BDS BS

by Kieran Healy on February 3, 2013

The Political Science Department at Brooklyn College is co-sponsoring a panel discussion about the BDS Movement against Israel, featuring Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler. The other co-sponsors—as is typical of such events—include various student groups. The Department and University as a whole have come under strong and increasingly political pressure to either cancel the event, revoke the department’s co-sponsorship, or add a speaker who is strongly against the BDS movement. I won’t rehearse the details. Glenn Greenwald has a characteristically exhaustive discussion and defense of the BC department’s academic freedom. Crooked Timberite Corey Robin is a member of that Department, but I haven’t spoken to him about this. (In fact, I’ve never spoken to him about anything. We haven’t met.) As for other CT members, as usual I am only representing myself here.

The short version is that I think the pressure the Department is coming under is undeserved, their co-sponsorship of this panel is a simple question of academic freedom, and I invite you to write a polite note to that effect to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, Provost William Tramontano and Director of Communications and PR Jeremy Thompson.

Alan “Needles” Dershowitz has led the charge against the department. He insists his “sole objection is to the official sponsorship and endorsement of BDS by an official department of a public (or for that matter private) college” because “Academic freedom does not include the power of department or faculty members to prosthelytize [sic] captive students whose grades and future depend on faculty evaluations.” I know Judith Butler’s writing gives some people a headache, but I wasn’t aware it was now standard practice to require students to attend her talks and actually hold them captive for the duration, on pain of jeopardizing their “grades and future”. Dershowitz claims that the academic freedom of these students is being violated, and asks “Does the political science department not also represent the students who major in or take courses in that subject?”

It seems to me that the answer is, quite trivially, “No”. Sponsoring a panel or speaker does not represent an endorsement of a speaker’s views, either. University departments can organize talks and roundtables, and they can invite whomever they like. It’s their call. That’s part of what academic freedom is. Grandstanding politicians should butt out. In this case, no one is being mandated to attend. The “grades and future” of BC Poli Sci majors are not under threat from anyone inside the Department. The students are not being “proselytized”. The department will not “vote to offer courses advocating BDS against Israel and grading students based on their support for the department’s position”. If any of those things were really happening, then the department would be irredeemably corrupt and “balancing” something as trivial as a roundtable would do nothing to save it. But of course none of them are. Pretending otherwise is just pure bullshit.

If I wanted to, I’d spend more time on the oddity of supposed believers in “the marketplace of ideas” (repeatedly invoked by Dershowitz) advocating for subsidies, quotas, and mandated time for competing products. Insofar as it exists, we should not expect to find this “marketplace” inside every particular talk or roundtable. Instead it should manifest itself in whether people choose to attend the university, or major in political science there, or decide to attend its events; in student assessments of the quality of courses and faculty; in how others inside the discipline regard the program and the people it trains, and so on.

Dershowitz and other critics are free to pour out their disapprobation. But the political science department is not doing anything wrong. In fact, it seems to be functioning in a quite ordinary way. As a measure of how far the bullshit meter is over in the brown here, Dershowitz lectured at CUNY in 2008, for instance, and spoke on some highly controversial topics. He did not see the need then to demand that formal opposition be provided, and neither did the University. Dershowitz was also subsequently invited by BC’s own Political Science department to give a named lecture, by himself. I sort of hope his brass neck is strong enough that he will write a piece retrospectively condemning CUNY and BC for their respective decisions to invite him under conditions that smack so strongly of proselytizing. But, honestly, I cannot believe someone needs to point out that universities—Universities!—sometimes invite controversial speakers to speak on controversial topics, let them talk for an hour or so, and have questions afterwards.

As for the actual topic of the roundtable in this case, I’m afraid I don’t much care. (Sorry, Corey.) I have no personal or professional investment in it. I don’t follow the news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict much, if only because I was always able to get it cheaper at home anyway. But neither do I think my burning lack of interest entitles me to demand the event be cancelled, or that I should be invited on the panel to represent the null view. The Brooklyn College Poli Sci department is not doing anything unusual, let alone wrong, in co-sponsoring a roundtable of this sort. Write to President Karen Gould and say so.

{ 56 comments }

1

shah8 02.03.13 at 2:38 am

Why should anyone be recruited into a mudfight?

2

JJ 02.03.13 at 3:21 am

Well skewered.

3

Steven Tran-Creque 02.03.13 at 3:30 am

Perhaps CT could draft a collective letter and post it as a petition, like the last time?

