In response to the controversy surrounding a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) event taking place tomorrow at Brooklyn College, numerous pro-BDS public figures, activists and groups have labeled concerns about the event as a “smear campaign” designed to get the event canceled and suppress the expression of legitimate viewpoints.
A statement by the national coalition of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) referred to opposition to the event as an “onslaught of intimidation.” Al-Awda and American Muslims for Palestine, two off-campus anti-Israel organizations, condemned the pro-Israel community’s reaction as a “smear campaign” designed to suppress free speech. Jewish Voice for Peace went so far as to call for Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz to be fired for arguing that Brooklyn College’s political science department should not sponsor anti-Israel events.
Similarly, Roger Waters, the founder and lead singer of Pink Floyd, issued a statement of solidarity with the SJP chapter at Brooklyn College, the group organizing the event, that conspiratorially claimed: “That you have come under attack from powerful political and media forces for trying to shed light on the predicament of the good peoples of Palestine and Israel is wrong. I stand with you. Sadly, none of us knows what lies behind the closed doors of government, even though we should for we have a right to know, to speak, discuss, still not your voice, be not afraid. More power to you.”
Other more mainstream commentators have also used abrasive language to lambast those who disapprove of the department’s sponsorship of the event. Glen Greenwald, in a piece over the weekend on The Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site, described those urging the political science department to drop its sponsorship as an “ugly lynch mob” and claimed that elected officials in the U.S. support Israel for less than earnest reasons: “It is all but impossible to succeed in New York City politics - or US national politics - without faithfully embracing pro-Israel orthodoxies. That's the nature of politics in general: it requires subservience to empowered factions and majoritarian sentiment.”
It is the BDS movement, however, that is inherently predicated on the suppression of speech and “free exchange of ideas,” which Greenwald claims to vehemently support in his article. Supporting boycotts of Israeli academics, diplomats and performers is simply not consistent with free speech values. Furthermore, anti-Israel students cannot legitimately claim to support a “free exchange of ideas” when they regularly disrupt and heckle pro-Israel speakers on campus. One anti-Israel student who heckled Israeli soldiers at an event at UC Davis last February flatly admitted, “My only purpose today is that this event is shut down.”
In fact, an increasing number of anti-Israel groups do not support a free exchange of ideas and explicitly argue that the pro-Israel voice does not even deserve to be heard. The tactic, known as anti-normalization, is increasingly being felt by pro-Israel groups on campuses across the country whose counterparts refuse to engage in dialogue with them and often try to disrupt or shut down pro-Israel events. It seems that the BDS movement’s commitment to free speech and an open exchange of ideas is only a one-way street.