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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mayoral Candidates Spar Over Freedom Of Speech and Brooklyn College's Sponsoring BDS Forum

In a primary that every vote counts, The Democratic hopefuls and Adolfo Carrion, the Independence candidate debated, for the first time, local issues that matter to the Arab American Community. The  candidate forum, was organized by the Arab American Association of New York (AAANY)and the Islamic Center at NYU, who claim to represent a million Muslim Americans in New York City,105,000 of them are registered voters, according to the executive director of the AAANY, Linda Sarsour.

Most of the issues discussed, moderated by Errol Louis, the host of NY1’s "Inside City Hall" show, were about education, public safety, NYPD surveillance and religious freedom. The only issue that drew strike differences, in response to an audience question, and had to do with Israel and the Jewish community, was the Brooklyn College panel on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement back in February, which was condemned by local elected officials. Many pro-Israel Brooklyn College students, as well as members of the wider community, opposed the event or at least opposed the sponsorship by the BC academic department.

In a letter signed by Congressman Jerry Nadler, councilman Brad Lander, Speaker Quinn, Comptroller Liu and Bill Thompson, the progressive elected officials called for Brooklyn College’s Political Science Department to withdraw their endorsement of this event.

At the forum, Mr. Liu backtracked on his signature, and noted that the Political Science Department routinely sponsors a variety of events. “It was a very quick letter, we were given very short time to do it, something that in hindsight I shouldn't have signed, and that’s why we had the second letter to clarify our position.”

Mr. Thompson was less apologetic. “If you look at Brooklyn College, that wasn't a question of freedom of speech, it was a question of should the college Political Science department be sponsoring a forum that, in that case, that pushed hate,” said Thompson. The crowd booed Mr. Thompson for the answer, which prompted Sal Albanese to double down. 

“Freedom of speech is essential to our society. What you don't want is telling academics what should be taught, be said on a campus. I believe in more speech... I disagree with some of the things that was said at the forum, but I think they had the right to say it. Its wrong to hold people back from speaking out, ” said Mr. Albanese. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio agreed with Mr. Thompson's view. "There's a very big difference between a public college vs. a private college," said Mr. de Blasio. For them, it was a question of a public university not showing equal consideration to both sides of the issue. "Freedom of speech must be protected, but that was public involvement," he added.

"Let me say this...Bill was just pandering,”  Mr. Albanese angrily challenged Mr. de Blasio's position. "we disagree there, jumped in Mr. Thompson. “If the Political Science Department is sponsoring the Klan, I want to have both sides put forward. That’s all I said.”

Speaking to NYC Elects after the debate, Mr. Thompson said he would not change his position, despite of the boos. "I will always tell the truth as it is. I am not squishy," said Mr. Thompson. "All I said was that the Political Science department should of not sponsored the forum. I will continue to express my views without hesitation," he added. 

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