College officials reject claims of anti-Semitism at Brooklyn College boycott event

The City University of New York (CUNY) General Cousel’s office has rejected accusations that student organizers at Brooklyn College were motivated by anti-Semitism and political discrimination during an event in February. 

The 36-page report released on 12 April followed a two-month investigation launched at the behest of CUNY and Brooklyn College administrative officials following the event, which featured activist Omar Barghouti and academic Judith Butler, who discussed the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. CUNY’s General Counsel also sought assistance from an outside law firm for the investigation and the report on its findings.

The Center for Constitutional Rights issued a press release on the report on Monday stating that students involved with the organizing and planning of the event have been vindicated.

Zionist and anti-Palestinian individuals and legislative officials, including Brooklyn Assemblymember Dov Hikind and law professor Alan Dershowitz, claimed that holding the event was akin to anti-Semitic hate speech. They also claimed that some students were discriminated against or not admitted into the event because they were unsupportive of BDS and/or Jewish. Members of Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College rejected these claims, calling them “unfounded.”

It is a tactic by Israel advocates and lobby groups to conflate speech critical of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism, especially on college campuses across the US.

Claims of discrimination unsupported

The report by CUNY’s General Counsel concluded that “The evidence does not support a finding that religious or political discrimination infected the admission process.” It also states that “The evidence does not support an inference that the students made decisions regarding the admission or exclusion of the press based on religion or point of view. The students decided not to grant access to the press except for any journalists who signed up like any other member of the public.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights’ Senior Staff Attorney Maria LaHood stated in the press release that:

Students are bearing the brunt of a nation-wide campaign to chill Palestinian rights activism. We are seeing this pattern all over the country, where accusations of anti-Semitism and threats of legal action are pressuring universities to unfairly obstruct and denounce the activities of those expressing one side of an important domestic and international issue.

The threats of legal action and the university’s investigation in this case have already had a chilling effect on students and others supporting Palestinian rights. We hope the results of this thorough investigation will allow students to continue their First Amendment activities without undue interference.

The Center for Constitutional Rights further adds:

The students, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Cooperating Attorney Alan Levine, were under intense university and media scrutiny for weeks before the event about the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). This included pressure on Brooklyn College from New York politicians condemning the subject matter of the event, from New York City Council Members threatening to withhold funding from the college, and from others who likened advocacy for BDS as a method for achieving Palestinian rights to anti-Semitic hate speech.

The CUNY investigation stemmed from complaints after the event from two journalists who claimed they were excluded and four students who claimed they were removed from the event because they were Jewish and opposed BDS.

Alan Dershowitz claimed that students’ First Amendment rights were violated because they were allegedly removed from the event for having anti-BDS literature. Lawyer Neal Sher, responsible for Title VI civil rights complaints against other universities for allowing Palestinian rights activists to express their views on campus, accused BC of creating an anti-Semitic environment by enabling the event and failing to prevent the alleged discrimination.

… CUNY Counsel’s report, after weeks of interviews with over 40 relevant witnesses, rejects the charge that the student organizers were motivated by anti-Semitism. Regarding the removal, the report states that there was no evident intent to discriminate based on the removed individuals’ religion, and that the evidence did not justify a conclusion that there was an intent to discriminate based on their viewpoint.

With regard to the other charges, namely that the students excluded individuals and members of the media because they were Jewish and opposed BDS, and that they cut off the Q&A session to prevent questions from Jewish opponents of BDS, the report concludes that the students had no intent to discriminate based on political viewpoint or religion in the registration or admissions process, and in the administration of the Q&A period.

Said Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine president Sundus Seif, “It is a relief that CUNY recognizes that we intended for this to be a forum for open dialogue about how to achieve Palestinian human rights, and that it took us by surprise to handle a forum that went from being a normal student event to getting national media attention with hundreds of people trying to get in, and with unprecedented security, that we were not equipped to handle.”

The CUNY General Counsel’s full report can be accessed here.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).