Brooklyn College's Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organized a press conference on Tuesday, February 5, 2013, to address ongoing efforts to shut down a student-organized event on the growing movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. SJP member Sarah Aly read the following statement on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild.
The Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild stand today with student organizers of the BDS event at Brooklyn College. Attempts to pressure the University into shutting this event down, or removing its co-sponsorship, are not only contrary to the First Amendment and values of academic freedom. They are also based on a gross mischaracterization of Palestinian rights advocates as anti-Semitic, including those that are calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel and companies that profit from its occupation and subjugation of Palestinians.
The First Amendment does not allow government agencies or officials, including public universities and City Council Members, to determine what events the University or its departments can co-sponsor based on the viewpoint being expressed. Were the University or other officials to make such a determination, it would be a violation of the First Amendment.
New York politicians have spoken out against this event, and NYC Council Members have openly threatened to withdraw funding to Brooklyn College if it does not cancel or remove co-sponsorship for this event. Clearly, some very vocal individuals and organizations find it offensive that anyone would accuse Israel of wrongdoing or attempt to affect its policies. But Offensiveness is not the litmus test for free speech! Indeed, many individuals find offensive speakers who try to whitewash the decades-long military occupation and unequal treatment of Palestinians, and who deny Israeli violations of International Law.
All over the country, universities and other public and private institutions are being pressured to thwart discussion of Palestinian rights and Israeli state wrongs. We must recognize, and encourage our political representatives to recognize, that efforts to paint Palestinian rights advocacy as hateful or anti-Semitic are meant to distract us from the fact that those who attempt to shield Israel from scrutiny are resorting to censorship tactics to do so. Anti-Semitism is real, and hate speech is odious. But speaking truth to the power of Israel’s massive offense against the Palestinians and its decades-long defiance of international law, is not a message of hate, nor is it anti-Semitic. It is a political critique of a state’s actions. And the movement for BDS is a lawful, legitimate, and non-violent way to try to push for self-determination and equality for Palestinians, where our government and the international community has failed for decades.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild and its partners will continue to fight for free expression for Palestinian rights advocates. This is not just about Brooklyn College, and not just about the Israeli-Palestinian question. It is also about the right of individuals in this country to express their political views on matters of international importance, even if those views are controversial, or go against the prevailing political orthodoxy.
All of us who believe in the First Amendment, who believe in Academic freedom, and who believe that Americans should be allowed to hear the case for Palestinian rights without government interference, must stand up and let our voices be heard by our politicians who have been persuaded otherwise.