They All Fall Down: “Progressives” Back off From Their Demands to Poli Sci

Now that the mayor, the New York Times, and just about everyone else have come down hard on all the government officials and politicians who tried to force my department to withdraw its co-sponsorship of the BDS panel, the “progressive” politicians have issued a second letter (their first is here) to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, in which they backpedal, backpedal, backpedal pull back from their earlier position. No longer, it seems, must we “balance” this panel or withdraw our co-sponsorship.

That it took a billionaire mayor to explain these simple matters to our progressive leaders is, well, what can one say? This entire episode has been an instructive example in courage and cowardice, shame and shamelessness. Much congratulations go to the mayor, to President Gould, to the students who organized this panel, and above all to my colleagues in political science, who stood absolutely firm on principle throughout an extraordinarily difficult time, and to our chair Paisley Currah, who led us throughout it all.

Here is the progressive politicians’ letter [pdf].

Text of letter

President Karen L. Gould
Brooklyn College
2900 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11210
Dear President Gould:

We are writing to follow up on our letter to you of January 31, 2012, regarding the “BDS Movement Against Israel” event taking place tomorrow at Brooklyn College. We want to thank you for your leadership on this issue.

In our letter, we expressed concern that the Political Science Department’s co-sponsorship of this student-organized event suggested that it was an official position of the college, and encouraged action to make a more diverse range of views heard on this issue.

Equally, although it has been obscured in some media accounts, in our letter, we stood strongly for academic freedom for students and academics. We affirmed the right of students to sponsor the event. We did not request its cancellation. We did not, and would not, threaten the funding of Brooklyn College. We will continue to oppose efforts that would seek to undermine the free and open debate of critical issues.

We are grateful that the following steps have now been taken:

  • You affirmed the strong traditions of free expression at Brooklyn College, making clear that departmental co-sponsorship of a student-organized event does not imply endorsement of that event, and that “Brooklyn College does not endorse the views of the speakers visiting our campus next week, just as it has not endorsed those of previous visitors to our campus with opposing views. We do, however, uphold their right to speak, and the rights of our students and faculty to attend, listen, and fully debate.” At the same time, you encouraged “students and faculty to explore these issues from multiple viewpoints and in a variety of forums so that no single perspective serves as the sole source of information or basis for consideration.” This is the model of academic freedom and inclusive dialogue that we were seeking to encourage, and that fact been lost in too much of the media coverage on the issue.
  • In your letter to Brooklyn College Hillel, you made clear that Brooklyn College “does not endorse the BDS movement nor support its call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel,” affirmed the college’s “proud history of engagement with Israel and Israeli universities,” and that you “deeply value our Israeli partners and would not endorse any action that would imperil the State of Israel or its citizens.”
  • The Political Science Department has put in writing its policy for considering co-sponsorship of student-organized events, making clear that requests from “any groups, departments or programs organizing lectures or events representing any point of view … will be given equal consideration.” However, as has been clear in this instance, the departmental practice of co-sponsorship of specifically student-organized events has caused real confusion among students regarding intent and endorsement of views (as evidenced by Student Body (CLAS) President Abraham Esses’ “Open Letter” in this regard). We, therefore, believe that the policy would be strengthened greatly by the explicit inclusion of language that you and the Department have used on this case – that sponsorship does not imply endorsement.
  • Planning has begun for additional event(s) at Brooklyn College’s Wolfe Institute on the Humanities that will bring a range of additional viewpoints on these issues to campus in the coming months. While these are not required as a matter of free expression, we believe that they will help contribute to the cause of understanding and dialogue. We hope the Political Science Department will follow its newly codified policy and co-sponsor these events as well.

