Dystopia on Bedford Avenue — Ct’d

(For an earlier installment of this series, see my 2011 blog on the subject)
It gets worse at Brooklyn College.  The Political Science Department is now a political action group against Israel, and City Hall is complicit.  This became clear last week when Poli Sci officially sponsored an agi-prop event at the  College with the connivance of the College’s president and also that of the Mayor of the City of New York, 
For a description of the “BDS” event at Brooklyn College, see the ADL statement.

For a description of the “BDS” movement, see this video
Those of us (including most elected officials in Brooklyn) who criticized PoliSci’s endorsement  stressed that we do not oppose the BDS event on campus;  what we oppose is the official imprimatur that the College, through its Political Science Department, has conferred on the event.  The situation is analogous to that of the Constitutional separation of church and state.  A public university may teach about religion, and it may allow student groups to practice religion on campus, but it may not officially sponsor or endorse sectarian religious practice.
Here are some documents on the controversy at Brooklyn College.

Many of us wrote to various officials at the College, stating each time that we do not oppose the event but do not want the College to sponsor it, and each time we got the same answer:  we must have freedom of speech, and therefore the Department’s sponsorship must stand.  Therefore ? How and why is official College sponsorship necessary for freedom of speech, or any other kind of freedom ? The College officials act as if they hadn’t heard the question;  they remain mum.  That isn’t very smart, but it gets worse at City Hall.  
And indeed, the most zany performance was that of the Mayor of the City, Michael Bloomberg.  Here he explains why, in his view, Brooklyn College must be allowed to officially sponsor BDS:

“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea,” he said in a news conference at City Hall.

Now our good mayor owns many homes in various parts of the world but apparently none in North Korea, so perhaps this gap in his holdings explains his opinion here. But with all that, is it plausible that the mayor, in the privacy of his own conscience, fails to appreciate the illogic of his pronouncement ?

Obviously, the College officials and the Mayor know the difference between freedom of speech, to which even the most hateful of groups are entitled, and official sponsorship, to which they are not. So when these officials play dumb, when they make believe that they cannot see any distinction, well, bad faith is the inescapable conclusion.

While College officials and the Mayor (and also the editorialists of the New York Times) all lend their complaisance to the hate-Israel movement, the same cannot be said of the learned professoriate  of the Political Science Department.  Here it is not a matter of complaisance or even mere complicity but one of activism in a political cause.

Let me say at the outset here that things could be even worse.  Some time ago I looked into a somewhat similar situation at an affiliate school of the University of Toronto, viz. the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).  As I reported in a number of postings then, one of the departments there was so politicized that many of the MA theses produced in it were crude and ugly pieces of propaganda.

The same cannot be said of Poli Sci, at least insofar as I was able to determine.

Unlike the situation at OISE, for which all theses are freely available on the internet, Brooklyn College makes it difficult for outsiders to consult the products of its graduate programs.  BC theses are not available on the internet, nor are they even cataloged.  They are kept at the Brooklyn College Library Archives, to which, in principle, the public is not admitted.  However, upon application by e-mail, I was granted permission to inspect MA theses and, I must say, was given every courtesy by the librarians.  I looked at all the PolySci theses completed within the last two years, and I am satisfied that they were, by and large, free of undue political bias.

Notwithstanding its apparently satisfactory MA program, the Department has acted in the manner of a political combat group rather than as an academic department, and not only in this particular incident.

1.  I have googled all the 17 current members of the Department to get an impression  of the extent of political activism of these professors.  None of these people were identified as active on behalf of Jewish, Zionist, or pro-Israel causes.  None were identified on the internet as political conservatives.  On the other side, at least two had been signers of anti-Israel statements in the past.  Another one is identified as a former member of the Maoist Communist Workers Party, now defunct.  A further one is identified as active on the Far Left.  If there is diversity of viewpoint in this Department, it is not apparent to the naked eye.

2. Some two years ago,  the Department hired as adjunct instructor a person who was still in the midst of graduate studies, but, apparently by way of compensating for the lack of a Ph.D., was known for his strongly anti-Israel views.  (For a description of this incident, see here.)  The vote of the Department, we are told, was unanimous.  With some seventeen voting members, and in view of the fact that this particular appointment was so contentious on campus and in the community,  it is remarkable to find such unanimity.

3. When the current matter of BDS sponsorship came up for Department decision,  there again was a vote, but we are not told whether there was dissent.  The press tried to ascertain how the vote went but no member of the Department has so far been willing to divulge the numbers.  In any case, no member of the Department has come out to speak publicly against the sponsorship.  Again, there is a baffling wall of unanimity on a matter of great public contention.

