Lawmakers Threaten Brooklyn College for Event on Boycott of Israel over Settlements (Democracy Now!)

Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! reports on the attempt of far right-wing partisans of Israel to quash a courtesy sponsorship by the Department of Political Science at Brooklyn College for a student-organized panel on boycotting and disinvesting from Israeli enterprises usurping Palestinian land and resources in the Palestinian West Bank. It features eminent scholar and cultural critic, Judith Butler.

Of all the groups in the US who hate our first amendment rights to freedom of speech, including climate change denialists, gun nuts, and American nationalists, the more extreme partisans of Israel are the most strident and often are quite powerful. Since many of them got their power promising to represent the public interest in general, it is a species of malpractice for them to misuse their position of trust in favor of a narrow sectarian and partisan foreign-policy interest. It would be as though Italian-American politicians went around insisting that you can never criticize Italy, no matter what Silvio Berlusconi does, and if you do they will try to get you fired from your job. You would call that extreme Italian nationalism, misplaced into an American context, and everybody would recognize it as problematic. Why is extreme Jewish nationalism somehow not only put up with but actually encouraged?

The blurb for the show:

“New York politicians are threatening to cut funding to Brooklyn College if the school hosts a forum Thursday night about the Palestinian-led campaign to boycott and divest from Israel. The Brooklyn College Political Science Department is among the event’s co-sponsors. In response, a group of New York City councilmembers has raised the possibility of Brooklyn College losing taxpayer support. The councilmembers’ threat is just one of several efforts by local lawmakers, from Congress on down, to pressure Brooklyn College to remove its sponsorship or even cancel the event. As the school vows to proceed with the event, we’re joined by one of its featured speakers, author and activist Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the BDS movement and author of “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.” On BDS, Barghouti says, “It follows in the steps of the civil rights movement in this country and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. … It’s just when we talk about Palestinian rights that some people are trying to criminalize and make it completely unacceptable speech to address Palestinian rights under international law.” We’re also joined by Glenn Greenwald, columnist for The Guardian and author of “With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.” [includes rush transcript]
Filed under Israel & Palestine, Omar Barghouti, Glenn Greenwald

Omar Barghouti, one of the founding members of BDS, a nonviolent campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel until it complies with international law. His book is Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.

Glenn Greenwald, columnist for The Guardian and author of With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Responses | Print |

17 Responses

    • Public shaming can be effective and it should have been used as well in 2004. In 2004, after the World Court issued an advisory opinion condemning Israel’s security Wall, 361 members of the U.S. House of Representatives backed a resolution supporting the Wall.
      Free speech condemned. International law condemned. What’s next?
      link to

  1. “It would be as though Italian-American politicians went around insisting that you can never criticize Italy, no matter what Silvio Berlusconi does, and if you do they will try to get you fired from your job.”

    Well put. thanks

    • Yes.

      The hysterics of the irrational. The NRA is offering the same spectacle today, though at least they appear to be widely criticized.

  2. Are we still the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave or cowards who back down to pressure exerted by bought and paid for, at least rented, politicians and their ignominious benefactors?

  3. A victory for free speech at Brooklyn College!

    New Glenn Greenwald post this morning about how the press is an agent for what the government wants to be told rather than being a watchdog. There is an update with the politicians at the NY City Council completely backing down from their threat to block funding of the college.

    The last sentence from Glenn’s post

    This important and surprising victory demonstrates what principled leadership combined with public activism can achieve. It can defeat even the most monied and organized factions, as it did here. All of you who made yourselves heard should be proud of the role you played in this victory

    Whole article is well worth reading also.

    link to

  4. In talking with ardent Israeli supporters I have often had them say; “If only the Palestinians would protest peacefully they would be more successful”. “If only they would stop bombing busses and firing rockets then we could reach a peace agreement”.

    Now when the Palestinians are gaining some success with peaceful approaches, (honest discussion of Israel, successful votes in the UN) they want to shut them down. Israelis and their supporters know that an honest discussion of Israel in America is more damaging to Israel’s legitimacy and ultimate survivability than all those rockets. That is why there is such a panicked reaction. The fact that they are getting exactly what they asked for is quite irrelevant.

  5. Juan Cole writes: ” Why is extreme Jewish nationalism somehow not only put up with but actually encouraged?”

    Given the context of this question (i.e. the analogy with “extreme Italian nationalism”), I am wondering if you meant ‘extreme Israeli nationalism’?

    I often see suggestions/corrections like the one above as the primary attempt to deal a deathblow to an otherwise very good argument being laid forth. For example, look at this article:
    link to

    A Jewish-American friend of mine indicated that the use of the word ‘Jews’ in the BBC article allowed the otherwise acceptable viewpoint to be opened up for harsh criticism. Well, it would be wrong to say that all Jews are in favour of what is going on in Israel and Palestine. But then again, neither are all Israelis. So, if the use of the word “Jewish nationalism’ is not OK, and ‘Israeli nationalism’ is OK, may be it’s time to recognize that Israel is not just the homeland of the Jews. And if this latter suggestion is OK, then may be it’s time to have a referendum in Israel and the occupied territories (that Israel plans to illegally annex) to decide on a one-state solution? Just thinking out loud.