As we stated in our letter, we are strongly opposed to BDS. We continue to believe that “the BDS movement is a wrongheaded and destructive one, and an obstacle to our collective hope for a peaceful two-state solution. These simplistic and one-sided approaches do a disservice to the cause of peace and stability by unfairly placing blame entirely on one side, and by attempting to delegitimize one party on the world stage, and will do nothing to bring either party back to earnest negotiations or enhance a better understand of complexity of this conflict.”
Others disagree, of course, and we will fight for their right to do so. But we will also continue to argue strongly against them. We note, for example, that many advocates of the BDS movement have called for a boycott of Israeli scholars and institutions, which would, of course, deny them their academic and free speech rights. This hypocritical position should not undermine our commitment to the fundamental values of a free society, but it speaks to the nature of the BDS movement.

In closing, we share your goal that Brooklyn College “should be a place free from hate; one where diverse points of view, on even the most controversial topics, may be debated without intimidation or fear of reprisal.”
Again, thank you for your leadership, dialogue, and action on this matter.

Jerrold Nadler

Brad Lander

Christine C. Quinn

John Liu

Bill de Blasio

Marty Markowitz

Yvette D. Clarke

Nydia Velazquez

Hakeem Jeffries

Kevin Parker

Daniel Squadron

Rhoda Jacobs

Karim Camara

Joan Millman

Walter Mosley

Letitia James

Stephen Levin


  1. James February 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm | #

    Ha! In their face. What a bunch of twits.

  2. gkhanna1 February 6, 2013 at 1:36 pm | #

    Congratulations all around for standing on principle!

    • Brahmski February 9, 2013 at 8:14 pm | #

      IZP! Nice!

  3. Miracle Max February 6, 2013 at 1:59 pm | #

    Do we have to brace ourselves now for a medley of insane Zionist presentations to balance out the BDS panel in the name of diversity?

    • Brahmski February 9, 2013 at 8:14 pm | #

      IZP! @Miracle Max

  4. Hugh Sansom February 6, 2013 at 2:23 pm | #

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. If Corey Robin was looking forward to a future position, say, at Harvard or Yale, he can (sadly) forget about it. He will now get the treatment Yale gave Juan Cole and DePaul gave Norman Finkelstein.

    2. Bloomberg is genuinely intelligent, for one thing unlike Christine Quinn or, it seems, Daniel Squadron, Hakeem Jeffries, etc. Jerrold Nadler and Marty Markowitz have been expressing revolting views on Palestinians for years. However good Yvette Clarke and some may be generally, they are ultimately just groveling, toadying politicians, interested in lining their own pockets and winning re-election. So they will never genuinely risk anything by standing on principle or justice. Bloomberg’s motive for public office is, I think, very different. His is (I speculate) to win a sense of approval not won through vast wealth.

    More obviously, unlike the cowardly signatories to that ‘progressive’ attempt at intimidation, Bloomberg has no fear at all of losing campaign donations or of seeing a competitor outspend him.

    • Phil Perspective February 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm | #

      There is also the matter of Bloomberg not running again for mayor. Kinda sad that all the known candidates to replace Bloomie signed the original democracy-hating letter.

  5. Bijan Parsia February 6, 2013 at 2:55 pm | #

    Wonderful news. Congrats!

    • Deepa Kumar February 6, 2013 at 3:18 pm | #

      Well done! Congrats!

  6. neffer February 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm | #

    I rather think there was not much of a “victory” here. Since there was technically no legal right to prevent the event, there was no serious chance that the event would actually be canceled.

    Moreover, we have a letter setting forth the revulsion of SANE progressives to BDS, noting that Brooklyn College will make pains to point out the existence of rational viewpoints, not merely the insanity proposed by BDS; and we have sane progressives pointing out that BDS is wrongheaded and destructive, not merely a viewpoint among many other viewpoints.

    So, the rights of students will be protected. They will not merely be exposed to BDS propaganda. The University will still look foolish by sponsoring a group in the name of free speech which seeks, in turn, to keep other voices out of the conversation, and to keep such voices out of the conversation by shunning them SOLELY on the basis of their ascribed status – their country of citizenship -, and not even their opinion.

    If this is a victory, let us have many more of them. Or, in a word, this is a Pyrrhic victory for a bunch of people who cannot tell the difference between a rational argument and propaganda. Congratulations.