4

John Quiggin 02.03.13 at 3:32 am

Since this distinction usually comes up, it may be worth pointing out that there’s both a general freedom speech issue here, raised by attempts to stop the event altogether, and an academic freedom issue raised by the demand that the department should not sponsor this event. Both are clear-cut.

5

shah8 02.03.13 at 4:26 am

This is understood.

However, as far as I’m aware, aren’t most of the most petty academic bruhahas made sensible and heroic through such claims of calumny?

I think it’s better to just laugh at Brooklyn College, and leave it no means to save face.

6

Matt 02.03.13 at 4:43 am

I know Judith Butler’s writing gives some people a headache

For most of her work I’d put myself in this camp, but her writing on this subject is surprisingly clear and straight-forward, in my experience. (While I’m not sure I agree, or disagree, with all of it, it’s at least worth taking seriously, too.) The first time I read some of her work in this area, in _The Nation_, several years ago, I had to check to see if it was the famous Judith Butler, given how unlike her normal academic writing it was. So, even if, like me, you’re not crazy about her typical academic writing style, it’s worth looking at this material.

7

Corey Robin 02.03.13 at 4:53 am

5: “I think it’s better to just laugh at Brooklyn College, and leave it no means to save face.” Understand that some of us happen to work at this institution and while it might afford you great pleasure to be able to laugh at it, we would prefer to have an institution wherein we are free to do the kind of work that other academics elsewhere take for granted. So forgive me if forgo the opportunity to provide you with endless comic relief; perhaps you can get your yuks elsewhere, at someone else’s expense. Preferably your own.

8

shah8 02.03.13 at 5:59 am

Corey Robin, I don’t see the profit in such a mechanism started by CT. And I think you need a better case for people not working there to be involved. And I think that the delivery of petitions to the administration is an acknowledgement of their paternal authority, and an unnecessary one. It’s one thing to save someone’s job, and it’s another to be involved in questions surrounding someone’s working space.

I still remember that really wierd fight involving Juan Cole and some prospective appointment to a Yale position. More than that, people like Samer Shehata, who has done some pretty material work on issues that are important today, need a lot more help than you do. And in the broad history over academic fights that in some way involve Israel, usually the decision has already been made, behind very closed doors (and my dark suspicion, with plenty of contributions). The history of uproar changing anything isn’t all that great, and typically, the uproar is used to prove the point that the people’s voice has been heard.

Brooklyn College’s administration are already aware of the stupidity of their position, in my estimation. Yelling at them only justifies Dershowitz’ belligerence. Far, far, better to mock them mercilessly. Make them pay in credibility. As for your interests Corey Robin, who actually genuinely cares but you, your family and good as family, and your coworkers? You’re just grass where the elephants stomp, and if there’s no bleeding, what’s the point in racing to your aid? I mean, I can go to Wikipedia and look up the BDS movement and make the accurate assessment that your freedom of study was doomed from the start, and in practice, there is a pretty strong risk of university administration retaliation for any academic who doesn’t toe the line. Judith Butler is simply one professor whose career is too ironclad to threaten quietly, so more public threats are necessary.

9

John Protevi 02.03.13 at 6:04 am

Brooklyn College’s administration are already aware of the stupidity of their position, in my estimation. Yelling at them only justifies Dershowitz’ belligerence. Far, far, better to mock them mercilessly. Make them pay in credibility.

What *are* you talking about? The administration has supported the department. The idea of writing to them is to encourage them to stand firm.

10

shah8 02.03.13 at 6:17 am

Ah, this post generally describes the department as being under fire. Didn’t really register the “university as a whole” at the top.

I’m a lot more fine with signing petitions to reward good behavior, and if this event is pulled off, it would be a genuine victory, given how the Wiki reads about the academic part of the BDS phenomenon.

11

shah8 02.03.13 at 6:23 am

Karen L Gould, bless her Québécois sentiments, writes a good defense that people should read.

http://mondoweiss.net/2013/01/brooklyn-forward-explains.html

12

shah8 02.03.13 at 6:31 am

One last bit of spam, but this mondoweiss link gives a better look at where the pressure is coming from:

http://mondoweiss.net/2013/02/brooklyn-pressure-officials.html

13

Meredith 02.03.13 at 6:43 am

The Brooklyn-Boston area Jewish exchange needs proper historical/sociological analysis. Alan D. is an example of all that can be lost in that exchange.

Please, this video is my Brooklyn, my NYC. (And that “my” includes generations of NYC WASPS, who started coming here on the Mayflower = (more or less) Boston. As well as Jewish and Muslim children-in-law — waiting for those grandchildren! I get Christmas!)

