02 February 2013

Political Science in the News: Brooklyn College and the BDS Fracas

I am not - as I have made clear here repeatedly - a proponent of boycotts generally or of current calls for boycotts of Israel in particular.  I think that boycotts tend to turn us away from politics as an activity and refocus issues around matters of consumption. In the process I think that they inject a generally unattractive, indeed disabling, moralism into what ought to be political debate and argument. It is not that I defend Israeli government policy regarding the Palestinians. I do not - any more than I defend Hamas or Hezbollah attacks on Israelis. Rather, I simply think it is more useful to criticize such actions with words not currency.

Having said that, I find the current campaign against colleagues in the Political Science Department at Brooklyn College (CUNY) reprehensible.  The Department has voted to co-sponsor a panel discussion - initiated by student groups on campus - about the "Boycott, Divest, Sanction" Campaign (BDS) against Israel.  For their trouble they and the College administration have been besieged by alums, the conservative press, and a diverse array of state and local politicians demanding that they rescind their sponsorship. You can find a report in The New York Times here.

Among the leaders of the critics is Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz - yes, he of the arguments for institutionalizing torture as a tool of American foreign policy via judicial warrant - who also is a Brooklyn College alum. Dershowitz is pretty much of a buffoon and his arguments, such as they are, against the Department and against the DBS speakers establish that for those not already so convinced. (I have in mind, for instance, his inability to differentiate sponsoring and endorsing, his inability to differentiate political issues from partisan elections, and his assertion without evidence that faculty in the Department grade students according to their political views, etc.) And Dershowitz, I would add, is among the calmer, more reasoned critics of the Department and the College in this affair. To the best of my knowledge Dershowitz - unlike other critics of the College - has not explicitly and publicly equated criticism of Israeli policy with anti-semitism. That is a sad state.

I recommend this column by Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian for a dissection of events.
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Update: Mother Jones reports here.
Update #2: Kieran Healy skewers the critics here at Crooked Timber.

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