    Lastly, there is a word for shunning people on the basis of their ascribed status. That word is “racism.” Racism was something that progressives once hoped to eliminate. We now have pretend progressives advocating racism to advance an insane cause. What a betrayal of the idea of universal values! What hypocrisy!

    • Harold February 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm | #

      neffer, I rather think you are an unapologetic Zionist who would rather stifle any anti-Israeli criticism (notice what I did there) than see a rational discourse on this subject – even going so far as to deny people their democratic right to hear all viewpoints. That is what I believe this incident was about.

      You may be right in how you summarize the views of the BDS group as “propaganda.” It may turn out that their agenda for peaceful reforms of Israeli policies (again, notice what I did there) are nothing but smoke, and that they are actually a quasi-terrorist organization. That does not excuse your attitude for allowing people to hear their point of view and make up their own minds on the subject.

      Please take this “anti-Semite” filter out of your discourse before you give any responses to posts that do not actually say what you claim they say. I’m tired of seeing it.

      Notice, one final time, that I did NOT say I am tired of seeing your viewpoint – only that I’m tired of seeing you apply your “Israel uber alles” filter to things that mean something other than what you claim.

      • neffer February 6, 2013 at 10:58 pm | #

        “neffer, I rather think you are an unapologetic Zionist who would rather stifle any anti-Israeli criticism (notice what I did there) than see a rational discourse on this subject”

        Yes, unapologetically support Israel’s right to exist in defensible borders. Even people like the great pro-Arab historian Maxime Rodinson who, considered the Israelis to be a gang of thugs, realized that they had formed a real nation that has justified its existence as much as any other nation. Which is to say, the question of Israel’s right to exist is long past the point of rational debate. Only IdIots and bigots still take the issue seriously.

        And no. I know the difference between propaganda and reasoned argument. BDS advocates boycotting people solely based on their nationality – really their ethnicity. In simple language , that is racism, old fashioned racism. They employ themes that compare the Israelis to Nazis, a position advanced ONLY by AntIsemites. They have nothing to contribute to solving the dispute. Why should the school use its resources too advance the cause of bigots?

        I have no interest in stifling criticism. BDS does not criticize. BDS demonizes. That its not criticism. It is propaganda. It serves NO educational purpose. That is the school’s legal right to allow. I have the right to criticize a bad decision by the school. It suggests a faculty that lacks even minimal judgment. I am glad I went to school in an age where academics knew the difference between propaganda and fact based advocacy.

    • FactChecker February 7, 2013 at 2:38 am | #

      Judith Butler, one of the two speakers you here conflate with the BDS movement itself, is not the BDS movement, nor is she its representative, nor has she ever advocated the boycott of Israeli academics or academic institutions. Had she done so, this would not affect her right to speak at Brooklyn College. But get your facts straight. You don’t even know who the speaker is who you are accusing of spouting “propaganda” and, in your post below, of discriminating on the basis of ethnicity (an ethnicity she happens to share.) She is the winner of the Adorno Prize for philosophy. This would suggest that she is capable of engaging in rational argumentation.

      • Janfrans Zuidema February 8, 2013 at 2:11 pm | #

        Hi there, I’m Janfrans and I’ve just received a master title in sociology at the university of Groningen, the Netherlands. The first thing I learned about science is that bias is bad! I don’t know if students of BC receive masters in social science. If they do, then I expect the College to show them an objective view of social reality. I don’t mind a boycott Israel week as long as it’s followed by a boycott Palestine week. The same goes for islamophobia vs. islamophilia or homophobia vs. homophilia. A college or a university should not be politically biased. If it is, then it screws with the reputation of all (social) scientists in the world. In that case a boycott of BC by other colleges and universities in the world could be justified. I’m sure a rational and scientific thinking person would agree.

