Brooklyn assemblyman Dov Hikind in 2012. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)
When Brooklyn College’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine announced it would be hosting a forum promoting the BDS movement, or the Palestinian call to boycott, sanction and divest from the state of Israel, and would be doing so with sponsorship from the school’s political science department, a who’s who of top New York Democrats snapped into action. In a strongly worded letter to Brooklyn College president Karen Gould, the self-described “progressives” demanded that the political science department withdraw its sponsorship of an event they cast as unacceptable. The signers included Representatives Jerrold Nadler, Nydia Velasquez and Hakeem Jeffries, as well as the progressive councilman Brad Lander and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is a front-runner in the race to be New York City’s next mayor.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg—a committed Zionist who has spoken in favor of Israeli military assaults on the Gaza Strip—reacted strongly against the letter. “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 remarked. Then, on February 6, most of the apparently humbled Democrats who lent their names to the letter retracted their demand for the Brooklyn College political science department to pull its sponsorship. Out of the letter’s nineteen original signers, seventeen withdrew their names, leaving only former city comptroller and mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson and State Assemblyman James Brennan as the outliers.
Thompson was, in fact, among the politicians who gathered on Brooklyn College’s campus on January 31 for a blustery press conference condemning Gould and the political science department for sponsoring the BDS panel. Among the indignant elected officials were major Democratic officials, including Assemblymembers Steve Cymbrowitz and Rhoda Jacobs, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who dispatched aides from his office to the anti-BDS press conference.
Before a crowd of camera people and reporters, Thompson railed, “This organization [the BDS movement] is one that expresses hate; is one that expresses opposition to Israel.” Next, New York City Councilman David Greenfield held forth until he was red in the face, calling BDS advocates members of a “hate-filled, anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist movement.”
“I wonder if the administration’s policies would have been different if the political science department had invited [former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard] David Duke. If David Duke were here I’m sure [Brooklyn College president Karen] Gould would be outside protesting as well.… We are talking about the potential of a second Holocaust.”
If the lawmakers had in fact gathered to take a principled stand against “hate” and “terrorism,” they chose a curious figure to stand behind. Indeed, the press conference was organized by a man who has been suspected by the FBI of involvement in several terrorist bombings and who was a top cadre in an organization currently identified by the FBI as a “violent extremist Jewish organization.” He is Dov Hikind, a Democratic State Asssemblyman who, despite his links to acts of terrorism and violence against racial minorities, has emerged as a political kingmaker in New York State politics. With his ability to deliver thousands of Russian and Orthodox Jewish votes to the candidates of his choice, often deciding hotly contested elections, Hikind had no trouble marshaling high-level opposition to Brooklyn College’s scheduled BDS event.