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College Rebuffs Threat From NY Council

MANHATTAN (CN) - The president of Brooklyn College rejected a demand by 10 New York City Council members who threatened to withhold funding from the college for co-sponsoring an event featuring speakers who call for an economic boycott of Israel.

The event tonight (Thursday) on the "BDS Movement Against Israel," is co-sponsored by Brooklyn College's Political Science Department.

The BDS movement - the letters stand for boycott, divestment and sanctions - was founded by Palestinians in 2005.

Scheduled speakers include Judith Butler, a professor of comparative literature at UC-Berkeley, and Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

Ten City Council members sent Brooklyn College President Karen Gould the letter on Jan. 29, under letterhead of City Council Assistant Majority Leader Lewis Fidler.

Fidler and nine other council members who signed the letter wrote President Gould: "We are asking you to either cancel this event or, if it should proceed, then to remove your school's official support for it."

The council members wrote that "the speakers at the even include a person who has compared the Israelis to Nazis and another who has called Hamas and Hezbollah progressive social movements."

The council members then point out: "A significant portion of the funding for CUNY schools comes directly from the tax dollars of the State and City of New York. Every year, we legislators are asked for additional funding to support program and initiatives at these schools and we fight hard for those funds. Every one of those dollars given to CUNY, and Brooklyn College, means one less dollar going to some other worthy purpose. We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City-many of who[m] would feel targeted and demonized by this program-want their tax money to be spent on."

The council members then ask the college president to "reconsider any official support or sponsorship."

Gould rejected the council members' request, in a Monday letter to the college students and faculty.

Gould wrote, inter alia: "Unfortunately, some may believe that our steadfast commitment to free speech signals an institutional endorsement of a particular point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth. 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. We also encourage our 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."

The New York Civil Liberties Union blasted Fidler on Wednesday in a letter of its own, claiming he has "a stunningly impoverished vision of academic freedom principles."

"It is a vision in which academic expression must yield whenever the speaker seeks to convey views that might offend a significant number of persons," the NYCLU wrote. "It is a vision which turns the First Amendment on its head."

The lectures apparently will go off as scheduled tonight.

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