    • Pete February 7, 2013 at 12:28 pm | #

      David Horowitz spoke at Brooklyn College spewing the most vile sewerage…not one City Council member said anything. He stood up there shouting down any alternative idea from audience. Not one politician cited his blatant racism! I guess that’s the “right kind of poison!” from your viewpoint. Also, Bloomberg speaks his mind because he’s not beholden to anyone. Most of these Council members jumped on board because they have future political aspirations. They sacrificed their “progressiveness”, trying to avert political suicide for future; then “Big Daddy” (Bloomberg) spoke what they truly believed but were too timid, fearful, cowardly to stand up for. As Einstein said, some people should have just been given spinal cords. Also, many criticisms of Israel have nothing to do with “annihilating” Israel. When the United States was Israel’s age it was involved in a bitter Civil War…so Israel’s doing pretty well in a tumultuous region. However, the United States did not accept slavery & subsequently worked towards more rights, freedoms & overall democracy for all. Maybe the next step for Israel is to work towards more rights & full citizenship of all within the country. Maybe just like other countries use the language as the state’s identification…instead of Jewish State, Hebrew state/Israeli State where people can practice their religion & not have to be a member of one to be a full citizen. There is irony in the fact that the founders of Israel were antithetical to religious Judaism. One writer said “the wreckage of Judaism is the birth of Zionism.” But now the very group that Jabotinsky & others railed against are becoming more powerful politically & demographically. In the United States many different expressions of Judaism enjoy full rights & freedoms… in Israel, one branch of Judaism decides who is “Jewish”, whose marriages are sanctioned etc… In some Haredi areas men want women to go to back of bus. wear skirts a certain length & if not adequate harass them. paradoxically, there is more freedom & democracy for all facets of Judaism in the USA than there is in the “Jewish State” of Israel! The beautiful essence of Judaism would flourish once the State stops using it as it’s identification. No need to tell people not to intermarry; go to Russia to find people who might be “Jewish” & then deal with high crime resultant from it. Judaism is too precious for that…being Jewish is a way of life that no state can define…

  7. Glenn February 6, 2013 at 3:37 pm | #

    It’s in the spirit of pure anti-Semitism that Zionists ascribe their blatant racism to all Jews.

    Stupid progressives can’t figure this out.

    I actually heard a teaching proffessor describe criticism of criminal bankers as anti-Semitic behavior. You would think from hearing these “defenders” of Jews that Jews are the source of all the problems of the world, from bank fraud to unjust wars.

    I wish Zionists and other so called “defenders” of Jews would stop defaming Jewry.

  8. Steven Mazie February 6, 2013 at 3:48 pm | #

    Re: “the ‘progressive’ politicians have issued a second letter”

    Note that the assemblymen who signed the first letter, with one exception (the malleable Letitia James) are nowhere to be found among the signatories to the second letter. The letters come from two very different factions on the city council.

  9. Artie Alfreds February 6, 2013 at 4:21 pm | #

    Just a comment. In May of 1970, we protesters took over the Bklyn College Pres. office, inadvertently. We spent the night there, and were warned by the Mayor’s office that we could be arrested if we didn’t leave. We left, and realized the police were looking for us. A woman in a nearby house beckoned us to go to her house for shelter. And, we did, and it was Rhoda Jacobs, at that time, who sheltered us from the police.

  10. Joseph February 6, 2013 at 5:49 pm | #

    It’s apparent that you and your associated are not interested in engaging the student population in an honest debate by presenting a balance of opinions. You have selected to demonize one side, and suppress an opportunity to counter their misinformation. This is a dark hour for Brooklyn College

    • Artie Alfreds February 6, 2013 at 9:39 pm | #

      Didn’t Alan Dershowitz speak alone at the college? Was that balanced?

      • GiT February 7, 2013 at 1:35 am | #

        And of course, if Dershowitz really cared about presenting his side, rather than just creating a petty little spectacle, he could have easily gotten off his ass and taken the bus from Cambridge to NYC and attended the event, in the audience, himself, where he would no doubt have the opportunity to comment.

        Much easier to make vain denunciations than ride the bus, though.

