By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn College has become the latest battleground in the struggle for public opinion in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Assemblymembers Dov Hikind (D-Midwood/Borough Park) and Steve Cymbrowitz (D-Gravesend/Brighton Beach), buoyed by a phalanx of heavy hitters from Brooklyn’s political world, led a protest at the college yesterday, denouncing it for co-sponsoring a forum “whose goal it is to de-legitimize Israel’s existence.”
At issue is a meeting, scheduled for Feb. 7, sponsored by Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine, which is a lecture on “the importance of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) in helping to end Israeli apartheid and the illegal occupation of Palestine.”
Particularly controversial is the fact that the meeting is co-sponsored by the college’s Political Science Department. Among the other co-sponsors are Brooklyn for Peace, the Brooklyn College Student Union and the Occupy Wall Street Global Justice Working Group.
Turning out to support the protest were former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson; state Senators Eric Adams, John Sampson and Rhoda Jacobs; Assemblypersons Alan Maisel, Michael Simanowitz and Helene Weinstein; and Councilmen David Greenfield and Mike Nelson. With the exception for Simanowitz, who is from Queens, the above-mentioned officials represent districts in southern and central Brooklyn.
Jeremy Thompson, a spokesman for the college, told the Eagle that the Political Science Department often co-sponsors meetings on important topics to stimulate discussion, that its co-sponsorship doesn’t mean that the college endorses the group’s views, and that the college does not believe in censoring what is discussed by student groups or academic departments.
Hikind called on Brooklyn College President Karen Gould to resign.
“The bottom line is, this is a city university,” Yehudah Meth, a spokesman for Hikind, told the Eagle. “The Political Science Department is the university, and the university is supported by tax dollars.” It is inappropriate, he said, for people’s tax dollars to support a lecture advocating BSD.
An e-mail to the Eagle from Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine said, “We organize around the principles of the Palestinian Civil Society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel.”
The group seeks “the full decolonization of all illegally held Palestinian lands; the end of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; including East Jerusalem; the implementation of the right of return and repatriation for all Palestinian refugees to their original homes and properties; and an end to the Israeli system of Apartheid and discrimination against the indigenous Palestinian population.
“This event is by no means a `hate-meeting.’” the group continued. “Its aim is to inform people about the human rights violations committed by the apartheid state of Israel against the Palestinians.”
Hikind, however, doesn’t see it that way.
“Like its philosophical brothers in Hamas, BDS aims to eliminate the State of Israel from the map. Only its tactics differ from its terrorist cousins: While Hamas blows up buses of innocent men, women and children, BDS works to isolate Israelis, to cut them off from business,” he said.
Attorney Alan Dershowitz, a graduate of Brooklyn College and a vocal supporter of Israel, has said that the students have the right to sponsor the event, but the Political Science Department should withdraw its sponsorship.
Even left-liberal Jewish groups who are critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, such as Americans for Peace Now or J Street, tend to reject BDS. “The BDS movement fails to explicitly to recognize Israel’s right to exist and it ignores or rejects Israel’s role as a national home for the Jewish people,” says J Street.
Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the sponsors of the Feb. 7 meeting, however, is sympathetic to the BDS idea.
The BDS movement was started in 2005 by a group of Palestinian non-governmental organizations. In Brooklyn, the Park Slope Food Co-op in 2012 voted against a BDS-inspired boycott of Israeli goods after a heated debate.