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Feb 07 2013

Israel lobby fails to deter Brooklyn College event

Readers may recall my earlier post on the efforts by the Israel lobby to interfere in the running of an event scheduled for today at Brooklyn College in New York City.

The lobby had tried to rile up public opinion against the event but the college president Karen Gould stood firm. The chair of the political science department Paisley Currah explains clearly what went on and why the effort to shut down the event is so disturbing. Currah also highlights Alan Dershowitz’s blatant hypocrisy on this issue.

But soon other members of the community such as mayor Michael Bloomberg chimed in and decried the efforts of outsiders and political figures to stifle academic freedom, saying, “I mean, 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.”

Max Blumenthal reports that in the face of this backlash, seventeen of the nineteen politicians who originally signed the letter calling for the political science department to withdraw its sponsorship have now withdrawn their names. Glenn Greenwald says that the efforts to stifle the event have collapsed and it will go on as originally planned.

The censorship campaign began to unravel when two City Council members who originally signed onto the letter threatening the College’s funding renounced the letter and withdrew their support; one of them, Stephen Levin, began sending an apologetic email to constituents angry about his signing onto that letter.

Then, the political officials who signed the original letter demanding the withdrawal of the department’s sponsorship of the event completely reversed course and backed down, trying to save face by pronouncing themselves satisfied with the school’s stated willingness to host anti-BDS speakers in the future (something they were willing to do from the start).

This important and surprising victory demonstrates what principled leadership combined with public activism can achieve. It can defeat even the most monied and organized factions, as it did here. All of you who made yourselves heard should be proud of the role you played in this victory (I was on Democracy Now yesterday with one of the event speakers, Omar Barghouti, talking about this controversy; the transcript and video are here).

The Israel lobby does not seem to have quite cottoned on to the fact that it has over-reached and that, although still powerful, it does not have the same influence it once had. More and more people and institutions are refusing to be intimidated by it.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    slc1

    Glenn Greenwald is a liar. Prof. Alan Dershowitz has in no way, shape, form, or regard stated that the BDS should not be allowed to speak at Brooklyn College. What he has said is that such a presentation should not be endorsed by the Political Science Department of that University, unless the same Political Science Department is prepared to endorse speakers from the opposite extreme, namely Israeli settlers on the West Bank. In fact, the BDS is an extreme organization that rejects a two state solution (as do the settlers). Here are two links to Prof. Dershowitz’s web site where he states his position, unquote mined by Mr. Greenwald.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-dershowitz/does-brooklyn-college-pas_b_2600342.html

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-dershowitz/brooklyn-college-politica_b_2582561.html

  2. 2
    Scr... Archivist

    I’ve been wondering: Is the term “Israel lobby” accurate? It suggests that this flavor of activist has a monopoly on support for the continued existence and defense of the state of Israel. But other activists are also pro-Israel but support different, perhaps contrary, policies.

    Would it be more accurate to describe the people opposed to this event as allies of one of Israel’s political parties, or proponents of a particular set of policies? Maybe “hawks” or something?

  3. 3
    Mano Singham

    The term ‘Israel lobby’ has been around for some time. I use it in the same sense as operationalized by Walt and Mearsheimer in their book on it.

  4. 4
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Glenn Greenwald is a liar.

    You’ll have to back up that assertion. Also, no one said anything different than what you just said Dershowitz said. He’s still wrong, on two counts. One, no such thing is required. Two, this would, in fact, be the balance if such were required, as the other side speaks regularly. (And in fact never shuts up. Even further, they will drag nearly any conversation towards the subject of Israel and Palestine on the thinnest pretext. This is something of which you must assuredly be aware.)

    Also, PolSci departments all over regularly endorse, and/or allow to speak, those who represent the pro-Israeli policy and behavior crowd. Which includes Dershowitz.

  5. 5
    nrdo

    I think that’s a good point, especially since the “lobby” includes evangelicals, defense companies that profit from general Mideast instability and Jews who support the right-wing religious parties. I don’t consider them pro-Israel at all; they’re pro-”replacing Israel with a theocracy”.

    The same distinction must be made for the “pro-Palestinian” side. They run the gamut from reasoned critics to outright theocrats who use Israel’s overreaches as ideological cover for Islamism.

    Although Mano is content to keep using the term, I’d argue that vocabulary is a big part of the “us versus them” problem. I think “pro Palestinian” activists would potentially gain a lot more support if the subset that are pragmatic distanced themselves from terms like the “Jewish lobby” which is used by anti-Semites.

  6. 6
    M can help you with that.

    Seriously, this. Even “zionism” wasn’t always what it has come to mean — up until the mid-20th-century (and in pockets up until the present), “zionism,” especially “cultural zionism,” meant things like forging alliances between Jewish socialists and those Palestinians who were/are exploited by their landlords and employers. The emphasis was on using the shared history of connection with the land of Israel-Palestine to synthesize traditions (developed there or in the diaspora) of social justice, equality, and cooperation. A utopian project in the Wildean sense of:

    “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”

    This was, perhaps predictably, less popular among the observant Orthodox and nationalist (and observant Orthodox nationalist) populations. It was also, even more predictably, not popular among the right-wing Christians who want Israel to exist as an explicitly Jewish state mostly so that the Jews can all be sent there to be killed by Aryan Jesus. On the other hand, Einstein was basically all for it, which is an indicator (though not a proof, of course) of the intellectual prowess arrayed on either side.

  7. 7
    Glenn

    It’s in the spirit of pure anti-Semitism that Zionists ascribe their own blatant murderous racism to all Jews. Christians, Muslims, and Jews all have their killer fundamentalist extremists and the Jews have their wacko Zionists.

    I actually heard a college professor, upon hearing talk about bank fraud, opine that talking about banker’s crimes is a form of anti-Semitism. He shockingly associated bankers, and their crimes, with Jews when no mention was made of Jews except by one of the Jews!

    One would think from hearing these Jewish “defenders” of Jews that they are the source of all the problems of the world, from bank fraud to American war lust. I am not religious at all and I don’t believe that.

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

  8. 8
    M can help you with that.

    There were always two branches of Zionism: the “we are entitled” branch and the “we can be an example” branch. It’s actually quite the same situation as with patriotism — in this sense, Zionism can be read as patriotism for a diaspora.

    Unfortunately, the former, “we are entitled” sense of Zionism and patriotism seems to be ascendant in Israel and the U.S., respectively, leading to a rather toxic alchemy.

  9. 9
    Mano Singham

    Actually, while it seems to be ascendent in Israel, it seems to be falling out of favor in the US, which is why the lobby is finding it increasingly harder to rally people to its cause or to silence its critics.

  10. 10
    M can help you with that.

    I think I garbled my syntax there. I was trying to refer to the nationalistic form of “patriotism” as the ruling dogma in the U.S., while right-wing militant politico-religious Zionism is, one way or another, setting the terms of debate in Israel.

  11. 11
    Mano Singham

    Oh, sorry. Yes, I agree.

  12. 12
    trucreep

    Looks like you need to go back and read more carefully

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