  11. Professor Alan Johnson February 7, 2013 at 5:47 am | #

    There is a progressive critique of Judith Butler’s anti-Zionism. I make it here in the new issue of Fathom.

  12. zafarov February 7, 2013 at 7:28 am | #

    “Yes, unapologetically support Israel’s right to exist in defensible borders.” Who defines what borders are defensible? Who draws those borders? And who is the enemy whom Israel needs defensive borders against? How much firepower does it possess in comparison with Israeli military might? And who can say to what extent the balance of between Israel and those that Israel seeks to defend itself from will alter in the future? How long can Israel be absolutely sure that the US will cover its ass? Israel will be secure if and only if peace based on justice and international law is established. No nation can demand that it has a ‘right to exist’. Even more so when the demand that ‘its right to exist’ must be unequivocally acknowledged by the rightful owners of the land on which that entity has established itself through terror, dispossession and ethnic cleansing. It is asking the Palestinians to publicly acknowledge that their own dispossession and expulsion was right and justified. It is a bizarre demand and no Palestinian leader can comply and expect to survive. A recognition of a nation’s existence is implicit in the exchanges and interactions that those outside its borders engage in with it. In any case, this is all academic now. Over 45 years of occupation and strategically located settlement and roads and checkpoints have killed and buried the two state solution. The Palestinians in the West bank are gradually being confined to isolated Bantustans where their entire lives will be firmly under Israeli control except a few scraps of municipal authority. Gaza will continue to exist as an open air prison, and Israel will has its permanent ‘defensible’ borders. How long will that scenario sustain, only time will tell.

    • neffer February 7, 2013 at 9:47 am | #


      I shall attempt to address at least some of your many questions.

      1. “Who defines what borders are defensible? Who draws those borders?” I would define defensible border as borders that do not invite invasion and that, if invaded, there would be a reasonable probability of repulsing the invasion. I leave it to the parties, in negotiations, to come to an agreement that leaves all involved with such an arrangement – and not just the Israelis, by the way.

      2. “And who is the enemy whom Israel needs defensive borders against?” The surrounding countries, which, if the negotiations succeed, would include a Palestinian ruled country.

      3. “How much firepower does it possess in comparison with Israeli military might? And who can say to what extent the balance of between Israel and those that Israel seeks to defend itself from will alter in the future?” In the case of Egypt, the military is very substantial. In the case of Jordan, at the moment, less substantial. Syria is out of the picture and, with that, Lebanon is, at the moment, out of the picture. But, to note: this is not primarily a question of military might but of borders which are, assuming all else is equal, defensible. So, let’s imagine going forward that Egypt and/or Jordan were to acquire a more potent military than it now has. Would the fact that Israel reduces its size alter the calculations of the Egyptians that it could successful conquer Israel? It might well, given the views expressed by its current leadership that Israel ought be eradicated. Would it alter Israel’s calculations as well? Again, it might well, thus making conflict all the more likely and against the interests of those who hope for a more peaceful world.

      4. “How long can Israel be absolutely sure that the US will cover its ass?” Well, I suspect that alliances come and go. Israel is strategically located and has a potent economy, technological prowess, military prowess, etc. and cannot be ignored in the calculations of any country interested in the ME. It is also largely responsible to maintaining peace between Egypt and Jordan and between Jordan and Syria, all of whom are hostile to each other for a whole host of reason. Moreover, Zionism has a very long history in the US, beginning with the restoration movement which, among its adherents, were such notables as President Lincoln, President Wilson, FDR and Truman. That restorationism has its roots in the dominant religious movement in the founding period of the country that impacted thinking in the country over the centuries, beginning with Cotton Mather. So, while there are other trends that exist and no alliance is forever, I do not see much prospect for a change in alliances any time soon. And, if there. And, if it did, there are other countries which would jump at the opportunity to ally with Israel as a counterweight to the US, such as Russia and China. So, I fail to see your point, which it seems to me is based on a static understanding of the world and a failure to understand the US.

