NYC Mayor Backs College’s Right to Hold Israel-Boycott Talk

From the New York Times

February 6, 2013

Mayor Backs College’s Right to Hold Israel-Boycott Talk

By KATE TAYLOR

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Wednesday forcefully defended the right of Brooklyn College to co-sponsor an event with an international group that advocates Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian territories, weighing in for the first time in a debate that has pitted New York City and state legislators, the Anti-Defamation League and prominent alumni like Alan Dershowitz against the school.

Describing himself as a “big supporter of Israel,” Mr. Bloomberg said he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with the movement behind the event, known as B.D.S., for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. But he said a university should be free to sponsor a forum on any topic, “including ideas that people find repugnant.”

“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea,” he said in a news conference at City Hall.

“The last thing we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run and base funding decisions on the political views of professors,” he added. “I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.”

The Brooklyn College event, which is scheduled to take place on Thursday, is being co-sponsored by the college’s political science department, as well as several student and nonstudent groups, and will feature two speakers from the B.D.S. movement, Judith Butler, a philosopher, and Omar Barghouti.

Ten council members, led by Lewis A. Fidler of Brooklyn, signed a letter on Jan. 29 to Brooklyn College’s president, Karen Gould, demanding either that the event be canceled or that the university revoke its sponsorship. The letter also suggested that, if the university went ahead with the event, the Council might withhold future financing to the school.

Mr. Bloomberg said the city was defined by its commitment to personal liberty.

“This is a city that loves and protects freedom — academic freedom, religious freedom, sexual freedom, cultural freedom, political freedom,” the mayor said. “We are the freest city in the world, and that’s why we’re the greatest city in the world.”

He said that politicians had a right to protest the event, but that their fulminations were counterproductive.

“What the protesters have done is given a lot of attention to the very idea they keep saying they don’t want people to talk about,” he said. “They just don’t think before they open their mouths.”

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