    • Israeli nationalism would be something practiced by Israelis. Jewish nationalism is something that can, at least, be practiced by Jews in general. Israel has become central to it, but non-Israeli Jews are often devotees of more or less fascist notions of blood and soil, authoritarianism, iron wall, iron fist, militarist expansionism, etc.– all taking Jewish ethnicity as its basis. Many American Jews are not Jewish nationalists, and relatively few are extreme nationalists. The latter however tend to be extremely wealthy and influential (e.g. Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban, etc.)

      • shouldn’t that read that ‘non-Isrli Jewish nationalist…’ ‘…are often devotees…’

      • A parallel movement to “Christian nationalism”, then? That’s a movement which wants to make the US a “Christian nation” by ignoring the 1st Amendment.

  6. I am no fan of Michael Bloomberg, but must give him credit on this one. According to The New York Times today (Feb. 7), the Mayor, who’s a vocal supporter of Israel, has forcefully defended Brooklyn College’s rights in this matter and condemned those attempting to silence the school.

  7. The BDS movement in Ann Arbor, Michigan has endured similar opposition. The People’s Food Co-op had members that wished to place a member referendum on a ballot to boycott the sale of Israeli products at the co-op. Ironically many of the supporters of the boycott were Jewish, although the local Quakers actually spearheded the boycott.

    A tremendous counter-movement developed with a sitting Ann Arbor council member carrying a placard in front of the co-op protesting the BDS movement and the referendum lost by a 77%-23% margin.

    • Not really. The question with regard to Brooklyn College is whether or not a forum should be held, a question of speech. Your description of the action was whether or not a boycott should take place, a question of action. You lost because the community opposed your action, which is perfectly fair and holds with the principles of this country. Should Brooklyn College be prevented from hosting a forum concerning unpopular speech, the opposite arguably would be the case.

  8. “the more extreme partisans of Israel are the most strident and often are quite powerful.”

    You are joking with the use of ‘quite’ I trust.

    The sight of Congress jumping up and down like puppets on twenty seven occasions to applaud Netanyahu shows the extent to which US politics is now dominated by this group.

    Here in the UK 80% of the current government are ‘friends of Israel’, in the official opposition Labour Party it is said that “if you do not support Israel your career is at an end”, and all this happening with a rabid far right Israeli government that ‘hides’ it’s nuclear weapons, ignores UN resolutions, sanctions settlers stealing or destroying Palestinian lands, ‘approves’ state assassinations, practises apartheid policies strongly criticised by former apartheid activists such as Tony Benn and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the list is endless.

    Those protesting about any Israeli policies are publicly labelled anti semitic, while comments from the far right religious parties of Israel go unreported in the mainstream media;

    “Another prominent Lubavitch Rabbi, Manis Friedman from America, where Lubavitch is based, is an all-round bigot. Whether it is women, children, Arabs or non-Jews they are each in their own way inferior – some more than others.

    Friedman’s views on the indigenous population of Palestine and the Arabs are best described in an article in Ha’aretz of 9th June 2009 ‘Chabad rabbi: Jews should kill Arab men, women and children during war”

  9. BDS has taken hold in the State of Washington, the home of Rachel Corrie.

    Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon all but conceded in a public statement that Israel was behind the lawsuit against the Olympia Food Coop for boycotting Israeli-manufactured products – with the exception of Palestinian “Peace Oil” olive oil. There was evidence an Israeli Consul met with the plaintiffs.

    Current and former members of the board of directors were sent letters by a prominent Seattle law firm theatening legal action unless the boycott was lifted – due to alleged irregularities in adopting the boycott resolution. The ensuing lawsuit – in which the public interest law firm attorneys defended the co-op – resulted in a counterclaim against the five member-plaintiffs under the SLAPP Act (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) for damages and attorney fees. Sixteen defendants were named in the lawsuit against the co-op and its directors.

    Judge Thomas McPhee, after recommending an offer by the co-op of a member referendum whether or not to continue the boycott (which was rejected by the five plaintiffs), the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ suit and awarded the statutory maximum $10,000.00 to each of the sixteen defendants. Judge McPhee requested an itemization of attorney fees be provided to him by the co-op’s attorneys – which resulted in a $280,000 claim.

    There have also been flash mobs in support of Palestinian rights in Washington and boycotts at other area businesses.

    Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss have both covered these events in detail.

    Pro-Israel observers have indicated that Washington events described above are an aberration due to special conditions – one being the sympathy over the Rachel Corrie death – she resided in Olympia.

    Scholars For a Middle East Peace, a pro-Isarel organization, have indicated that a goal of theirs is to ensure that the BDS movement is marginalized and does not become mainstream in America. The U.S. population is generally about 3-1 in favor of Israel as opposed to those who support Palestianian issues. The goal is to keep the support in that proportion to ensure a pro-Zionist foreign policy is pursued by the U.S. government.

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