For Immediate Release
FEB 06, 2013–We strongly condemn the misguided effort of a group of city, state and federal officials, including Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Councilman Brad Lander, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, NYC Comptroller John Liu, NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Borough President Marty Markowitz, and other congress- and assembly- members, to pressure Brooklyn College to cancel or alter a planned panel discussion about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) campaign. Some public officials are going so far as to threaten the College with defunding if it does not accede to their demands.
This attempt to control public discussion and debate about Israel and Palestine reveals a deep disregard for freedom of speech and the constitutional obligations of public officials. We applaud Brooklyn College President Karen Gould and City University of New York Chancellor Matthew Goldstein for standing firmly behind the principle of academic freedom and respecting the rights of faculty, students, and invited guests.
The BDS campaign was initiated in 2005 by nearly 200 Palestinian organizations. Its stated goal is to use "non-violent punitive measures" to end Israel’s occupation of Arab land, to achieve equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to allow Palestinian refuges to return to their homes. However one views its positions or tactics, or the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the BDS campaign is a geopolitical event that merits explication and discussion in an academic setting.
Although the self-designated “progressive elected officials from Brooklyn and city-wide leaders” pay lip service to the First Amendment and academic freedom, their letter reveals a shocking lack of understanding of both, in the demand that the political science department withdraw its endorsement (in fact, it is a co-sponsorship) of the event and that the College “ensur[e] that events bearing the official imprimatur of the College provide adequate opportunity for diverse perspectives to be heard.” Not only is this an impermissible interference with the College’s decision making process, it is a demand that the political views of a group of elected officials be included in an academic event. The disguise of “diversity”, under which this demand masquerades, fools no one.
In 1999, in a similar case involving an art exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum that angered and offended the religious beliefs of some New York public officials, a federal court issued a strong reminder of the limits of government power. The presentation of an idea in an academic setting is not an endorsement, any more than a museum’s decision to display a religiously-themed work implies an endorsement of a religious view by the museum. Students are free to agree or disagree with the speakers. And they do, often vigorously, as anyone who has stepped foot on a vibrant college campus in the recent past is well aware.
Academic freedom is not served when elected officials use their considerable power to pressure an educational institution so as to advance their own political positions or to chill the expression of views with which they disagree. Public officials have ample opportunity to express their views and disagreement with the BDS movement without resorting to strong-arm tactics to try to take over every lecture hall in town.
About The National Coalition Against Censorship: For 37 years, NCAC has been a unique force protecting the right to read, think, and speak freely. NCAC engages a large and diverse community in educational and advocacy activities stressing the critical role of free speech for individual self-fulfillment and effective self-government. See the latest news from NCAC at ncac.org