Monday, November 18, 2013

Anti-Semitism, academic freedom and Brooklyn College

Does Brooklyn College have a Jewish problem?

For the second time this year, the university's political science department has outraged the Jewish community by agreeing to co-sponsor events hosted by Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine, an organization whose sole mission is to engage in campus activities that demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.

In February, the department co-sponsored a Students for Justice event advertised as "a lecture by Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti on the importance of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) in helping END Israeli apartheid and the illegal occupation of Palestine."

Both Butler and Barghouti, who are major figures in the BDS movement, consider all of the State of Israel as part of the "illegal occupation of Palestine" and advocate for BDS as a nonviolent means of ending Israel as a Jewish state. In addition, virtually all of the 22 other organizations that joined the political science department in co-sponsoring the Students for Justice event actively promote BDS, many openly advocate elimination of the Jewish state and some - like Adalah-NY and Al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition - condone terrorism against Israel.

Despite the outcry of Jewish students and community members over the highly offensive nature of this Students for Justice event and the political science department's unwillingness to rescind its sponsorship, the department has once again decided to stick it to the members of its community who support Israel, most of them Jews, by co-sponsoring two more Students for Justice events. According to the department's website:

"The department of political science at Brooklyn College is pleased to announced that it is co-sponsoring two talks organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College. The first is by Josh Ruebner, whose talk - ‘Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace' - will be on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 6:30 p.m., on the sixth floor of the student center. The second is by Ben White, whose talk - ‘Israel: Apartheid, Not Democracy" - will be on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 6:30 p.m., on the sixth floor of the student center."

Not surprisingly, the speakers at these two Students for Justice events - Ruebner, the national advocacy director of the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid, and White, a virulently anti-Israel journalist - are leaders in the BDS movement who both publicly advocate the elimination of the Jewish state and condone terrorism against Israel.

Let's be clear: Advocating for and working toward the elimination of the Jewish state - whether by violent or non-violent means - is considered anti-Semitic by every contemporary scholar of anti-Semitism, as well as by official government bodies in the U.S., Canada and the European Union.

It is not hard to understand why. The elimination of the Jewish state poses an existential threat to the 6 million Jews who live there - nearly half of the worldwide Jewish population.

Furthermore, no other country on Earth has had its very existence challenged. The fact that only Jewish self-determination is open to such threats underscores the deeply hypocritical and anti-Semitic nature of calls for the elimination of the Jewish state.

Nevertheless, both Brooklyn College President Karen Gould and the political science department defend the anti-Semitic activities of a university-sanctioned student organization and the right of a university department to bestow academic legitimacy on implicit Jew-hatred, by wrapping them both in the mantle of "academic freedom."

In an open letter to the Brooklyn College community last February, Gould suggested that calling for the economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state are part of the "critical debate" that is the "hallmark of the American education system."

Sadly, that may be true. However, there is no doubt that giving academic legitimacy to rank anti-Semitism is the hallmark of Brooklyn College.

The Jewish community, New York taxpayers and decent people everywhere should be outraged.


Condom Manufacuturer Smears Religious Schools in "Sexual Health Report Card"

For the past eight years, condom manufacturer Trojan Brand Condoms has released a "report card" that claims to rank various colleges and universities by their level of sexual health. Schools are ranked according to a variety of factors, including hours of operation of the student health center, student clubs that discuss sexual health, STD/HIV testing, and usability of the website. Somewhat ironically, the actual health of the student body is never taken into accord in the ranking system.

Out of the 140 schools ranked on the list, the first school affiliated with a religion, Georgetown, appears at 96th. Three schools in the bottom ten are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church (St. John's University in New York, Seton Hall University, and Providence College, my alma mater) and the lowest ranked school, Brigham Young University, is affiliated with the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons).

While the report card purports to define the sexual health of the student body, schools scored lower if they did not distribute free or low-cost condoms or other forms of contraception to its student body. This has no effect on the actual sexual health of their students, as students are able to acquire contraceptives on their own. Many Catholic schools choose not to distribute these items to their students, as they violate Church teachings on contraception, but students are free to acquire them on their own off-campus.

Additionally, students at Brigham Young University are required to sign an honor code saying they will not engage in (among other things) premarital sex. BYU famously suspended star basketball player Brandon Davies for violating this section of the code in 2011. Given this information, it certainly is head-scratching how a school composed of students who are literally required to abstain from premarital sexual activity could be labeled as being one of the least sexually healthy schools in the country.

Other low-ranking schools on the list are primarily commuter schools, meaning that less than 20 percent of its student body resides in campus housing. If a student is not living on campus, it certainly makes sense that they would not rely on the school for contraceptive needs or make frequent use of a university health center. This is an unfair assessment of their student body as well.

It goes without saying that this list could be a backhanded attempt by Trojan to force religious schools to purchase and distribute their product. Students at lower-ranking schools are unfairly smeared by this list as being a bunch of disease-ridden freaks. This list does not take into account the actual sexual health of the students at the ranked schools, but rather combines a bunch of arbitrary factors that have little to no effect on a student's health. A student is no more or less sexually healthy if a health center is open until 6:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. Under the current system, a school with extremely high rates of STD infections yet distributes contraception and tests for STDs would be ranked higher than a school that has zero infected students—but does not have free contraception available. That is insane. This list is dishonest reporting at best, and libel at worst.


Who needs a degree? You never meet a poor plumber

I got some stick on Twitter the other day when I said I couldn’t see the point of a degree in media studies.

Obviously, if you’re spending three years of your life examining the history of British soaps or highs and lows of radio comedy, it might come as a shock to be told that knowing all about Tony Hancock or the birth of breakfast telly doesn’t guarantee you a job.

The truth is, Labour’s big push to attract more youngsters than ever to sign up for a university education has resulted in too many worthless degree courses, dreamt up by academic establishments anxious to fill their coffers.

Since the recession, some have been cancelled, but it’s about time education experts spoke out about the current system which sees young men and women saddled with thousands of pounds’ worth of debt and no guarantee of a job that matches their aspirations or their area of study.

The sooner technical colleges take students from 14 and offer practical courses in areas where we are desperate for home-grown expertise, such as plumbing, building construction, electrical engineering and all aspects of the hospitality industry from catering to front of house staff, the better.

Far from thinking these are second-division jobs, these are the careers of the future. Show me a poor plumber — there certainly aren’t any in Central London.

Now, the heads of private and independent schools — the places where pupils would be channelled towards the best universities — are saying that employment, rather than further education, can be better for pupils.

The head of the Girls’ School Association is giving a speech this week claiming that there will be a shift ‘away from university as an automatic first choice’.

Hilary French thinks pupils should be looking at employer training and apprenticeships, instead of running up £27,000 worth of debt.

The Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon, agrees — he says that of the 200,000 undergraduates studying communications, marketing, art and design and business, many would be more employable if they had opted for work-based training schemes.

At the moment, the Government has increased funding for apprenticeships, but there are still far too few — 75 per cent of the 520,000 places starting this year went to people aged 25 or older. There were only 61,000 new apprenticeships for young people, compared to 570,000 in Germany.

Education charity The Sutton Trust says we need to invest in 300,000 new apprenticeships for young people every single year.

We must prioritise investing in the young by giving employers who offer training tax breaks instead of handing out benefits when they can’t get a job because they are unqualified or have useless degrees.

Time to give honours to plumbers and builders — maybe that would reverse the snobbery about the value of a degree.


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