Thursday, February 14, 2013

To the Editor:


U.S. drones kill without warning. There are no screaming jets, no whirling helicopter blades, no rumbling tanks, no boots on the ground. Incineration and death happen instantaneously. In a flash the attack is over, the flesh burned, the bones broken, lives lost. But the damage lingers forever.

Since 2004 thousands of Pakistanis have been killed by U.S. drones, many purportedly "militants" but many were innocent men, women, and children. How would you react if your mother or father, sister or brother, wife or husband, child or loved one was callously incinerated in an attack by a faceless, distant, and remote entity? These drone horrors are being visited upon innocent Pakistanis in our name, by our government, with our tax dollars. Paki Wieland recently travelled with a CodePink delegation to Pakistan and will be speaking about human rights concerns and her experiences in the region at the New Paltz Village Hall on Friday, March 1 at 7 PM. Come and find out more about what is being done in your name with your tax dollars. For more information go to www.mideastcrisis.org.

Eli Kassirer
New Paltz

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The New McCarthyism

A controversy currently threatened academic freedom and free speech at CUNY Brooklyn College. The background of this controversy is that two student groups, some community groups, and the Political Science department of BC joined together to sponsor an event scheduled to be held on February 7. The speakers, Omar Barghouti (a Palesinian human rights activist) and Judith Butler (a Jewish American philosopher and professor), are advocates of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a non-violent, international movement. The goals are: To educate and raise public awareness; to pressure Israel to comply with international law; to stop Israeli oppression of, and control over, the Palestinians; and to advocate for Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian territories.

In response to the proposed event, pro-Israel advocates joined forces with local NYC politicians; they claimed they are “concerned that an academic department has decided to endorse an event that advocates strongly for one side of a highly-charged issue.” Interestingly, this group never raised such a concern when Brooklyn College sponsored Alan Dershowitz, a pro-Israel speaker. Not one of these people insisted that Dershowitz’s event include alternate positions and that both sides be presented. It appears that this group wants colleges (as well as other institutions and venues) to create a rule that will apply only to those who criticize the policies of the Israeli government. The New Rule: You may only allow those critical of Israel to speak when others are there to disagree with them and/or to attack them, and, in so doing, to change the terms of the debate.

Furthermore, these advocates erroneously conflate anti-Semitism with the support of equal rights and freedoms for Palestinians, criticism of Israeli governmental policies vis-à-vis Palestinians, and support of BDS (as a non-violent strategy that successfully helped to end apartheid in South Africa). Their goals—to silence and/or deligitimize anyone who is critical of the Israeli government. What better way to destroy people’s reputations and/or careers than by labeling them bigots, “self-hating Jews,” and/or “anti-Semites.”

Thankfully, colleges frequently sponsor controversial speakers to challenge and question the status quo. In fact, each speaker appears alone on stage to present his/her viewpoint(s). Likewise, colleges host panels of like-minded panelists—the purpose, to discuss topics (without having to explain or defend each sentence uttered) and, perhaps more importantly, to delve into the nuances within topics.

If one holds academic freedom and freedom of speech as core values, regardless of one’s position on BDS, or any other issue for that matter, one should be alarmed by what is happening at Brooklyn College and, unfortunately, at many other colleges.

Helaine Meisler