You ready for maybe the best Marcus Pincus ever (yet)? Here it is:

14

David Kaib 02.03.13 at 1:31 pm

I second the suggestion (@3) of a collective letter, either here or elsewhere.

15

Mitchell Freedman 02.03.13 at 3:16 pm

Permit this different way of approaching this issue:

First, would we really be so supportive of open forums with no counterpoints if the University of Alabama Psychology Department sponsored a scientist “proving” that African-Americans are psychologically “inferior” to white people and Asian people? We’d say, wouldn’t we, “What the heck is that department thinking? Why are they sponsoring this?” And we might well lend our voices and emails to that department asking them to rethink that sponsorship. Are we now hypocrites? I guess we would be. That’s where Dershowitz finds himself right now, I might add, which is unfortunately for him a familiar place when it comes to matters directly concerning Israel.

Second, we who support open forums and civil liberties say that there is nothing we should not allow to be stated in a public institution in pursuit of the principle of open societies. However, unstated is our view that most public institutions would know when something is truly beyond the pale such as pseudo-science that is racist and therefore not give that view an unopposed forum. That’s when we hear the word “legitimacy” get tossed into the mix…and that is precisely when our support for civil liberties begins to break down.

What we’re really talking about in this Brooklyn College-BDS imbroglio this is: There are intellectual bullies in every society who tirelessly work to ensure that the discourse is limited to their point of view. In the USA, there are various bullies, including the NRA, the Israel lobby and a few others. They push their weight around, spread their influence through money and with the resulting threat of defunding people and institutions, or funding an opposition against people and institutions if the bulliers’ views are not continually presented without interference from different ideas. And again, in the USA, these bullies tend to be tied up within the larger and even more powerful military-industrial complex that continues to rule the discourse and policy making in our nation.

Since I’m dealing with the substance of this topic, I will say my views on the substance: I don’t support the BDS movement and, as with Chomsky, thought Stephen Walt’s analysis was overwrought. Still, the more Netanyahu and Bennett in Israel continue to reject the two state solution and push for a one-state solution with an Israeli Jewish apartheid result, the more the BDS movement members’ often stated preference for one state based upon majority rules and supposed democratic values will find legitimacy. That’s why Dershowitz and Hikind are acting like Russian Soviet era commissars and medieval era bishops and want to push down (or keep down) the opposition represented by the BDS movement. This imbroglio is actually a sign of a crack in their intellectual armors, and Brooklyn College President Gould sees that. Many of us see it. The push back against the bullies has begun.

What I think, however, is that we should not be so high and mighty about civil liberties (yes, I’m talking to Glenn and Corey on this… :-)) when we’re likely to be caught in the web of hypocrisy depending upon the particular issue. What we are really talking about is push back against bullies in our society. And that’s a very legitimate stance, if I may a bit cute at this point.

16

William Timberman 02.03.13 at 4:01 pm

Mitchell Freedman @ 15

If you look at the cases he took on as a practicing attorney, Glenn Greenwald, having at least once that I’m aware of, described himself as a free-speech absolutist, has already met and passed the test of hypocrisy. He has indeed walked it the way he now talks it.

Given the potential for violence and disruption that occur when one demands civil liberties for a minority position that a majority considers anathema, most of us, I think, would be a little more circumspect. No one enjoys getting death threats for defending the letter of the Constitution, and the larger issue of rights and responsibilities always tends to disappear into the murk of animosities whose consequences are hard to predict, at least for those charged with maintaining public order.

Getting non-stop phone calls from Alan Dershowitz’s herd of donors isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a supporter of free speech. Getting beaten by a mob while the police look the other way is equally likely, unless and until the minority opinion either becomes respectable to the majority, or becomes the majority itself. That’s why electoral politics, so good at managing the status quo, is so abysmal when it comes to fostering, or at least protecting, processes that might lead to real and fundamental changes in the social contract, even when those changes are long overdue. See Martin Luther King, or Malcolm X.

When the stakes are high, civil disobedience is a fraught enterprise, both for those who engage in it, and those who are supposed by law to incorporate it into a framework of peaceful political interaction. The fragility of police forces, courts, and constitutional law is among the first things exposed, and seeing it exposed in that way, it seems to me, is far more worrisome than the hypocrisy, real or imagined, of those who see it as their mission to do the exposing.