      5. “Israel will be secure if and only if peace based on justice and international law is established.” That, of course, also means justice for the Jews, which must also be maintained, something that BDS opposes.

      6. “No nation can demand that it has a ‘right to exist’.” The issue here is that the land, on which there are inhabitants with different backgrounds, needs to be divided up and, with that division, what is, in a sense, a quasi civil war needs to be resolved. That requires a declaration from both sides that they have no further ambitions to the land they do NOT rule. And, the only way to make that stick is for each side to accept, AS LEGITIMATE, the fact that the land they no longer rule is not longer coveted, which in turn, is best satisfied by accepting that the other part is legitimate. Moreover, for the Jewish side, being accepted as a people with a right to exist is, on its own terms, critical because the right of Jews to exist has been challenged, not only in Europe but in the Arab regions. The actual demand has as its purpose of requiring a complete settlement to the dispute, not an interim settlement that merely postpones fightings for a few short years. Which is to say, each side needs to say that they accept the presence of the other party as having legitimate rights and place in the land.

      7. As for the rest of your assertions, they are basically propaganda. All involved in this dispute have, from time to time, employed less than pleasant means to advance their varying causes. Both sides have had large numbers of people who were displaced. Both sides have long standing connection with the land. And, the very notion that the Arab side cannot state publicly that it accepts the legitimacy of the Israeli side speaks to the fact that the Arab side merely wants to get rid of the Jewish side. It sends that message loud and clear. If, however, the Arab side really wants to resolve the dispute, it needs to understand reality, which is that the dispute needs to be ended. And, in that the Israelis can prosper without an end to the dispute, one would think that the Arab side, if it really wanted to settle the dispute rather than continue a liberation movement, would at least be able to give lip service – mouth the rhetoric, which, after all, are only words – to the notion that the Jews had a legitimate right to settle the land and form a state, a right no less well based than the claim of the Arab side, which itself bases its claim on conquest, expulsion and colonization, albeit long ago, and would lose nothing by acknowledging the moral legitimacy of Israel.

      • Luke Carus February 7, 2013 at 12:21 pm | #

        To your great credit, you seem very close to understanding the limits placed upon you by your own ideological attachments, and IMO, your very well reasoned and worded response to zafarov here neatly counters your earlier, emotion-laden implication that having the BDS speak on campus “…serves NO educational purpose.”

        Quite clearly it would, or at least could. 🙂

      • neffer February 7, 2013 at 3:55 pm | #

        Luke Carus,

        First, I thank you for your kind words.

        Second, I stand by my criticism of BDS as being racist and Antisemitic and, as such, having nothing to contribute to the subject other than well written propaganda. And, I reiterate, the question of whether Israel should continue as a state for the Jewish people is not a legitimate topic, except for racists, Antisemites and idiots. Call this my emotional contribution. But, to note, opposition to Zionism on principle is, in today’s world, basically the viewpoint of people who hate Jews. And, that this or that person who claims to be a Jew holds that view, do some reading on Paul of Burgos before you decide that honest disagreement is necessarily the motive of most such people.

      • BenP February 7, 2013 at 7:05 pm | #

        “And, I reiterate, the question of whether Israel should continue as a state for the Jewish people is not a legitimate topic, except for racists, Antisemites and idiots.”

        Hand waving is fun. “Zionism is not a legitimate topic, except for racists, colonialists and willfully obtuse morons”.

        • Artie Alfreds February 8, 2013 at 12:45 am | #

          I submit, that Zionism is in essence, racism. Chosen People= Racism. I am a Jew, You may consider me a traitor, but I love the humanistic history and social conscience of our people, not Zionism.

      • GiT February 8, 2013 at 10:44 pm | #

        ““And, I reiterate, the question of whether Israel should continue as a state for the Jewish people is not a legitimate topic, except for racists, Antisemites and idiots.”

        Clearly, a state should continue to exist in the area that was once the Palestinian Mandate which respects the equal rights of all Jewish people who live there.

