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Brooklyn College President Won’t Cancel Boycott Israel Panel

Hits Back Against Lawmakers Who Threaten To Cut Funds

By Ari Paul

The president of Brooklyn College hit back against New York City Council members who threatened to withhold funds to the school if it allows a panel discussion about the boycott Israel campaign to go forward later this week.

Brooklyn College President Karen Gould insisted the discussion would go ahead as planned and defended the decision as part of the school’s commitment to “academic freedom.”

“Providing an open forum to discuss important topics, even those many find highly objectionable, is a centuries-old practice on university campuses around the country,” Gould said. “Indeed, this spirit of inquiry and critical debate is a hallmark of the American education system.”

Gould spoke out after 10 City Councilmembers wrote her a letter objecting to the panel. Prominent pro-Israel voices including lawyer Alan Dershowitz also lambasted the panel that will include philosopher Judith Butler and Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti.

“We don’t believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City, many of who would feel targeted and demonized by this program, want their tax money to be spent on,” the lawmakers said.

Supporters of the event praised Gould for standing up to the pressure.

“We knew this would be controversial. We’re not scared of controversy,” said Corey Robin, who has taught political science at Brooklyn College for 15 years. “The fact that government officials have chosen to threaten us … I thought we had moved beyond that.”

Defenders of the panel have likened the move by these City Council members to an incident involving then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani who in 1999 threatened to slash funding to the Brooklyn Museum for showing an image of the Virgin Mary mired in elephant dung.

This prompted Robin to look to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who very publically and passionately stood up to critics of the lower Manhattan Islamic center, invoking freedom of speech and religion.

“In some ways, this fight has really just begun,” he said. “It’s very clear, the terms of the confrontation: the entire academic community against the power of the state.”

Gould also strongly stated that support for the panel should not be seen as the college’s endorsement of the divestment movement.

In addition to Thursday evening’s event, at which I encourage those with opposing views to participate in the discussion and ask tough questions, other forums will present alternative perspectives for consideration,” she said.

“The college welcomes participation from any groups on our campus that may wish to help broaden the dialogue,” she said. “At each of these events, please keep in mind that students, faculty, staff, and guests are expected to treat one another with respect at all times, even when they strongly disagree.”


  1. February 5, 2013 at 19:50

    Congratulations to the President of Brooklyn College, Karen Gould, for her steadfastness and courage in the face of neocon pressure,for striking a blow for Democracy at large and for our nation’s democratic welfare in particular.

  2. Blake said,

    February 5, 2013 at 20:57

    Much respect to Karen Gould

  3. stan toohey said,

    February 5, 2013 at 23:14

    There is always two sides ,that is the only way to limit coplete control . Threating only means you have no answer .

  4. jk said,

    February 6, 2013 at 08:36

    Yes, I support the college for hosting the event and even co-sponsoring a talk given by controversial speakers.

    At the same time, I completely disagree with Omar Barghouti. I think he is what I’ll call an utopian extremist – thankfully a nonviolent one. I wish students would invite speakers on college campuses that are more pragmatic who promote peace while allowing alliances of Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israeli groups to form. Barghouti’s talks and one state solution is divisive and unrealistic.

  5. robertsgt40 said,

    February 6, 2013 at 14:31

    We are rapidly approaching the “emporer has no clothes” moment.

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