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Pro-Israel Students Ousted from BDS Event

Brooklyn College’s controversial event churns out more controversy

Natalie Schachar
February 08, 2013
Pro-Israel Students Gather Outside BDS Event at Brooklyn College (NYTimes)
Pro-Israel Students Gather Outside BDS Event at Brooklyn College (NYTimes)

A panel on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement hosted by the Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College turned even more contentious last night after four students affiliated with Hillel were ousted from the event.

“I heard probably about half of what Judith Butler said when I got kicked out,” said Ari Ziegler, a 23-year-old CUNY graduate student studying experimental psychology. “CUNY police escorted us out and when we asked them what we did wrong they said, ‘we don´t have an answer.’ It’s disappointing because they had said that it was a forum for asking tough questions and trying to understand.”

According to Ziegler, the students had anti-BDS material in their laps and were planning on using the material to help inform their questions during the Q&A session following the panel discussion.

Brooklyn College´s Vice President Milga Morales, who was standing nearby, saw the incident, but did not intercede.

“I was escorted out for nothing more than the fact that I was holding a paper that would help me assess my decision on my feelings over BDS,” said Michael Ziegler, a senior at Brooklyn College.

The panel had become a touchstone for heated debate about academic freedom and brought the controversial goals of the BDS movement into clearer focus. In a letter written to the Hillel Board last week, Brooklyn College President Karen Gould promised that the forum would promote academic freedom and free speech, and she encouraged attendees to speak up at the event.

¨I expect all who attend or present at next week´s event to engage in civil discourse at all times, and I encourage those who do attend with opposing views to participate in the discussion, ask tough questions, and challenge any ideas with which they disagree,¨ she wrote.

The crowd largely seemed to consist of students in favor of the BDS movement though, and some pro-Israel supporters with some such opposing views were turned away. The Scroll continues to investigate, but the event may be at odds with a non-discrimination policy that states that students will not be excluded from participation in the programs of the college because of national or ethnic origin, or religion.

Melanie Goldberg, an Israel Campus Coalition intern, said she had registered three weeks ago and received two emails confirming that she had a spot reserved, but then arrived and was turned away because her name was not on the list.

“I knew I´d have problems getting in,” Goldberg said.

Norma Chiabott, a 20-year-old undergraduate, had a similar story. “I signed up yesterday and was second on the wait list and still didn´t get in,” she said.

Brooklyn College has been the target of fierce criticism since it announced that the event would be sponsored by the college´s Political Science department. Many pointed to the fact that CUNY was a taxpayer-supported institution that should have maintained political neutrality. A few prominent New York politicians had even threatened to cut the school’s funding.

Natalie Schachar is an editorial intern at Tablet. A recent graduate of Barnard College, she has written for the Times of Israel, The Atlantic, The Argentina Independent and Lilith Magazine.

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