What is it about Brooklyn College that makes it such a hotbed of anti-Zionism and flashpoint in the political war against Israel?
This “middle-class Ivy League” school in Midwood, where my parents and wife Dr. Shani Verschleiser attended, is part of the City University of New York system and has high populations of Jews and Muslims, but so do other schools. We don’t seem to hear nearly as much about the activities of Students for Justice in Palestine and other groups devoted to the destruction of Israel as we know it at big city public or private colleges as much as we do at Brooklyn. In the New York area, it particularly stands out.
Per the conservative Los Angeles-based David Horowitz Freedom Center, which tracks campus anti-Israel activity, Brooklyn College is one of the top 10 schools in the nation for anti-Israel activity, alongside such peers as San Diego State, University of California at Irvine, Vassar College and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
According to the center’s website, stopthejewhatredoncampus.org, Brooklyn College “is home to one of the most active and extreme SJP chapters in the nation. Brooklyn College SJP has posted articles and videos online defending terrorism including an advertisement titled “The Third Intifada” on its Facebook page.” Antics have included a “die-in” to dramatize Palestinian victims, trampling on Israeli flags and mock-up military checkpoints to illustrated West Bank life for Arabs.
The campus is a battleground for the insidious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. According to Amcha Initiative, another group that rose from outrage over the demonization of Israel on our college campuses, last year, more than 300 incidents of anti-Semitism occurred at 109 schools in 28 states.
SJP and other anti-Zionist student groups are a major source of anti-Semitic rhetoric and behavior at many schools.” The Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) counted 649 anti-Israel events at colleges in the U.S.
This shows how we are losing the battle of social media which allows today's youth to be educated with lies and deception. Israel and Jewish organizations are doing a lot to provide Jewish students with balanced information, including free Birthright Israel trips. They must continue their efforts and do more to show Israel’s hard work to make peace, its contributions to the world and the stubbornness of the Palestinians in resisting productive talks.
Several high-profile Israel-bashing events, some coordinated with faculty, have been held at the campus. And four Jewish students recently fought a long battle for justice after they were inexplicably thrown out of a SJP event in February 2013, simply for holding pro-Israel fact sheets they had yet to distribute. It took just over a year and the assistance of the The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law before President Karen Gould apologized to the students, acknowledging that a college official violated the students’ civil rights by ejecting them. The college then added insult to injury by incorrectly telling the press the students had been disruptive to defend his actions.
But things haven’t improved much in the interim. In February of this year, a group of rowdy protestors stormed into a Faculty Council meeting and started chanting anti-Zionist nonsense at the professors. The meeting had to be adjourned, and The Jewish Week reported that some felt threatened by the incident.
This is not to say that students shouldn’t be free to voice criticism of Israel under their First Amendment rights. No country is perfect, and people are entitled to opinions even if they are misinformed or biased.
But increasingly anti-Zionist protestors all over North America have tried to silence and intimidate the other side, disrupting events, shouting down speakers, targeting students in their dorms with “eviction notices” and striving to make it difficult to express pride in the Jewish state (which, last time I checked, was also protected by the Constitution.)
A recent survey by the Cohen Center at Brandeis University found one quarter of North American Jewish students "describe hostility toward Israel on campus by their peers as a 'fairly' or 'very big' problem".
The Zionist Organization of America and the Brandeis Center for Human Rights have been advising Jewish students about their rights and how to protect them from infringement, whether it’s from peers or misguided or overzealous college administrators, faculty or security guards.
This atmosphere of bias and intimidation is especially poignant at a time when colleges are increasingly going on about trigger warnings, safe spaces and open bathrooms to ensure that no one’s feelings are hurt, and that counseling is available if they are.
Aren’t Israel supporters entitled to the same protection and concern?
There may be no easy answer as to why Brooklyn College has become such a battleground. Maybe the situation just builds on itself.
Fortunately, the college has a top-notch Hillel organization with ample facilities just off campus for pro-Israel students to safely and comfortably hold their events. There is no shortage of pro-Israel organizations and activities run by proud and tough Jews, including a sizable share of Israelis, who aren’t going anywhere and aren’t about to hide their blue and white flags for anyone.
The Hillel director, Nadya Drucker, her staff and board work closely with the administration to share concerns. Hopefully the new president, Michelle J. Anderson, understands the need for open dialogue and exchange of ideas, without intimidation, between students.
But bad decisions like the one in 2013, taking sides against the Israel supporters at an event, can have a lasting negative impact, suggesting to SJP and others that they have free reign and friends in high places.
In keeping with its role as an academic haven for thousands of Jewish students and other Israel supporters, the administration must disabuse them of this notion. Just as it’s crucial to stand firm against terrorists, so must we do the same with their supporters.