        That this state must be a “state for the Jewish people,” strikes me as rather racist.

  13. Brahmski February 7, 2013 at 7:59 pm | #

    THEY ALL FALL ALL OVER THEMSELVES, an intelligent view, from the Left, of Judith Butler’s latest,

  14. Frank February 7, 2013 at 10:28 pm | #

    From the BDS website:

    “Boycotts target products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions. Anyone can boycott Israeli goods, simply by making sure that they don’t buy produce made in Israel or by Israeli companies. Campaigners and groups call on consumers not to buy Israeli goods and on businesses not to buy or sell them.

    Israeli cultural and academic institutions directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians, as Israel deliberately tries to boost its image internationally through academic and cultural collaborations. As part of the boycott, academics, artists and consumers are campaigning against such collaboration and ‘rebranding’. A growing number of artists have refused to exhibit or play in Israel.”

    I could pick this apart for the shallowness of an analysis that sees Israeli cultural and intellectual life as little more than a “whitewash,” when these are probably the most progressive, and anti-occupation, elements of Israeli society.

    But instead, I’ll simply note that it’s ironic that today’s victory for free speech is a victory for those calling for its end, at least where Israeli speech is concerned. But the intellectual subtlety to grasp irony is likely lacking for those who see Israeli cultural and academic institutions as little more than pro-occupation PR. For a century’s worth of sophisticated Marxist thought, we’re back at the very worst of it.

    • Artie Alfreds February 7, 2013 at 10:34 pm | #

      good comment, Frank. thanks, and thanks to Corey, too, for your persistence and resilience

    • Brahmski February 8, 2013 at 2:53 pm | #

      Kudos, Frank.

      • Frank February 8, 2013 at 5:24 pm | #

        Thanks to both of you. I’m not the first one to say the same thing in the comments here, it’s just a shame it gets ignored. It seems like there’s an actual conversation to be had here, rather than just empty polemics.

    • FactChecker February 8, 2013 at 5:33 pm | #

      Frank, here are Butler’s remarks in full. Is this a call for an end to free speech?

      • Frank February 8, 2013 at 7:38 pm | #

        She acknowledges that BDS often calls for a boycott of all Israeli academics, she states she doesn’t go this far, as she collaborates with particular Israeli academics, but she explicitly calls for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. As she justifies it:

        “The reason, of course, is that the academic and cultural boycott seeks to put pressure on all those cultural institutions that have failed to oppose the occupation and struggle for equal rights and the rights of the dispossessed, all those cultural institutions that think it is not their place to criticize their government for these practices, all of them that understand themselves to be above or beyond this intractable political condition.”

        It seems clear that she indicts all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as at best passive witnesses to the occupation, and at worst, actively rationalizing it. For all the sophistication of her language, it often obscures quite simplistic ideas.

        As for freedom of speech specifically, if Butler supports the right of Israeli academics to speak, but not the place in which that speech occurs, I would say she’s does have a problem with free speech. Free speech is precisely about preserving these locations, not some ephemeral abstract right that can never be practiced in reality.

        As Corey himself argued, people like Butler and Barghouti don’t travel to Brooklyn College very often, so imagine how valuable hearing them is for students not used to such illustrious guests? Wouldn’t this be even more true of Israeli academic institutions? Aren’t these the places we most want to support if we have an interest in an end to occupation? Don’t we value free speech for the engaged citizenry it creates? If Butler was a little more sophisticated in her point of view, she might realize that Israeli academic institutions are precisely where she should be talking, rather than boycotting.

        If she did, she might find that in order to maintain an anti-occupation political stance, her point of view has to evolve beyond simplistic binaries – no matter how complex the language is behind which this hides. But she reduces these institutions to little more than pro-occupation PR, as I said earlier.