17

Corey Robin 02.03.13 at 4:42 pm

No time to get into all this; Chris Hayes did an unbelievably powerful segment on this story this morning. Very strong. Starts at 1:30. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/46979738/ns/msnbc-up_with_chris_hayes/#50683952

18

Bloix 02.03.13 at 5:11 pm

#1 – shah8 – the problem here is not so much Dershowitz personally as that New York state and city politicians have been recruited into his campaign to stop the panel discussion. New York politicians can’t be expected to put their commitment to academic freedom over the anger of Jewish voters. And Brooklyn College can’t afford to alienate the politicians who vote on its funding.

For the average New York Jewish voter, Dershowitz – a Brooklyn-born Jew who is now a Harvard professor – has significantly more cred on questions of academic freedom than the entire Brooklyn College political science department combined. His involvement grants permission to secular and generally liberal Jewish voters who might otherwise be torn over the academic freedom and first amendment issues to oppose the panel.

As for writing to the Brooklyn College administration, don’t imagine that the opinions of unknown academics at universities outside New York will have much influence, although a note of solidarity might help to keep up the morale of political science department. But if I were a New York voter, I would certainly get in touch with the school, with my congressman and council person, and the mayor’s office.

PS- not that anyone keeps track of my opinions, but I personally believe that the BDS strategy is wrongheaded and counter-productive, and that Barghouti’s goal of a secular, Jewish-Arab unitary state is a pipe dream that would lead to civil war. I also think, as I’ve written in comments in the past, that efforts in the UK to implement a boycott of Israeli universities are themselves serious infringements of the academic freedom of UK academics. These beliefs have nothing to do with the question of academic freedom at Brooklyn College.

19

jdkrown 02.03.13 at 5:15 pm

“First, would we really be so supportive of open forums with no counterpoints if the University of Alabama Psychology Department sponsored a scientist “proving” that African-Americans are psychologically “inferior” to white people and Asian people? We’d say, wouldn’t we, “What the heck is that department thinking? Why are they sponsoring this?” And we might well lend our voices and emails to that department asking them to rethink that sponsorship.”

This is just silly. I can’t recall any sort of concerted campaign to stop universities from hosting talks by Charles Murray. And I seriously doubt that anybody here would attempt to interfere with any department that decided to invite him, even at this late date.

Has any member of Crooked Timber ever called for a university to disinvite Dershowitz, say? Or John Yoo? Or any other torture advocate? Instead of trying to deny academic platforms to their intellectual (and moral) adversaries, it seems to me that the Timberites tend do what’s proper in these: use the academic and public forums available to them to argue against the substance of the views they disagree with.

20

rf 02.03.13 at 5:25 pm

I don’t know, I think the problem is Dershowitz and his ilk rather than ‘the average Jewish voter’, which appears to be something of a myth. (Perhaps propagating the myth helps Dershowitz put pressure on politicians by threatening to lose them ‘the Jewish vote’? Or perhaps it isn’t the Jewish vote so much as the support of certain people, who happen to be Jewish, that worries certain politicians?)

21

Mitchell Freedman 02.03.13 at 5:31 pm

William Timberman: at 16:

I am certain that Glenn Greenwald is far more consistent than most of us, but I am not sure he lends quite the same passionate voice to the example I offered above. I notice this also regarding myself and offer another example:

I support the right of anti-abortion protesters not to be physically attacked or harassed, and entitled to fair treatment and forums, despite my strong hostility to their policy position. However, I also want to make sure they are not harassing to women who enter clinics or act violently against the women and doctors/employees of the clinics, who I do support. I think I am entirely within the absolutist position we both ascribe to Glenn Greenwald in that regard. It’s just that with Holocaust deniers and racist science, I find myself less passionate for their right to a university forum unless there is in fact harassment or physical violence threatened against those espousing those positions–and then I am passionate in denouncing such attacks against them.

I just think we all ought to recognize at this blog that our passion in this instance involving the College and the BDS representatives arises from our wanting to push back against bullies like Dershowitz–and that whether or not we agree with the BDS movement particular positions and goals, we do perceive that movement as being entitled to a fair treatment and forum, something folks like Dershowitz are not wanting to see occur. On the hypocrisy scale, Dershowitz is indeed failing badly–but there but for the grace of Voltaire go I…

22

Sebastian H 02.03.13 at 6:15 pm

As to “their grades” are students required to attend? I know at my school in the 90s, there was a discussion on abortion, attendance mandatory, where the speakers were a doctor who worked full time performing abortions and an executive of a pro-choice lobby. (I think it was NARAL under a slightly different name). This two hour event had attendance taken for your grade, was required of EVERY freshman at Third college in UCSD, and was outside regular class time. It was a straight up poltical indoctrination lecture. Now admittedly this was the notoriously PC Dimensions of Culture required course, which allegedly has softened since the 90s. But I’d like some confirmation about required attendance before I go whole hog into free speech protection mode.

