In 1942, Brooklyn College hired a young instructor to teach a summer course on Modern European history. Though academically trained, the instructor was primarily known as the author of a series of incendiary articles in the Jewish press on Jewish politics and Zionism.
An active though ambivalent Zionist, the instructor did not shy from scorching criticism of the movement for Jewish settlement in Palestine. She had already come to some unsettling conclusions in private. In an unpublished essay, she compared the Zionists to the Nazis, arguing that both movements assumed that the Jews were “totally foreign” to other peoples based on their “inalterable substance.” She wrote in a letter that she found “this territorial experiment” of the Jews in Palestine “increasingly problematic.” By the spring of 1942, she was more public in her criticisms. In March, she wrote that the Irgun—the Jewish paramilitary group whose most prominent commander was Menachem Begin—was a “fascist organization” that “employed terrorist methods in their fight against Arabs in Palestine.”
In the coming years, despite her continuing involvement in Zionist politics, she would grow even more critical of the movement. The very idea of the State of Israel, she would write in 1943, was “based on the idea that tomorrow’s majority [the Jews] will concede minority rights to today’s majority [the Palestinians], which indeed would be something brand-new in the history of nation-states.” In 1944, she accused a circle of Jewish fighters of believing “not only that ends justify means but also that only an end that can be achieved by terror is worth their effort.” By the end of that year, she had come to the conclusion that the extreme position within Zionism, which she consistently associated with fascism, was now the mainstream position of David Ben Gurion, and that that fascist tendency had been latent within Theodor Herzl’s original vision all along. By 1948, the year the State of Israel was founded, she would write: “The general mood of the country, moreover, has been such that terrorism and the growth of totalitarian methods are silently tolerated and secretly applauded.”
The name of that instructor was Hannah Arendt.
If Brooklyn College could tolerate the instructor who wrote those words in 1942—and would go onto write those words of 1944 and 1948—surely it, and the City of New York, can tolerate the co-sponsorship by the political science department of a panel on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in 2013.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY
Brooklyn College SJP to Hold Press Conference in Support of Brooklyn College’s Continued Support for Academic Freedom and Expression on Campus
DATE: Tuesday, February 5th, 2013, at 1 PM ET
LOCATION: In front of Brooklyn College school gates (Bedford Ave between Campus Rd and Avenue I, Brooklyn, NY)
On Tuesday afternoon at 1 PM ET, members and supporters of the Brooklyn College chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) will hold a press conference to address the escalating attacks led by city and state politicians and lawyer Alan Dershowitz against the Brooklyn College administration following the political science department’s co-sponsorship of an upcoming event organized by SJP. The event, which takes place this Thursday, will feature renowned philosopher Judith Butler and Palestinian human rights activist Omar Barghouti, who will discuss the growing global movement to use Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel into abiding by international law and respecting Palestinian human rights.
Initially, critics called for the Brooklyn College political science department to rescind its co-sponsorship. Now, Assistant Majority Leader of the NYC Council Lewis Fidler and several other members of the City Council are threatening to pull Brooklyn College’s funding unless the administration cancels or removes its support for Tuesday’s event. In a recent letter, Brooklyn College President Karen Gould confirmed that the event will go forward as planned, emphasizing the school’s commitment to the principles of academic freedom.
The controversy has garnered international attention, and just today internationally acclaimed musician and human rights advocate Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, released a statement in support of SJP Brooklyn College’s efforts to educate the public about BDS and Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights. Mr. Waters’ statement read in part, “You man the barricades of intellectual and political freedom. That you have come under attack from powerful political and media forces for trying to shed light on the predicament of the good peoples of Palestine and Israel is wrong. I stand with you.”
Please join Students for Justice in Palestine along with supporters, faculty member and allied organizations tomorrow, February 5, at 1 PM ET, for our press conference.
Sarah Aly and Rabia Tarar – Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine
Kristofer Petersen-Overton – Professor of Political Science at Lehman College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
Representatives of Jewish Voice for Peace
Supporters who will be present and available for press interviews:
Coalition of CUNY Faculty members
Michael Letwin – Former President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325; Jews for Palestinian Right of Return; Labor for Palestine; US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
Linda Sarsour – Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York
Fatin Jarara – Al Awda-NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
Moustafa Bayoumi – Professor of English at Brooklyn College
Cyrus McGoldrick – Human Rights Activist and Former Civil Rights Manager at Council on American-Islamic Relations – New York Chapter
Lamis Deek – Attorney and Human Rights Advocate
Rosalind Petchesky – Professor of Political Science and Women’s Studies at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
Carlos Guzman – Brooklyn and Hunter SJP
Leena Widdi – John Jay SJP
Julieta Salgado – A Free Society and New York Students Rising
Charlie Kerr – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual Association at Brooklyn College
Naomi Allen – Brooklyn for Peace