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Silencing the debate on US campuses

January 30, 2014 at 2:37 am

American Zionists are once again up in arms about an event taking place later this week at Brooklyn College in New York City featuring Ben White, a researcher and writer for MEMO.

White is currently on a speaking tour of North America to discuss Israeli policies of segregation and colonisation in cities across the US and Canada. He is the author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide and Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy.

Last February, Brooklyn College was the subject of a similar Zionist campaign to cancel another event providing a forum for a critical discussion of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its apartheid policies, this time about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement featuring the prominent Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti and respected critical scholar Judith Butler.

At the time, Alan Dershowitz, a pro-Zionist lawyer and Brooklyn College graduate, railed against his alma mater’s political science department for co-sponsoring the lecture. He and New York City lawmakers waged a full scale public campaign against the event, the latter even demanding that Brooklyn College cancel the scheduled programme or face the financial consequences.

Interestingly, their campaign faced an unprecedented backlash.

Not only did the BDS event take place and generate an unusually high level of media coverage that was overwhelmingly supportive of academic freedom, including an editorial published in the New York Times newspaper, but also New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg boldly stated that: “As you know, I’m a big supporter of Israel-as big of a one as I think you can find in the city. But I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, [then] I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”

But apparently the lawmakers and Dershowitz have not learned their lesson, because only nine months later, they appear to be at it again.

New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, an influential Orthodox Jewish politician, told the Zionist website that “Ben White is not just anti-Israel, he is also an anti-Semite… Brooklyn College’s continued co-sponsorship of anti-Israel hatefests is abhorrent.”

Hikind is well known for his discrimination against Muslims and people of colour. He openly supports the New York City Police Department’s racial profiling of American Muslims, and earlier this year he appeared in blackface at a Purim event. Furthermore, the Jewish Daily Forward reports that back in 2006, Hikind defended a group of Jewish teenagers in Brooklyn who committed a hate crime against a 24-year-old Pakistani man, hurling ethnic slurs at him and calling him a “terrorist” before pummelling “him with kicks and punches sharpened by brass knuckles.”

Hikind’s former chief of staff David Greenfield, who is now a member of the New York City Council, also complained to the New York Daily News tabloid newspaper that, “It’s unfortunate that Brooklyn College seems to be consistent in sending a message to their Jewish students that they are not respected on campus.” His assumption that all Jewish Americans are supporters of the State of Israel essentialises Jewish political identity, a tactic that anti-Semites also embrace.

And although Dershowitz is fully aware that social science departments are never politically uniform and frequently sponsor lectures that promote a particular political agenda without being accused of “taking sides”, he is again arguing that “No academic departments should take sides in hotly contested political disputes… If these departments deny they are taking sides, I challenge them to ‘support’ a speech by me on the Mideast,” as reported by the Daily News.

It is ironic that Dershowitz continues to call for academic fairness and political balance, especially considering that he personally intervened in the tenure case of renowned scholar Dr Norman Finkelstein. When Finkelstein was up for tenure at DePaul University in Chicago, Dershowitz reportedly “sent the DePaul law school faculty and members of the political science department what he described as a ‘dossier of Norman Finkelstein’s most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions’,” according to the academic newspaper The Chronicle of Higher Education. Finkelstein noted that the dossier was around 50 pages long, and Dershowitz confirmed that he had sent the information to “everybody who would read it”, telling the Chronicle that his goal was, “Revealing the truth – all I’m doing is disclosing the truth.”

However, rather than exposing any truth to the greater public, Dershowitz merely stifled academic freedom to advance his own political agenda. Despite receiving excellent ratings from his students and peers, and having a stellar publishing record, Finkelstein was still denied tenure. As a result of Dershowitz’s campaign, he was deprived of his right to teach in a classroom, and even more tragically, American students were denied the right to be educated by a fearless and inspired scholar.

Exposing his hypocrisy, during the controversy at Brooklyn College last February, Dershowitz penned an editorial for the UK’s the Guardian newspaper asking, why “is there such a concerted effort to attack me personally and to question my integrity every time I speak about Israel?”

And what exactly would he call that fifty page dossier?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.