Brooklyn College, facing criticism for hosting an event with speakers who advocate boycotting Israel, says it will hear from other points of view in the coming weeks.
President Karen Gould said in a statement that the college will
“provide multiple opportunities for discussion about the topics … at the heart of this controversy.”
The controversy erupted over Thursday’s event featuring two leaders of the so-called BDS movement, which stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The movement seeks to influence Israeli policy toward the Palestinians by urging international boycotts of Israeli products and divestment from Israeli companies.
“The debate is extremely important,” said Omar Bargouti, a founder of the BDS movement and one of the speakers at the event. “All sides should be aired.”
The talk by Bargouti and UC Berkeley professor Judith Butler was co-sponsored by several campus groups and the political science department. A college spokesman said the sponsorship is not the same thing as an endorsement, but some city leaders say a publicly-funded college should not sponsor an anti-Israel lecture.
“A lot of people are very upset that the university itself has given the seal of approval,” Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) said Tuesday.
City Council Member Lewis Fidler wrote a letter to Gould on Jan. 29 signed by many other elected officials, suggesting that he would withhold support for funding for the college, part of the City University of New York system, if the event were allowed to move forward.
“We believe in the principle of academic freedom,” he wrote. “However, we believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong.”
Bargouti said such talk smacks of McCarthyism.
“They’re trying to suppress academic debate at Brooklyn College,” he said.
In her statement Monday, Gould said she did not agree with the pro-boycott group but supported its right to speak at the college.
Bargouti said his talks at other campuses have generally not aroused as much opposition as the Brooklyn College forum.
He said he was speaking at the University of Pennsylvania on Tuesday and at Yale University on Wednesday.