New York – Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a vocal supporter of Israel but also a frequent advocate of free speech, today forcefully defended Brooklyn College’s decision to co-sponsor a panel discussion about a movement that calls for economic boycotts and sanctions against Israel.
Mr. Bloomberg said he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with the movement, 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 during a news conference at City Hall.
The comments were Mr. Bloomberg’s first on a debate that has pitted the school against some New York City and state legislators, the Anti-Defamation League and prominent alumni like Alan Dershowitz.
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, a founding member of the group.
Ten members of the City Council, led by Lewis A. Fidler of Brooklyn, signed a letter on Jan. 29 to the college president, Karen Gould, demanding either that the event be canceled or that the university revoke its sponsorship. (Two of the members later backed off their support of the letter.) The letter also suggested that if the university went ahead with the event, the Council might withhold future financing to the school. Mr. Bloomberg rejected that threat.
“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 said. “I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.”
The Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, made it clear, in remarks at a separate news conference, that she would not support punishing the college for hosting the event, even though, she said, “I think this event is deplorable – I think it is an anti-Israel event.”
“That said,” she said, “Brooklyn College has the right to have whatever events it wants to have.” She added, “I don’t think whatever programming they do or don’t do should have any relevance on their funding or any of their other standing as an academic institution.”
Mr. Bloomberg suggested that critics of the panel were hurting their own cause by denouncing it.
“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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