Mayor Bloomberg Backs Brooklyn College in Flap Over Boycott Israel Panel
‘Go to North Korea’ to Escape Disputes, Mayor Tells Critics
By Josh Nathan-Kazis
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg harshly criticized city officials who had called on Brooklyn College’s political science department to drop their sponsorship of a pro-BDS panel.
Stipulating that he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with the movement that seeks to impose boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel, Bloomberg said he believed an academic department should be allowed to sponsor any sort of panel it liked.
“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea,” Bloomberg said at a press conference today.
The panel, featuring two prominent supporters of the BDS movement, is scheduled to take place on February 6. It’s drawn criticism from Jewish activists and from public officials.
Bloomberg’s statement amounted to a stark rejection of a January 29 letter to Brooklyn College from New York City Council members Lew Fidler and David Greenfield, among others, implicitly threatening the school’s public funding for sponsoring the panel.
At today’s press conference, Bloomberg specifically criticized the threats to CUNY funding. “The last thing we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run and base funding decisions on the political views of professors,” the mayor said.
Progressive Democrats have also criticized Brooklyn College’s political science department. In a January 31 letter that did not threaten the school’s funding, a group of Democrats led by Congressman Jerry Nadler and New York City Councilman Brad Lander asked the political science department to withdraw their co-sponsorship of the panel. In a second letter sent February 6, the same group reasserted that they had not threatened CUNY funding.
Critics of the officials’ push against the panel saw Bloomberg’s comments as a major win. “That’s a very strong endorsement of my department’s position,” wrote Corey Robin, a professor in the Brooklyn College political science department, in a blog post about the speech.