      • FactChecker February 8, 2013 at 8:40 pm | #

        Well, if we want to take an anti-occupation stance, as you say, we can debate what are the most effective strategies available to us. There are arguments for and against the value of a boycott by non-Israeli academics of Israeli academic institutions. It’s not a simple question. Butler makes an argument for the value of such a boycott — the one you quote below — but you would like to make an argument against such a boycott, and that’s a disagreement she welcomes. Let’s note, however, that it’s one thing for a speaker to choose not to visit an institution — that is her right, and she has her reasons; it’s another thing for a government to threaten to withdraw funding from an institution that invites a particular speaker. So I don’t see the “irony” here, because these are in no way parallel scenarios.

        • Artie Alfreds February 8, 2013 at 8:45 pm | #

          There’s certainly room for debate about how an anti-occupation campaign would work, but, so far, the playing field in the U.S. has been dominated by apologists for Israeli criminal behavior in Occupied Areas. Sort of Israeli exceptionalism. So, join the anti-occupation movement, give it energy and strength, especially American participation, and then we’ll work it all out.

  15. Frank February 9, 2013 at 3:44 pm | #

    Once again, the irony is that this victory for free speech is a victory for those who want to see free speech limited. I’m not sure how I can explain that more simply.

    • FactChecker February 9, 2013 at 4:28 pm | #

      Let me equally plain: free speech is impossible under conditions of occupation. As an ideal of the public sphere, it depends on an equality and autonomy that Palestinians in Israel/Palestine lack. A conversation between a subjugated population deprived of rights of self-determination and its oppressors is not “free speech.” The call to boycott Israel is a call to refuse engagement with a state apparatus that refuses basic rights and freedoms to Palestinians. Without those rights, the question of free speech is moot.

      • Frank February 10, 2013 at 4:42 pm | #

        You’re thinking, as with many espousing similar views, is Utopian in the very worst sense of the word. I never said that Palestinians had free speech rights, but that within Israeli cultural and academic institutions there was-if only for Israeli’s. But to make the existence of Israeli rights to speech contingent on Palestinian rights to speech is to say that no rights should exist until we all have the same rights, so that the idea of equality comes to serve as a rationalization for subjugation. But this isn’t a new idea – it’s exactly Marx’s point in On The Jewish Question, Part 1.

        You can continue arguing if you’d like, but these more technical and theoretical issues aside, if people signed onto BDS in great numbers, and Israeli academics, intellectuals, and other cultural figures-those who are already the most progressive elements of a very complicated Israeli society-were to be isolated, I find it hard to imagine how punishing the most promising elements of Israeli society is anything but an indiscriminate and misguided political strategy.

        But, in general, much of my faith in Left politics lies in its ability to think through the often complex nuances of social and political life, and in its ability to afford even it’s “enemies” a basic humanity. But BDS’s caricatures of Israeli society aren’t something onto which I could ever sign; both as a Jew, but also, as someone who tries to think through the complexity of political reality, rather than relying on simplistic thought. It might make me feel better to sign up with BDS, but only if I don’t think about it too much, and only id I don’t look around at the people with whom I now stand.

        Not that I’d ever stand with the Right, ever, but until there’s a Left that isn’t the Right masquerading behind the language of freedom and equality, I’d prefer just to stand alone.

    • Brahmski February 9, 2013 at 8:11 pm | #

      I guess whoever supports HAMAS and HEZBOLLAH, maybe, is the answer to Corey’s question? Judith Butler on “the global left”:

    • Brahmski February 9, 2013 at 8:12 pm | #

      I guess whoever supports HAMAS and HEZBOLLAH, maybe, is the answer to Corey’s question? Judith Butler on “the global left”:

  16. Corey Robin February 11, 2013 at 11:19 am | #

    The discussion here is rapidly reaching a point of diminishing return, with just a few individuals participating in it and at increasing levels of vitriol rather than engagement. I’ve stayed out of it, mostly in the interests of allowing people a forum to air their various opinions and grievances. But this blog is more than an echo-chamber for protagonists in the Israel-Palestine conflict, so I’ll be closing down the discussion sometime today. Have you last rounds, and then we’re done.

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