I have a spot in my heart for Brooklyn College, which for many years was the gem of the City University of New York college system. I taught summer sessions there for one or two years. The chairman of the History Department at that time was the great hero of the 1956 Hungarian revolt, the late Bela Kiraly. Only in New York City could one find an institution that gave a home to the rebellious general of Hungary’s Red Army, who fresh out of prison as a political dissident led the Hungarian people in an attempt to fight off the Soviet invasion. He was professional, warm, and supportive — even though he knew from my conversations at the time that I was a man of the Left.
That was back in its halcyon days. Then, a decade ago, a controversy arose when the college tried to fire one of its best historians, KC Johnson. I entered into KC’s defense with a series of articles in the great short-lasting paper published by Seth Lipsky, The New York Sun. The protests were so fierce that over the objections of his own left-wing department, the chancellor of CUNY was forced to override their attempt to dismiss him, and appointed him with tenure.
Now, Brooklyn College is showing its worst face once again. As The New York Jewish Week reports, incoming transfer students have been assigned a book to read that is meant to give them a common framework for discussion. As the newspaper informed its readers, “‘How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America,’ by Moustafa Bayoumi , has been assigned to about 1500 incoming transfer students ‘in an effort to provide a common experience for this population of students,’ according to a letter from the school administration to Brooklyn College faculty members.”
The book was described by the trade publication Publisher’s Weekly as a “quintessentially American picture of 21st century citizens ‘absorbing and refracting all the ethnicities and histories surrounding [them].’ However, the testimonies from these young adults — summary seizures from their homes, harassment from strangers, being fired for having an Arab or Muslim name—have a weight and a sorrow that is ‘often invisible to the general public.”
It is clear that the book is a highly exaggerated view of how American citizens treat Muslims and Arabs. (The book carries a blurb by none other than Rashid Khalidi.) It is not being paired with any readings that challenge its biased thesis. But what is also upsetting many of Brooklyn’s residents, as well as CUNY faculty and students, is that its author, who is also an associate professor at the college, recently edited another book titled Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: the Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How it Changed the Course of the Israeli-Palestine Conflict.
The publisher is notorious for being devoted evidently to publishing books opposed to Israel’s existence, including those of the discredited and particularly vile Norman Finkelstein. It is a firm that describes itself as one that “embraces progressive change in politics, culture and the way we do business.” So you can immediately get their agenda from their own website.
OR Books describes its thesis in the following paragraph:
“In these pages, a range of activists, journalists, and analysts piece together the events that occurred that May night, unpicking their meanings for Israel’s illegal, three-year-long blockade of Gaza and the decades-long Israel/Palestine conflict more generally. Mixing together first-hand testimony, documentary record, and illustration, with hard-headed analysis and historical overview, Midnight on the Mavi Marmara reveals why the attack on Gaza Freedom Flotilla may just turn out to be Israel’s Selma, Alabama: the beginning of the end for an apartheid Palestine.“
Essays are by all the usual suspects, including Philip Weiss, Max Blumenthal, Noam Chomsky, Juan Cole, Alice Walker, Stephen Walt and a score of Arab writers. What unites them all is a hatred for Israel and a commitment to its enemies.
No one is asking that Professor Bayoumi’s book be censored. Unlike KC Johnson, whose leftist colleagues wanted him out because of his views, no one is demanding that the professor be disciplined in any way, not to speak of being fired. In the United States, we believe in freedom of speech, which includes the right to publish one’s views and to present them for airing in the marketplace of ideas.
But that freedom does not include forcing the book in a compulsory fashion upon incoming students, without any other point of view being presented to them for comparison. It is a matter of balance and perspective. If they chose, for example, to present it alongside many of Alan Dershowitz’s books defending Israel and answering its critics, that would be another matter. But the Baymoui book is the only one they are being told that they must read. The choice, one faculty member said, “may be more about ‘indoctrination’ than education.”
Chalk it up for a future chapter of David Horowitz’s Indoctrination “U.”
I have an op ed in today’s New York Post on this same issue, in which perhaps I make my point a bit more clearly. You can read it here.