New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg harshly criticized city officials who had called on Brooklyn College’s political science department to drop their sponsorship of a pro-BDS panel at a press conference today.
Stipulating that he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with the movement that seeks to impose boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel, Bloomberg said he believed an academic department should be allowed to sponsor any sort of panel it liked.
“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,” Bloomberg said.
The panel, featuring two prominent supporters of the BDS movement, is scheduled to take place on February 6. It’s drawn criticism from Jewish activists and from public officials.
Bloomberg’s statement amounted to a stark rejection of a handful of efforts by New York elected officials to pressure Brooklyn College’s political science department to drop its support of the panel. On January 29, New York City Council members Lew Fidler and David Greenfield, among others, sent a letter to Brooklyn College implicitly threatening the school’s public funding. Later, progressive Democrats sent a January 31 letter that also asked the political science department to drop the panel in far milder terms. Signatories to that letter included Congressman Jerry Nadler, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and others.
At today’s press conference, Bloomberg specifically dressed down the elected officials for their interference. “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,” the mayor said.
Critics of the officials’ push against the panel saw Bloomberg’s comments as a major win. “That’s a very strong endorsement of my department’s position,” wrote Corey Robin, a professor in the Brooklyn College political science department, in a blog post about the speech.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.