Category Archives: OISE

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.

George Marlen’s Ghost at the University of Toronto

Corey Balsam
Yet another diatribe against Israel from the University of Toronto, again in the guise of an MA thesis,  using the time-honored methods of the late George Marlen.  Reviewing another work, I had occasion to describe the Marlen method as follows:

The method he uses, the Marlen Method of Great Insight (MMGI), is so named to honor George Marlen, a Trotskyist thinker of the 1940’s. Marlen discovered that World War II was not a real war at all. It was a hoax, Marlen discovered, perpetrated as a conspiracy of the German, British, and American ruling class to fool the workers of the world. It was a phony war from beginning to end. Professor Noam Chomsky, among others, has testified to Marlen’s importance to his own thinking.  

MMGI can prove any idea that the powers that be wish to suppress. MMGI can be used, and indeed has been, to prove that the world is flat, that Napoleon never existed, that the moon is made of green cheese, that Zionists are really Nazis. This is how MMGI works. First and foremost, you decide what it is want to prove. Anything will do, as long as it is an idea that most of the world would find preposterous. Next, you go to a big library (Marlen worked at New York Public), you consult hundreds of books, you carefully write down on little pieces of paper any phrase, factoid, or even single word that fits into your pre-determined idea. Finally, you publish or at least self-publish your idea, buttressed by all these little papers you have taken from the library, and, voilà, you are a fearless, independent, scholarly thinker, and will gain, at the very least, a dozen people who think you’re great.

The work at hand here is called “The Appeal of Israel: Whiteness, Anti-Semitism, and the Roots of Diaspora Zionism in Canada.” It is written by a young student named Corey Balsam and supervised by Sheryl Nestel, a professor at the U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).  Nestel has supervised a number of similar theses over the last two years. (See my previous postings on her and OISE.)

True to the Marlen tradition, there is no scholarship in this thesis.  There is an appearance of scholarship — footnotes and bibliography — but none of its substance.  I will give but three examples of its many flaws:
1)  Although accepted in a department of sociology, there are no social science methods in evidence.  The author presumes to tell us something about the state of mind of Canadian Jews but at no point is there any reference to the many empirical studies of Canadian Jewish attitudes. (Quantitative methods seem to be completely absent from OISE sociology.)
2)  The author insists that aspiring for “whiteness” has something to do with how Canadian Jews think.  How would he know a thing like that ?  This concept — whiteness — is not, as far as I can tell, one that Canadian Jews employ to describe themselves, and the author does not claim that they do.  It is something that he imputes unto them.   Several OISE theses have used this term;  it is a piece of in-jargon at the Institute.  (That, and other such jargon, establish OISE as a cultist organization).  Stripped of its verbal acrobatics, when these OISE writers use “whiteness” they mean racist.  Together with the other theses on Jews that Nestel has supervised at OISE, Balsam asserts that  North American Jews are racist, no more, no less.  All this, moreover, in the face of actual empirical studies that show the very opposite to be true.
3)  True to Marlenite methodology, the author likes to refer to other writers whenever these seem to agree with his thesis.  One of his authorities is particularly instructive:   Shlomo Sand’s anti-Israel screed  “The Invention of the Jewish People.” This book holds that the very notion of a Jewish people is a Zionist propagandist lie. Sand is described by Balsam as an “Israeli historian,” forgetting to mention that Sand is a specialist in modern France without any background whatever in either ancient or medieval history, nor indeed in genetics, all subjects that he claims to master.  Sand’s book was published in English by an anti-Israel group, and has been wildly applauded by political groups hostile to Israel.  The specialists who have written about it, for example Martin Goodman of Oxford University and David Nirenberg of the University of Chicago, have said that the book is the work of a charlatan.  But to Mr. Balsam,  Sand remains an unchallengeable authority.

4)  Most of all:  the tone, the announced intentions, the atmosphere of this essay run counter to even the most relaxed canons of scholarship.  There is no curiosity, no spirit of enquiry. The author obviously has little interest in the ostensible subject of his thesis, the Jews of North America.  He opines about things in general and concocts a mock-radical theory of capitalist society.  He goes on and on citing  Freud, Fanon, Foucault, Gramsci.  It is a huge mumble jumble of sloganeering and half-digested ideas from others, without any apparent relevance to Canadian Jews.  Is there a point to all this, beyond his apparent interest in impressing his cultic teachers and comrades ?  The only point seems to be this one:  look how radical, how anti-racist, and especially how smart a thinker I am.

Mr. Balsam has of course every right in the world to think as he does, to be as pretentious as he wants to be, to write as he does, and to work, as he says he does, against Israel.  Obviously Ms. Nestel, his sponsor, has all these rights as well.  But none of this makes Balsam’s a work of scholarship in any sense whatever.  For OISE to say otherwise is a piece of legerdemain.
So, University of Toronto, for how long, for how long will you allow the OISE rot to undermine your academic credibility ?
hat tip:  Richard Klagsbrun