23

John Protevi 02.03.13 at 6:41 pm

As to “their grades” are students required to attend?

Somehow I doubt it, as Brooklyn College has an undergrad enrollment of 13K. It would need to be a pretty big room to hold that many. And besides, the forum is not associated with any required course, since it’s not put on by a department but by student organizations.

24

William Timberman 02.03.13 at 7:19 pm

Mitchell Freedman @ 21

Well said. I suppose I’m closer to Greenwald’s position than yours with the Holocaust deniers, advocates of pseudo-sciences like creationism and racial classification, etc. I remember in my first biology survey class, at Oklahoma State University in 1961, how outraged I was when the professor, at the beginning of the very first lecture, apologized to the class for proposing to teach us evolutionary theory. He implied that students who didn’t want to hear it could, in effect, put their fingers in their ears, but that since Darwin’s observations were the cornerstone of modern biology, he was sorry, but he simply couldn’t omit them. I wanted to yell at him for being such a coward.

Now, of course, we have the rise of epigenetics, and all of a sudden things look more complicated. Even leaving God and his supposed machinations out of the discussion, we have to ask ourselves if we were right to excoriate Lysenko, who might actually have been sort of right, albeit for all the wrong reasons. If he hadn’t been so conveniently walled up behind the iron curtain, would we have banned him from teaching in the West? My guess is that we’d have avoided rather than banned him, but if his aggressive wrongness had inspired more serious attempts to debunk him, might we not have discovered the influence of environmental conditions on the way genes are expressed a little sooner?

Perhaps, perhaps not, but the possibility is one of the reasons why I don’t think even the opinions of loonies should be suppressed. It costs us very little, apart from the threats to public order that I mentioned in my previous comment, to give them a forum — and those threats, after all, are not really their fault, but ours.

25

LFC 02.03.13 at 7:58 pm

Bloix @18

[Dershowitz's] involvement grants permission to secular and generally liberal Jewish voters who might otherwise be torn over the academic freedom and first amendment issues to oppose the panel.

I suppose this might be so, but to my mind, Dershowitz is not a liberal as that word is used in contemporary U.S. politics. On the Palestine-Israel issue, I’m not even sure he supports negotiations leading to a two-state solution. I think of Dershowitz as being much closer to a neoconservative. (Perhaps I’m misinformed, in which case I will stand open to correction.)

26

shah8 02.03.13 at 8:04 pm

You are thinking of Lamarkian genetics, not Lysenko genetics, which was one of the tragic travesties of soviet science promoted practically as a state religion.

27

shah8 02.03.13 at 8:06 pm

And it would be nice if people checked out the wiki on Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Any means of getting people to read history of science…

28

LFC 02.03.13 at 8:13 pm

OP:
I’d spend more time on the oddity of supposed believers in “the marketplace of ideas” (repeatedly invoked by Dershowitz) advocating for subsidies, quotas, and mandated time for competing products.

Yes. Not even the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting — which was ended 25 years ago, though the FCC apparently only recently got around to definitively removing it from the regs. — “mandated [equal] time for competing products.”

29

William Timberman 02.03.13 at 8:19 pm

shah8 @ 26

Yes, Lamarck was the original theorist, but Lamarck was dead. Lysenko was very much alive. Was he anything more than a propagandist for collectivization, with no real interest in proving the theory that acquired characteristics can be inherited? Possibly, which might very well have precluded him having any influence at all had he lived outside the Soviet Union. Still, I think the point stands. A truly open society has to contend with a lot of noise, which is inconvenient to everyone who believes that intellectual progress is inevitably linear. Since I don’t believe that it is — inevitably — I think letting a hundred flowers bloom is almost always the better choice. And when we have to do the winnowing, we certainly shouldn’t put the bully boys in charge of it, let alone give them the sanction of the government.

30

shah8 02.03.13 at 8:32 pm

I don’t think you make as much sense as you apparently think you are.

The point was whether the sentiment you propose, that we of the now wiser people should admit that we were too hard on Lysenko, who had some good ideas, dagnabit, should have been replaced with Lamark instead of Lysenko

Before you dig yourself deeper, let me add that Lysenko was a fraud who used the good names of scientists to give a vaguely positive glow to fraudulent papers of applied science. There is nothing good about him, and nobody should be giving voices to frikkin’ liars, William Timberman.

