Contributed by CAMERA Intern Ariella Charny.
Anti-Israel activist Ben White was invited to speak at Brooklyn College by the college’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.
Ben White, who describes himself as a writer, journalist and researcher on Twitter, gave a lecture at Brooklyn College on November 14th called “Israel: Apartheid not Democracy.” This lecture is part of a tour of several colleges in the area.
White actively advocates for BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel). He defended former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s denial of the Holocaust, as well as the former president’s call to “wipe Israel off the map.” He also defended German politician Jürgen Möllemann when he compared Israeli policies to those of the Nazis, an act which is classified as anti-Semitic by the US State Department.
What’s more is that this event comes after a BDS event held at Brooklyn College last February, in which four Jewish students were forced to leave the venue. Brooklyn College investigated the case, and stated that “there was no justification for the removal of the four students.”
Recent graduate Melanie Goldberg, one of the students who was evicted from the BDS event, told the Algemeiner that Jewish students at Brooklyn “feel as if they have no power over the situation.” She says that, given White’s statements, she considers him to be anti-Semitic.
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a CUNY trustee, told the Algemeiner with regards to White’s lecture that “no academic setting of which I am aware would tolerate open racism directed against any other group in such a forum. In the very least, we would hear hearty condemnations left and right…I will state plainly: his [White’s] relativism on the Holocaust and his other pronouncements make him an out-and-out anti-Semite. His appearance is a black mark at Brooklyn College, which follows several others and is outside the realm of measures by the board and Chancellor which continue to advance CUNY.”
Yet Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) are not alone in the event: The Political Science and the Sociology Departments at Brooklyn College also co-sponsored White’s talk. According to the Algemeiner, Paisley Currah, who heads the Political Science Department, claimed prior to the event that the department “is not a ‘supporter,’ advocate, champion, or endorser of these events and the views that will be expressed there…We co-sponsor events because we as a department value the open and free exchange of ideas.” Meanwhile, Brooklyn College cited the First Amendment as its reason for allowing White to speak on campus.
Kenneth L Marcus, President and General Counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, spoke out against White’s talk, stating in the lead-up to the event that “Federally funded colleges must promptly and effectively respond to hateful incidents that are so severe or pervasive that they deny equal educational benefits to students based on race, color or national origin. This is the case when a hostile environment is created for Jewish, Israeli, or other minority students.”
Brooklyn University cannot simply cite the First Amendment in defense of the event. While the university should certainly strive to protect free speech, it should not tolerate prejudiced and hateful speech of the kind offered by White. Its departments certainly should not be encouraging and co-sponsoring such speech.