occur.
Hillel continues to act as a beacon to Jewish students, supporting their individual Jewish journeys. So, too, we continue to foster ongoing cooperation with other campus organizations. We will continue to provide programs that honor respectful engagement so that the College community will be more tolerant and open-minded. Our array of Israel programs and educational sessions will take place as scheduled with the goal to reach out to other clubs on campus and to educate the campus community about the complexity of the situation in the Middle East.
We will continue to update you as we learn more about the facts and we will judge the Administration by its actions. We intend to insure that Brooklyn College's campus is dedicated to educational excellence pursued in an atmosphere free from fear.