By Deepti Hajela
An event at Brooklyn College calling for boycotts and sanctions against Israel went off calmly Thursday with the panelists speaking to a largely supportive crowd.
The college had been criticized for a lecture co-sponsored by the college's political science department and by a student-run group called Students for Justice in Palestine. It featured speakers from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which supports boycotts it likens to the anti-apartheid movement against South Africa to compel Israel in its policies toward Palestinians.
Critics had said a publicly funded college should not sponsor an anti-Israel lecture. The college said sponsorship is not the same thing as an endorsement, and figures like Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke in favor of free speech in supporting the school's decision to hold the event while condemning the content.
Speakers Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler outlined the aims of the movement, which include calls for Israel to withdraw from disputed areas and for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to where they came from.
"It is time for Palestinians' freedom, justice and equality," Barghouti said.
The security to get into the event was tight, with people straggling in even after it had begun. The audience of about 200 people listened quietly, many breaking into applause when the event was over and speaking mostly positively in the question session.
"I anticipated more antagonistic questions," said Elaine Smith, 61, who's from Brooklyn, attended with her husband and daughter. "I was pleased that it wasn't."
One slight disruption occurred when a group of four students holding material from a group against BDS were asked to either hand it over or leave, according to Melanie Goldberg, one of the students. The students were escorted out when they didn't turn over the material, she said.
Outside the student center, a few dozen protesters stood behind metal barricades, holding signs against BDS.
"When a political science department of the university co-sponsors an event and gets involved, I see that as them taking sides, and the university should be neutral," said Dina Yanofsky, 18, a first-year student at the college.
Brooklyn College is part of the City University of New York.