31

William Timberman 02.03.13 at 8:55 pm

Well, shah8, if I’m already in a hole, what difference will a shovelful or two more make? The whole point for me is that Lamarck was no longer around to continue to make his case, assuming he had one. Living advocacy of a position is the thing that matters, in that if it can be made at all plausible, it has to be freshly confronted. Now, if the judgment of history on Lysenko is that he was in fact no more than a fraud, someone who feathered his own nest without any real regard for science, then yes, I might have picked a better example.

As for nobody giving voices to frikkin’ liars, deciding who they are in the first place is a problem which isn’t solved by fiat, or even by the preponderance of public opinion, as history has shown not just once, but many times.

32

shah8 02.03.13 at 9:23 pm

Hey, that means we should not have moderators here! Say Quiggen, you wanna stop moderating and just let ‘er rip?

33

John Quiggin 02.03.13 at 9:43 pm

Not my thread, shah8, but I’d give it a rest if I were you.

34

Mao Cheng Ji 02.03.13 at 9:49 pm

Lysenko’s good. The politics of collectivization in the 1930s – 50s USSR, and the politics of Zionism in the US, in the last couple of decades, they don’t seem too dissimilar. Denunciations of the opponents, and all.

35

Corey Robin 02.03.13 at 10:01 pm

We now have the official document: the Assistant Majority Leader of the NYC Council threatens to pull funding from Brooklyn College unless we withdraw our co-sponsorship. I hope people understand that this debate here, while very interesting, is happening in real time, with real money and power coming down on our heads at Brooklyn College. I hope while you all go back and forth you’re rounding up as much support and letters — send them to Lew Fiedler, the Councilman and others — as you can. Sorry I can’t participate in all the back and forth. Here’s the letter: http://www.scribd.com/doc/123394756/Letter-from-Lew-Fidler

36

shah8 02.03.13 at 10:34 pm

I’m not sure that I should.

I think the liberal online sphere, not least the more academic blogs, tends to have shockingly more primitive views on free speech than one would expect. Mostly a conception of who has more charisma and followers rather than much of any respect for truth. There is also, frankly, no real and broadly understood social machinery that mediates the interlocutors, audience, and the targets of the discussion–leaving many of the meta-discussions that arise from the conversation truncated in terms of real world impacts via various circular argumentations like slippery slope (oh heck, Chewbaca defense works as well).

For example, when people make the claim that baiting rhetoric is protected by the First Amendment, or that it’s Free Speech, I’m always seriously irritated and speak up about that.

You know what the real truth is? We have less actual free speech in the US capable of challenging elite consensus than we like to think we do. The BDS movement was always a pretty morally dubious agenda, you know? The only reason it’s okay at all is because we can’t actually advocate against the Occupation using the standard levers of media or politics. If I were to go any relief flotilla of Gaza, I could be shot. If I took up a collection for medical assistance for indigent Palestinians, I’d be put on a terrorist watch group. And it’s not just anything Israel Palestine. It tends to be everything that individuals can do on their own that violates elite consensus. Why do you think Adam Schwartz was prosecuted? Or how the Philly mayor could think having MOVE bombed in the middle of the city was a good idea? Say, how’s Bradley Manning doing? Loyalty matters, speech does not.

Free speech is only permitted so long as it’s unconnected to action. Thus, when I thought that this was an internal fight between the department and administration that somehow went public, I thought the petition was a bad idea that might hurt some people and fail anyways.

So as far as giving it a rest? You’ll have to ban me. There is a lot more to all of this, than just banning “objectionable” words without the remotest understanding what you are doing. Or merely talking about someone’s free speech rights. Everyone and everything is part of this world, and they all have relationship that web everywhere, and judgement is just something you’re gonna have to exercise on a regular basis, right or wrong.

37

maidhc 02.03.13 at 10:36 pm

People were executed for speaking out against Lysenko. The KGB sent agents to international scientific conferences to monitor if any Soviet scientists were insufficiently supportive of Lysenkoism in public discussions, and if they were, they were never seen again.

It was very awkward because the Russian scientists were required to speak only Russian so that the KGB agents could monitor them, but frequently the scientists spoke much better English than their official interpreters, particularly on technical topics.

38

Corey Robin 02.03.13 at 10:46 pm

39

William Timberman 02.03.13 at 11:00 pm

From the so0n-to-be-infamous letter:

We believe in the principle of academic freedom. However, we also believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong.

The eternal however. It’s enough to turn anybody into Glenn Greenwald. (Or Corey Robin.)