4. When the chair of the Department was pushed for a statement on the BDS affair, his language was both combative and ambiguous:

A student group at Brooklyn College has organized a panel discussion regarding the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a non-violent response to the State of Israel’s handling of the Palestinian conflict. On college campuses around the country and across the world, this issue is being discussed. Brooklyn College should be no different. The department of political science has thus decided to co-sponsor this event. We encourage students and members of the community to attend, pose their questions, and air their views.  (See my collection of documents

Read by an apologist for the Department, the statement might be interpreted to mean that the Department merely wishes to present BDS views without endorsing them.  But to anyone else, the phrase “a non-violent response to the State of Israel’s handling of the Palestinian conflict” clearly signals support to the BDS movement.

5. Corey Robin, an Associate Professor in the Department (whose anti-Israel traces can be found on the internet), sent an e-mail to students and staff in January:

From Professor Corey Robin: URGENT: Hi everyone. I need you all to stop what you’re doing and make a phone call or write an email to the administration of Brooklyn College. A few weeks ago, my department (political science) voted to co-sponsor a panel discussion, featuring Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, on the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement against Israel. In the last week, we’ve gotten a lot of pressure and pushback from the media, students, alumni, and now Alan Dershowitz (who’s been trying to track down our chair to “talk” to him). So far, the administration has held firm, but the pressure is only building and they are starting to ask us whether we endorse these views or are merely seeking to air them (to which we responded: “Was the Brooklyn College administration endorsing the pro-torture and pro-Israel views of Alan Dershowitz when it decided to award him an honorary degree?”) Anyway, I need you guys now to send an email or make a phone call encouraging the administration to stand by the department and to stand for the principle that a university should be a place for the airing of views, ESPECIALLY views that are heterodox and that challenge the dominant assumptions of society. Please contact: President Karen Gould ….; Provost William Tramontano ….; and Director of Communications and Public Relations Jeremy Thompson ….. Please be polite and respectful, but please be firm on the principle. Right now, they’re only hearing from one side, so it’s imperative they hear from many others.

(See my collection of documents)

Robin’s reference to Alan Dershowitz is particularly telling:   A) Robin indulges in defamation of Dershowitz (“pro-torture,” etc.) that is currently common in the Far Left but is totally without foundation.  For example, Dershowitz has never spoken at Brooklyn College on any contentious issue, let alone on Israel or the Palestinians.  See Dershowitz’s own refutation of these attacks against him here. B) When Robin speaks about alleged appearances of Dershowitz  on the BC campus as justification for the BDS rally, his argument is of course tu quoque and not actually worthy of an Associate Professor of any discipline whatever.

In any case: is this the letter of an educator or of an agitator ?

6.  The following is a list of the sponsoring organizations for the BDS events (See my collection of documents)

Adalah NY
Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
American Muslims for Palestine
The Political Science Department at Brooklyn College
Brooklyn College Student Union
Brooklyn For Peace
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual Association at 
Brooklyn College (LGBTA BC) – Upholding freedom of speech
Critical Palestine Studies Association at the CUNY GRAD Center
CUNY School of Law National Lawyers Guild Chapter
Existence is Resistance
Hunter SJP
International Socialist Organization
Jewish Voice for Peace
Jews say No!
Jews for Palestinian Right of Return
John Jay SJP
Columbia SJP
Muslim American Society Chapter – MAS on Campus
New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT)
The Occupy Wall St Social Justice Working Group
Students for Justice at NYU
Labor for Palestine
New York City Labor Against the War

Each of the groups other than the Poly Sci Department  is well known as overtly and unabashedly anti-Israel, some more so than others.  The Independent Socialist Organization, about which I have written elsewhere, is perhaps the most radical in this respect, demanding continuing intifada and the complete destruction of the Jewish state.

Why is an ostensibly neutral academic department in this list ?

Conclusion

If this were a church/state issue, the endorsement by a public, taxpayer entity of a sectarian cause would by clearly unconstitutional (Abington School District v. Schempp, 1963).  Mutatis mutandis, the sample principle should apply here.  New York’s Jewish community and the elected officials of Brooklyn are right in demanding that Brooklyn College adopt more politically-neutral policies in the future.

UPDATE, February 15

Jonathan Marks, in an article “Department of Excuses,” throws more light on the affair.  For instance, we now know that the Political Science Department attempted to secure the collaboration of other departments for its endorsement of BDS but was decisively rebuffed in all cases.

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