Letter to Brookyln College President Re: BDS Controversy

Ms. Karen L. Gould, PhD

President

Brooklyn College

2900 Bedford Avenue, 2129 Boylan Hall

Brooklyn, New York 11210

 

Dear Ms. Gould:

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) applauds you and the Brooklyn College Political Science Department for your support of an open discussion of the growing campus movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Your stand is especially important in light of the recent attempts to intimidate you and the department into canceling the event. Efforts to pressure the Brooklyn College administration to cancel the panel run contrary to the values enshrined in the First Amendment and they are an affront to the principles of academic freedom. 

As you know, departmental sponsorship of this presentation does not connote endorsement of the BDS movement. The Political Science Department’s co-sponsorship is an acknowledgment of a notable social movement for equal rights for indigenous Palestinian people. This social movement is widespread in Europe and is beginning to sweep U.S. campuses. To deny its existence would be irresponsible of Brooklyn College.

The BDS movement seeks to achieve, by non-violent means, three goals that are recognized as legally enforceable rights under international law: equal rights, the restoration of lands stolen by an occupying power, and the right of unlawfully displaced people to return to their homes. These are a legitimate subject for campus discussion. The First Amendment protects individuals from government actions—including the actions of public university officials and city council members—that silence speech on the basis of its content.

The criticism of this event rests on labels that mischaracterize advocacy for equal rights for Palestinians as anti-Semitism. Across the country, universities and other public and private institutions are being pressured to stifle discussions of Palestinian rights. But criticism of a government, in this case the state of Israel, is qualitatively distinct from hatred of a racial or religious group. Universities have a responsibility to recognize and respect such distinctions and to expose students to the rich variety of perspectives on issues of public importance such as this.

The NLG is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar association in the United States. For over 75 years, our organization has pushed back against government attempts to silence activists, including our own members. We appreciate your principled defense of academic freedom in this trying time.

Sincerely yours,

Azadeh Shahshahani, NLG President