40

Barry 02.03.13 at 11:02 pm

Mitchell Freedman 02.03.13 at 3:16 pm

” Permit this different way of approaching this issue:

First, would we really be so supportive of open forums with no counterpoints if the University of Alabama Psychology Department sponsored a scientist “proving” that African-Americans are psychologically “inferior” to white people and Asian people? We’d say, wouldn’t we, “What the heck is that department thinking? Why are they sponsoring this?” And we might well lend our voices and emails to that department asking them to rethink that sponsorship. Are we now hypocrites? I guess we would be. That’s where Dershowitz finds himself right now, I might add, which is unfortunately for him a familiar place when it comes to matters directly concerning Israel. “

It’s been pointed out in other places that Alan ‘Torture Warrants’ Dershowitz did talk there in previous years, without opposing counsel viewpoint.

I understand your not knowing this, since Alan ‘There are no civilians’ Dershowitz doesn’t bring that up in his criticism.

41

Barry 02.03.13 at 11:06 pm

Mitchel Freedman: “What we’re really talking about in this Brooklyn College-BDS imbroglio this is: There are intellectual bullies in every society who tirelessly work to ensure that the discourse is limited to their point of view. In the USA, there are various bullies, including the NRA, the Israel lobby and a few others. They push their weight around, spread their influence through money and with the resulting threat of defunding people and institutions, or funding an opposition against people and institutions if the bulliers’ views are not continually presented without interference from different ideas. And again, in the USA, these bullies tend to be tied up within the larger and even more powerful military-industrial complex that continues to rule the discourse and policy making in our nation. “

Yes, there are. Alan Derchowitz being a proud member of this group.

Now, do you have a point? I can’t see how your first paragraph (repeated in my previous comment) hooks in with the paragraph I’ve quoted in this comment.

42

mud man 02.03.13 at 11:24 pm

The last paragraph in the NYT:
“Toby Sklar, a junior, who is Jewish, recalled how one of her political science professors had explained in a lecture that she had voted for the event to promote “an open marketplace of ideas.” Ms. Sklar would have raised her hand to argue, she said, but … “I’m not afraid of arguing,” she said. “But it’s an uncomfortable feeling to be in class with a professor who voted for it.”

You couldn’t find a stronger voice for political uniformitarianism than that.

43

mek 02.03.13 at 11:36 pm

I don’t mean to be shrill or anything, but getting lost in Lysenko analogies while the state threatens to defund schools on the basis of their politics strikes me as counterproductive.

44

gordon 02.03.13 at 11:46 pm

Coincidentally Naked Capitalism links to a speech about how Israel and its sympathisers systematically distort the discussion:

http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/speeches/hasbara-and-control-narrative-element-strategy

(NC Links 2/2/13)

45

mek 02.03.13 at 11:55 pm

The NYC council letter betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of the event which may be a point of weakness and potential retreat. Right in the first sentence they claim the event is one of political advocacy where the BDS movement “will be encouraged.”

While I’m sure the case will be made by at least one of the speakers, given that it’s an academic panel discussion, I would also expect the effectiveness and result of such a movement to be critically examined, and placed in appropriate historical and political context alongside other similar boycott attempts in the past.

Could the city council potentially back off with just calm assurances by BC that this is an academic debate, not a political rally? Alongside, of course, widespread academic condemnation of their fairweather-friends understanding of “academic freedom” which is an absolute disgrace.

46

chris 02.04.13 at 12:46 am

The BDS movement was always a pretty morally dubious agenda, you know?

Would you care to elaborate? From what I can see, it’s a movement to apply nonviolent pressure on Israel to improve its human rights record vis-a-vis minorities in Israel, especially in the conquered territories.

The only way I can see to get from there to “morally dubious” is to assume that they’re really just a front for terrorism, even though they’re clearly set up as an *alternative* to violent resistance to Israeli occupation.

I suppose that’s possible, but (a) it’s a claim that calls for some evidence to support it and (b) even if it is true, many supporters may not be aware of the organization’s secret purpose.

47

Salient 02.04.13 at 3:47 am

@mud man “I’m not afraid of arguing,” she said. “But it’s an uncomfortable feeling to be in class with a professor who voted for it.”

There’s nothing wrong with a student feeling uncomfortable about their professor’s voting decisions, or with expressing that feeling publicly. That’s probably true for somebody in almost every class. I don’t see how we get from there to political uniformitarianism. We can’t possibly grant each student a veto over their professors’ professional decisions. So…?

