Posted by: Susan Tuchman, Esq., Director, Center for Law and Justice
March 12, 2014
News Press Release

ZOA Negotiates Important Victory for Jewish Community at Brooklyn College

In July 2013, the ZOA filed a student-backed complaint against Brooklyn College under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act
ZOA praised Brooklyn College for forging a settlement with the ZOA, stating, “Brooklyn College has acknowledged the wrongdoing that occurred in connection with the February 2013 anti-Semitic BDS event, and has taken full responsibility for it.

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is pleased and proud to announce that Brooklyn College President Karen L. Gould issued a public statement last Friday, apologizing in full to the four Jewish students who were forcibly thrown out of an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) event at Brooklyn College on February 7, 2013.  The anti-Semitic BDS event was sponsored by an anti-Israel group, the so-called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and co-sponsored by the political science department.  President Gould’s public statement was part of a negotiated settlement between the ZOA and Brooklyn College, facilitated by mediators from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  No other outside Jewish organization was involved.

Even prior to the anti-Semitic BDS event, several Jewish students came to the ZOA and reported that as Jews and Israel supporters, they felt threatened and intimidated at Brooklyn College, particularly in the political science department.  Many students were shocked and horrified by the department’s decision to co-sponsor the anti-Semitic BDS event which would be one-sided and promoting Israel’s destruction.  They were also shocked and horrified by what occurred at the event itself.

President Gould issued a full public apology to the four Jewish students who had been forcibly expelled from the anti-Semitic BDS event

The ZOA – and students – tried repeatedly to resolve all these problems informally with Brooklyn College, but these efforts failed.  In July 2013, the ZOA filed a student-backed complaint against Brooklyn College under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, alleging a hostile campus environment for Jewish students, particularly in the political science department.  If OCR concludes that a school has violated Title VI, the school risks losing its federal funding. 

Triggered by the ZOA’s Title VI complaint, OCR notified the ZOA in September 2013 that it would be investigating what occurred at the BDS event.  OCR offered the ZOA and Brooklyn College the option of engaging in OCR’s Early Complaint Resolution (ECR) process, which is essentially mediation.  (The process could be terminated at any time, at which point OCR’s investigation would proceed.)

The ZOA and Brooklyn College agreed to the ECR process and the mediation session took place on December 3, 2013, with the aid of mediators from OCR.  Three students – Melanie Goldberg and Ari Ziegler, who had been forcibly expelled from the anti-Semitic BDS event; and Abraham Esses, student body president at the time of the forced expulsion – accompanied the ZOA’s Susan Tuchman, Esq. to the mediation session and participated fully.  Negotiations were completed in the weeks after the mediation session, facilitated by the OCR mediators.

Brooklyn College President Karen Gould’s statement, issued last Friday, is the result of the ECR Agreement that Brooklyn College reached with the ZOA.  The statement contains several key achievements:

  • President Gould issued a full public apology to the four Jewish students who had been forcibly expelled from the anti-Semitic BDS event, specifically naming them as several of the students had requested.
  •  President Gould acknowledged that the four Jewish students were forcibly expelled based on allegations made by Carlos Guzman, an SJP organizer who was a complete outsider to Brooklyn College, and that Guzman’s allegations were false.  President Gould confirmed that the four students had not been disruptive and were not passing out flyers as Guzman had alleged, and that they were forcibly expelled without justification.
  •  President Gould publicly acknowledged the likelihood that Guzman’s actions were motivated by the fact that the four Jewish students held viewpoints contrary to those being promoted by the SJP.
  •  President Gould publicly acknowledged the wrongdoing of Brooklyn College’s employees.  Administrators and public safety officers deferred to Guzman instead of exercising independent judgment, which President Gould called “clearly wrong.”
  •  President Gould publicly acknowledged the wrongdoing of a Brooklyn College spokesperson who released a statement to the press after the anti-Semitic BDS event, wrongly disparaging the four Jewish students as having been disruptive.  President Gould recognized that the statement was “false” and that the spokesperson acted without independently verifying what occurred.
  •  Brooklyn College has developed and instituted new policies and guidelines for student-hosted events to ensure that the problems related to the anti-Semitic BDS event will never happen again.
  •  President Gould affirmed the College’s commitment to a civil learning environment, where views may be expressed without fear of intimidation or reprisal.
  •  President Gould confirmed that Brooklyn College will not tolerate any form of discrimination, including discrimination based on religion or ethnicity.

 ZOA National President Morton A. Klein praised Brooklyn College for forging this settlement with the ZOA, stating, “Brooklyn College has acknowledged the wrongdoing that occurred in connection with the February 2013 anti-Semitic BDS event, and has taken full responsibility for it.  This helps heal the wounds of the Jewish community at Brooklyn College, particularly the wounds of the four Jewish students who were forcibly expelled from the event without any justification.  We urge Brooklyn College to ensure that it work to truly promote civility and tolerance, and aggressively address harassment and discrimination.  The ZOA will continue to stay on top of the situation and make sure that the civil rights of Jewish students are fully protected.

