New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday spoke up for academic freedom amid controversy over an event at a public college, despite stressing his distaste for the cause at hand.
The speakers in question, Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, are prominant members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which advocates a commercial and academic boycott of Israel to try to influence its policy toward Palestinians.
Bloomberg stressed his support for Israel and said he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with the viewpoint espoused by the BDS movement, but added that he also very strongly agreed with an academic institution’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic of its choice. Also, “ideas that people find repugnant” are part of the academic discussion, he explained.
“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 told reporters at City Hall.
One city councilman suggested that he should withhold funding for Brooklyn College if Thursday’s event moves forward.
Bloomberg said politicians shouldn’t try to use their purse-string power to “micromanage” discourse at public institutions. Having the local politicians affect the content taught in state schools was not in the city’s best interests, he said. “I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.”
The event was sponsored partly by the political science department. In a statement, the college said it was planning other events in which different and opposing opinions about the sensitive topic would be presented and heard.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.