There has been a controversy raging about Brooklyn College’s sponsorship of a BDS conference.

For those of you who have not been paying attention, the BDS movement seeks to delegitimize and destroy Israel by, among other things, boycotting companies like SodaStream, Sabra hummus and Aroma Cafe.

The embrace given the BDS conference by Brooklyn College created protests and pushback against critics, a subject touched upon yesterday in my post, Alan Dershowitz — Point Man.

Today, Professor Jonathan Marks of Ursinus College has a post which addresses claims that protests over the BDS conference infringed academic freedom and freedom of speech.

The overall point is that such freedoms do not insulate one from accountability and responsibility for a bad decision not just to permit but to sponsor a group devoted to destroying those very freedoms, Department of Excuses: BDS at Brooklyn College:

Last Thursday, Brooklyn College hosted a discussion of the BDS movement by a panel consisting of Bhargouti and Judith Butler, a Berkeley philosophy professor and BDS supporter.  It was co-sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine—and the Brooklyn College political science department.  New York elected officials called for the event’s cancelation or withdrawal of school or department sponsorship.  But the professors stood firm, backed by not only Brooklyn College President Karen Gould but New York City Mayor Bloomberg, who defended “an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic.”

In fact, few of the critics questioned the “right” of Brooklyn College or its political science department to sponsor the event.  The question is not the rights but the responsibilities and judgment of the college and the department, neither of which has offered a good defense of the decision to sponsor the BDS panel….

Glenn Greenwald of the UK Guardian defended the event this way: “Why shouldn’t advocates of a movement be able to gather at an event to debate tactics and strategies without having someone there who objects to the movement itself?”  Similarly, when Butler spoke—before she remembered that the event was supposed to be an exercise in “critical judgment” and “democratic debate”—she observed that she had expected it to be a “conversation with a few dozen student activists in the basement of a student center.” There is nothing wrong with activists getting together to plot strategies for delegitimizing Israel, but it is wrong for an academic department to sponsor such a gathering.

The way the BDS panel’s organizers, defenders, and participants explained the event makes a laughingstock of those who stood up with a straight face and claimed that the decision to sponsor the panel was about fostering a “spirit of inquiry.”  At best, the decision was thoughtless—and that has been the department’s last line of defense.  “We just [expletive] co-sponsored it,” tweeted Brooklyn College political science professor Corey Robin amid the controversy, as if the act were meaningless—as if it made sense, when presented with a request to sponsor an anti-Zionist recruitment and strategy session, to reach for the department’s rubber stamp….

One need not agree with him to conclude that the political science department’s decision, far from being a service to the mission of critical inquiry, was a dereliction of its duty to students and an embarrassment to Brooklyn College.


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