“I also feel morally compelled to express the ZOA’s deep disappointment over the fact that a group that calls itself The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law issued a press release taking virtually full credit for this important accomplishment on behalf of Jewish students at Brooklyn College – when in fact the ZOA alone did all the work to negotiate this positive outcome.”  

Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., Director of the ZOA Center for Law and Justice, echoed the praise for Brooklyn College in reaching this negotiated settlement with the ZOA, stating, “We are pleased that after months of negotiation with the ZOA, the College worked cooperatively with us in resolving allegations in the ZOA’s Title VI complaint.  On behalf of the ZOA, I thank the OCR mediators we worked with, who facilitated the entire mediation process. We also appreciate Hillel’s input and support.  And we thank the many Jewish students who came forward to report to the ZOA the very troubling problems they were facing at Brooklyn College.  Without their courage and conviction, and their support of the ZOA’s legal action, the important steps forward that Brooklyn College has taken would probably never have been achieved.”

 Here is the text of President Gould’s statement:

STATEMENT OF PRESIDENT GOULD REGARDING THE

FEBRUARY 7, 2013 BDS FORUM

 Last summer, I had the opportunity to meet with Melanie Goldberg, Michael Ziegler, and Ari Ziegler, who, along with Yvonne Juris, were students at Brooklyn College who were forced to leave the BDS event sponsored by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) club and held in the Student Center on February 7, 2013.  While I had expressed my regrets to the students in person and in individual letters to them, I wish to publicly apologize on behalf of Brooklyn College to Melanie, Michael, Ari and Yvonne over the treatment they received. 

 The students were removed from the event based upon allegations by Carlos Guzman, an event organizer not affiliated with Brooklyn College, that the students were being disruptive and passing out flyers.  As I stated last spring in a campus-wide communication, based upon the findings of a two-month CUNY investigation of what occurred and interviews with more than 40 witnesses, Mr. Guzman’s allegations proved to be false.  The CUNY investigation concluded that “there was no justification for the removal of the four students.”  Melanie, Michael, Ari and Yvonne had every right to retain the papers  they were holding and to remain at the event, as they had not done anything to give rise to a reasonable belief that a disturbance was about to erupt.

 The CUNY report stated that a plausible inference could be drawn that Mr. Guzman was motivated by political viewpoint inasmuch as he was apparently aware of the views of Melanie Goldberg from a prior event sponsored by the same student club.  The CUNY report went on to state that it could not draw that inference with sufficient confidence to make a definitive finding.  I was not present at the event.  However, it seems to me likely that Mr. Guzman sought the removal of these four students from the event because they held viewpoints contrary to those being promoted by the SJP.

 The CUNY report also concluded that administrators and public safety officers on site deferred to Mr. Guzman, rather than determining independently if the students had disrupted the event. Deferring to Mr. Guzman’s assessment was clearly wrong, and I have conveyed this judgment to the administrators involved in the incident.

 Regrettably, without independent verification of what actually occurred, the Brooklyn College spokesperson released an erroneous statement to the press after the BDS event, about the removal of the four students.  The college spokesperson told some reporters that the four students were being disruptive, which turned out to be false.

 In the aftermath of the BDS forum and the CUNY report, members of the college administration, the Policy Council, and student government leaders worked extensively to develop and institutionalize new policies and guidelines for the management of public events hosted by student clubs, in order to ensure that such a situation does not occur again.  The new policies and guidelines for student-hosted events address event planning, registration, press access, and administrative oversight and responsibility.  Beginning with the fall 2013 semester, these new policies and guidelines for student club events are fully operational and can be accessed on the following websites:

 http://students.brooklyn.cuny.edu/pdf/epi.pdf

 http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/off_communications/MediaAccessGuidelines.pdf

 Since its founding in 1930, Brooklyn College has excelled at providing a high-quality, affordable education to students of diverse backgrounds.  The remarkable diversity of our student body, faculty, and staff is in fact one of our most important assets, and we celebrate it. The diversity of our community means, of course, that there will be diversity of viewpoints about a wide range of issues and topics, some of which may be highly controversial.  At all times, and however much we disagree with one another, we must be a place where every member of our community – students, faculty, and staff – feels welcome and is treated with dignity, regardless of his or her background, beliefs or faith.  Brooklyn College is an institution committed to fostering an engaged and civil learning environment where all views may be expressed without fear of intimidation or reprisal.  Brooklyn College will not tolerate any form of discrimination, including among others, discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or age.  We will be steadfast in our commitment to ensure that all events on our campus transpire in an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect.