Friday, February 19, 2016
Brooklyn College will investigate what its president, Karen Gould, called "hateful anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish comments" made by student protestors at a Faculty Council meeting Tuesday evening.
One of the activists said that characterization was "a gross exaggeration," and that "no comment of such a nature was made."
"Karen's unfortunate conflation of an anti-Zionist demand with anti-Jewish hate speech is not a new one. This tactic is often used to disparage any opposition to Zionism and seriously minimizes the reality and severity of actual anti-Jewish sentiment," the activist, Sarah Aly, said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear what exactly the students said regarding the state of Israel. However, it is undisputed that protesters presented numerous demands at the meeting Tuesday.
"They made a number of demands on a wide range of topics, including free tuition, campus safety, a faculty contract, and campus diversity. In addition, the students directed hateful anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish comments to members of our community. We find this disruptive behavior unacceptable and the hateful comments especially abhorrent," Gould wrote in a campus-wide email.
"Brooklyn College is committed to fostering a campus environment in which challenging issues and viewpoints can be expressed. However … We will be vigilant in our efforts to promote a safe and respectful learning environment," she wrote.
Gould has "instructed the Office of Judicial Affairs and the college's legal counsel to initiate an investigation Klein of student conduct at the Faculty Council meeting, and to take appropriate actions based on their findings," a spokesman, Jason Carey, said.
Professor Yedidyah Langsam, chairman of the council, and of the computer science department, said "it was my responsibility to try to get the meeting under control."
"I cannot quote you word for word what exactly occurred," he said. "Clearly a student turned to me, as chair, and said to me, 'You Zionist blank.' The blank, what it was, I don't know, because I don't remember the word that was said."
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported the remark as "Zionist pig."
"For the record," Langsam said, "whether you are for Zionism or anti-Zionism, in today's climate, [anti-]Zionism is a thinly veiled anti-Semitic remark. … Today the word is used as a politically correct way of anti-Semitism."
After trying quiet the out-of-order students down, Langsam adjourned the meeting.
Another professor, Yehuda Klein, chairman of the economics department, attended the meeting. He believed there was "an element of anti-Semitism" in the protest, mixed in with other demands.
"They are an umbrella organization, and they represent everything from one side to the other, from the Palestinians to the union folks," he said. "I think there was an element of anti-Semitism that was conflated with their other economic goals … I'm not prepared to say they are all anti-Semites."
"There was applause from some of the faculty, but I think the faculty was more engaged in their economic demands," he said.
Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose district includes the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park and ends two blocks from the college, reacted strongly against the protest.
"It's just an absolute disgrace that something like this would happen in our own community," he said in a statement. "The fact that other administrators applauded the anti-Zionist chanting was even more disturbing. The people in attendance felt intimidated at that meeting, and while nobody disputes the right to protest, instilling fear in your peers goes too far."
"The university needs to act on this and enforce disciplinary action on the students that participated," he said in a second statement.
Hikind's office said that one protester called the council chairman a "Zionist ----."
"You know, I don't have the specific wording, but I do know that the comment was in a very hostile tone and really aggressive," spokesman Ryan Haas said in an email.
Aly, the activist, said that Hikind had pressured Gould to denounce the protest.
"Word has gotten out that Karen was pressured to send this e-mail by elected official Dov Hikind. Dov has consistently opposed any critiques of Zionism at Brooklyn College," she said in her statement.
"Karen's speedy response to Hikind's pressure starkly contrasts with her (and CUNY Chancellor [James] Milliken's) lack of response or public condemnation of the NYPD's illegal and racist surveillance of Muslim students on campus for four years (2011 - 2015) via an undercover cop," she said. "We, the Brooklyn College Student Coalition, remain committed to fighting for a liberated CUNY for the people."
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