(MintPress) – “This isn’t an issue of freedom of speech. This isn’t about having a dialogue. This is about the City University of New York, which uses public funds, officially sponsoring speakers who call for the annihilation of the State of Israel; speakers who praise Hamas and Hezbollah,” said New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
Ten members of the New York State Assembly have lined up in opposition to a proposed panel discussion about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting the Israeli economy as a means of nonviolent economic pressure for Israel’s human rights abuses towards Palestinians and expansion of illegal settlements.
The Assembly members co-authored a letter urging Brooklyn College President Karen Gould to cancel the event, threatening to withhold taxpayer funding for the public college.
Gould has not succumed to the threats, vowing not to intercede in the scheduled discussion sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine and the Brooklyn College Political Science Department.
Founded in 2005, the global BDS movement has inspired groups to shift funds away from companies directly profiting from the Israeli occupation. A major victory for the movement occurred May 2012 when TIAA-CREF, one of the largest retirement funds removed $73 million dollars from Caterpillar, a company producing bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes in the West Bank.
Other victories include the boycott of settlement products by The United Methodists and U.S. Presbyterian churches last year— both voted to boycott companies sourcing products from pillaged resources belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank.
“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 Assembly members wrote.
The wild threats to withhold funding highlights the extent to which pro-Israel supporters will go to censor academic debate while erroneously labeling BDS supporters as “terrorists.”
“Extreme radicals, as I said, who basically want the state of Israel to disappear from the face of the earth. And I’ve got a problem with that. They are sponsoring this event. They are supporting this event. That is the issue. And that is absolutely outrageous,” added Hikind.
The event features two speakers: Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and one of the founding members of BDS movement speaking alongside Judith Butler, a world renowned Jewish-American philosopher and supporter of the BDS from the University of California, Berkeley.
Omar Barghouti responded to the allegations during a recent interview on Democracy Now, saying,
“I plan to explain why the BDS movement is not odious. It follows in the steps of the Civil Rights movement in this country and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa calling for equal rights, calling for an end to the occupation and calling for respect for international law. There is absolutely nothing odious about that.”
Although New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed personal opposition to the content of the BDS event, he expressed support for academic freedom and free speech. These fundamental rights allow individuals discuss and debate any topic, including controversial ones.
“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea,” Mayor Bloomberg said during a news conference at City Hall.
“The last thing we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run and base funding decisions on the political views of professors,” he continued. “I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.”