@Mitchell Freedman First, would we really be so supportive of open forums with no counterpoints if the University of Alabama Psychology Department sponsored a scientist “proving” that African-Americans are psychologically “inferior” to white people and Asian people?

Your phrasing makes it sound like you believe the answer is ‘no.’ I hope that it’s bad phrasing, and that you don’t really think we’re all a bunch of sniveling moral cowards who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to demolish idiocy and humiliate its propogator.

I guess maybe it was not a rhetorical question at all. So, uh, yes, my institution literally did invite exactly such a speaker (and fwiw it has the largest African-American student body in the state). A student org that organized what turned out to be a walk-in protest, had a rep that was careful to tell the newspaper they were not calling for the university to cancel the event. (The presentation Q&A was, predictably, the best skewering-by-critical-inquiry I’ve ever seen.)

We’d say, wouldn’t we, “What the heck is that department thinking? Why are they sponsoring this?” And we might well lend our voices and emails to that department asking them to rethink that sponsorship.

Ouch, you really don’t think much of any of us. Although it feels weirdly aggressive, pushing these behaviors on us in the hypothetical. I would blow off or mock anyone who demanded the university cancel a controversial speaker, especially if there’s a discussion Q&A component. There’s no better place for their agenda to be confronted and dismantled effectively. (If there’s no opportunity to engage the speaker, I’d be less assertive about supporting it, but c’mon, it’s still prime grounds for organized protest just outside the door. Or a walk-in!)

@chris Would you care to elaborate? The only way I can see to get from there to “morally dubious” is to assume that they’re really just a front for terrorism

Possibly you’re assuming shah8’s on the wrong edge of the spectrum — I believe shah8 would be more likely to assert that the Israeli government is a terrorist organization, not a legitimate government, so any engagement with it is really just a form of legitimizing terrorism.

48

shah8 02.04.13 at 4:01 am

Hmmm, responding to chris:

My position on BDS is simply that I don’t think boycotting individuals like Israeli scholars for the actions of their state is a good or righteous idea. If that is part of the BDS program, well I don’t really like it. I’m fine with boycotting anything made with Occupied resources and people, and I guess Israel as well. The targeting of individuals as part of any program, I would considered an ugly necessity to be dropped as soon as possible.

49

QS 02.04.13 at 4:13 am

Well said, Chris #46.

50

Corey Robin 02.04.13 at 4:41 am

Someone has posted a petition in support of the poli sci department at BC. Please sign and circulate it widely. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/support-academic-freedom-at-cuny/signatures

51

Kaveh 02.04.13 at 9:39 am

shah8 @ 48, you say BDS was morally dubious from the beginning, then you say “If [boycotting individuals...] is part of the BDS program, well I don’t really like it. I’m fine with boycotting anything made with Occupied resources and people, and I guess Israel as well.”

What would you say about scholarly collaborations with Ariel University in the West Bank? A boycott petition against Ariel U (I ripped this straight from Wikipedia) reads: “Ariel is not part of the sovereign territory of Israel, and we therefore cannot be required to go there.” Not going to an institution situated on occupied land seems like a pretty reasonable demand.

52

js. 02.04.13 at 4:20 pm

CR @50:

Thanks for the link to the petition.

53

shah8 02.04.13 at 5:52 pm

Well, why don’t we be more broad? Should we boycott everyone who’s *served* in the Occupied territories? Or oversee, and otherwise administer the wishes of the state?

Unless you are a hermit, as a citizen, you’re not really capable of being uninvolved in the injustices of the state–you get the benefits, one way or another, as free of guilt as the state can manage.

As such, trying to pick and choose *which* civilians are good and which aren’t is a waste of time and liable to failure. If you’re going to hurt people for the behavior of the state at all, I think it’s probably better to acknowledge everyone equally. Therefore, if *I* was running some BDS scheme, my key goal is to get the US state organs to concede that the problems I am highlighting deserve official merit and attention. I’m not interested in feeling good and like I’m doing anything productive by “punishing” someone. Same ole same old dominance games.

54

roy belmont 02.04.13 at 10:23 pm

you guys think this stuff gets nasty in the academy you should see it behind the scenes in electoral politics

55

Kaveh 02.04.13 at 10:40 pm

shah8 @53, How about let’s not be more broad? Why all these hypotheticals? There’s an actual BDS movement and an actual range of positions by actual people involved in it that you (and others) seem extremely determined not to acknowledge and respond to, instead talking about what you would or wouldn’t be comfortable with a BDS movement consisting of.

56

shah8 02.04.13 at 10:55 pm

If Judith Butler can make these distinctions, then so can I, buster.

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