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Eric Alterman on BDS and Campus anti-Semitism


Nation columnist and CUNY English and journalism professor Eric Alterman is a supporter of The Third Narrative project and vision.  This is an abridged version of his op-ed NY Times article, “The B.D.S. Movement and Anti-Semitism on Campus,” dated March 29, 2016:

. . . Where I teach, at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, arguments over a proposed event or demonstration regarding Israel and Palestine appear every few months, and sometimes turn ugly.

In 2013, some Jewish students were forced out of a lecture sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine. Just recently, a few members of the same organization broke up a faculty council meeting with demands that included barring “Zionists” from the campus.

In both cases, the culprits were appropriately and unambiguously condemned by the Brooklyn College president, Karen Gould.  . . .

Anti-Semitism is no doubt a problem on many college campuses. And the boycott Israel movement — which has inspired these arguments — is tainted with it. I have long been a vocal B.D.S. opponent at CUNY and helped to found a national organization of academics to fight it, and I’ve experienced the nastiness firsthand. Still, as obnoxious as some of its followers can be, the boycott movement on campus is thriving not because of, but in spite of, the anti-Semitism of some of its adherents.

Indeed, it is filled with young Jews. The pro-boycott group Jewish Voice for Peace is perhaps the fastest-growing Jewish organization on campuses nationwide. And many liberal Zionists share the movement’s complaints about the brutality and self-defeating nature of Israel’s nearly 50-year occupation, even if they believe B.D.S. language and tactics to be counterproductive to the goal of a peaceful, two-state solution — to say nothing of the movement’s contravention of principles of free expression.

. . .  CUNY administrators . . .  hired two former federal prosecutors to examine the complaints of anti-Semitism and “recommend appropriate action.” CUNY has also established a working group to go over its policies relating to the boundaries of acceptable speech. Abraham Foxman, the former director of the Anti-Defamation League and an alumnus of CUNY, has praised the university’s handling of these isolated incidents.  . . .

. . .  By protecting the right to free speech and expression, while simultaneously demanding civility and respectful discourse on all sides, universities can take care of these problems without political threats that undermine the very purpose of the university itself.

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