U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Notice: Free Speech/Academic Freedom Activism Opportunity

[Disclaimer: In what follows, I speak solely and only for myself, and *not* for S-USIH or my USIH blog colleagues. ]

Long-time USIH and S-USIH friend Corey Robin, political science professor at Brooklyn College, needs our help. His department is co-sponsoring a forum on Feb 7 with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti on the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement (Wiki entry here).

BDS is a network/movement that stands for boycotting Israel, divesting from concerns doing business with Israel, and applying sanctions against Israel because it exists.* BDS came out of Palestine in 2005, and issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.

Because of its activism this group has naturally attracted the attention of prominent conservatives, public intellectuals, and politicians. Most notably, Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz is now organizing opposition to the forum. He has written about it twice in editorials published by the New York Daily news. Dershowitz has also sent a letter to every chair at Brooklyn College instructing them NOT to co-sponsor this event.

Here is commentary from Corey Robin on this opposition movement: “One of the things that amazes me in this whole brouhaha over the BDS event at Brooklyn College is that critics of the event claim it shuts down speech, it silences defenders of Israel, etc. Yet in the past two days I’ve had more conversations with defenders of Israel on campus, more conversations about Israel in general, and more conversations — and arguments, in which multiple views are aired — about BDS. Two weeks ago almost no one on campus was talking about any of this; now everyone is. So remind me how this event shuts down speech?”

As things have progressed, Corey relays that “a group of very high powered politicians in New York — including many liberal ones — have now sent a letter to the president of Brooklyn College asking her to have the poli sci department rescind our co-sponsorship of the BDS event.”

John Protevi has documented much of this at the NEW APPS blog. [Update, 9:45 pm EST, 1/31: The NYT now has a story on the controversy.]

Here’s your chance to support free speech and academic freedom. Contact some appropriate administrators at Brooklyn College:

1. President Karen Gould (718.951.5671; [email protected]);
2. Provost William Tramontano (718.951.5864; [email protected]);
3. Director of Communications and Public Relations Jeremy Thompson (718.951.5882; [email protected]).

Send a letter of support to New York state and New York City politicians:

1. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (message here)
2. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo (message here)
3. Senator Charles Schumer (message here)
4. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (message here)

If you want to do more, contact Corey Robin at corey.robin-at-gmail.com.

Again, I speak solely and only for myself, and *not* for S-USIH or my USIH blog colleagues. Thanks for your time. – TL


* Update (2/1, 2:15 CST): I was made aware that my “because it exists” clause is a skewed framing that reinforces the standard right-wing framing. I agree. A colleague offered a better framing: The BDS Movement advocates these measures due to the humiliating conditions of occupation in the West Bank and sanctions against Gaza (not the fact that Israel exists). I inserted that phrase hurriedly, and now regret it.

3 Thoughts on this Post

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  1. This is a crucially important cause, and I applaud Tim Lacy for writing about this, and of course also Corey Robin for his stamina in fending off the attacks of anti-intellectuals and bullies.

  2. Yes indeed, many thanks to Tim.

    Essential reading: Barghouti’s book, BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions–The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (Haymarket Books, 2011), and Audrea Lim, ed., The Case for Sanctions Against Israel (Verso, 2012). By way of background with regard to Dershowitz, whose role in this affair is not at all surprising, please see Norman G. Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (University of California Press, 2008 ed.). The epilogue to the latter volume contains Frank J. Menetrez’s essay: “Dershowitz v. Finkelstein: Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong?” As Mearsheimer and Walt remind us, Dershowitz is (along with Martin Peretz, among others), one of the prominent American apologists for Israel, subscribing to and propagating at every turn the ideological narrative the “portrays Israel as a country that has sought peace at every turn and showed great and noble restraint even when provoked. The Arabs, by contrast, are said to have acted with deep wickedness and indiscriminate violence.” I’ll cite here just one title here that reveals the egregious extent to which that narrative subverts or distorts, and buries historical truth(s): Zeev Maoz, Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security & Foreign Policy (University of Michigan Press, 2009 ed.).

    I too speak for myself, but as someone who has done extensive reading and research on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for over thirty years (beginning as a university undergraduate). And while my lack of formal credentials in this regard has precluded any attempt to publish anything on the conflict, I have over the past five years or so occasionally blogged about the conflict at the Ratio Juris and Religious Left Law blogs (and I have available both an extensive and a highly selected bibliography on the conflict that I’ll send along to anyone interested).

  3. Colleagues: I added a mild emendation to my wording above, via an asterisk/footnote, due to a legit point made via e-mail. – TL

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