In a letter today to Brooklyn College President Karen L. Gould, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) criticized the college for rehiring Kristofer Petersen-Overton to teach a graduate course on the Middle East this spring. After Mr. Petersen-Overton was initially hired, the college was provided with evidence regarding his publications and professional background, showing that Mr. Petersen-Overton was likely to sacrifice accurate and honest scholarship to promote his own particular ideological agenda against Israel. Mr. Petersen-Overton's syllabus for the course confirmed that the course would be ideologically driven, rather than based on factual accuracy and historical truth. Within days – without carefully reviewing the evidence, and in response to Petersen-Overton's supporters who decried a supposed denial of his academic freedom – Brooklyn College rehired Mr. Petersen-Overton. In its letter regarding the rehiring, the ZOA urged Brooklyn College to review carefully the legitimate concerns that have been raised about Mr. Petersen Overton's scholarship and the appropriateness of his appointment to teach a course on the Middle East. If the college tragically decides that he should teach the class despite the evidence of his anti-Israel agenda, the ZOA urged President Gould to review his syllabus "to make sure that truth will prevail in his classroom, not hatred and lies against the Jewish State of Israel." (Clickhere to read the ZOA's letter.)
The ZOA's letter was hand-delivered to President Gould today while a procession of students and community members delivered a petition to the president, affirming their concerns about the college's decision to rehire Mr. Petersen-Overton. When Brooklyn College initially hired him, graduate students at the college reviewed his publications and course syllabus and were horrified to discover that they were unfairly biased, demonizing Israel as the ruthless oppressor and portraying the Palestinian Arabs as the innocent victims. The students brought their concerns to the attention of the head of the political science department, and also to their assemblyman, Dov Hikind, who also happens to be an alumnus of Brooklyn College.
New York Assemblyman Hikind conducted his own research and review of Mr. Petersen-Overton's professional background and published works, and came to the same conclusions about Mr. Peterson-Overton's suitability to teach a Middle East Studies class at Brooklyn College. The assemblyman conveyed his concerns in a detailed letter to President Gould, in which he expressed alarm about "the slanted nature of [Mr. Petersen-Overton's] works, as well as what can only be termed as his use of hateful invectives against the State of Israel." Assemblyman Hikind also noted Mr. Petersen-Overton's work background as a research assistant for the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which Mr. Hikind described as "a viciously anti-Israel organization notorious for its factual distortions and coverage of Israel, although it bills itself as a guardian of Palestinian civil liberties." As for Mr. Petersen-Overton's syllabus for the course at Brooklyn College, Assemblyman Hikind stated that it "reads like a Who's who of Palestinian sympathizers and historical revisionists."
Brooklyn College rescinded Mr. Petersen-Overton's teaching appointment. But within a few days, after political pressure claiming a violation of his academic freedom, the College reinstated him.
In its letter today to President Gould, the ZOA asked: "Why did Brooklyn College so quickly undo it decision to rescind Mr. Petersen-Overton's appointment, before it could possibly have examined the legitimate concerns that have been raised and ensured that they are addressed? The ZOA challenged the notion that Mr. Petersen-Overton's academic freedom was at stake: "Academic freedom does not mean that a professor is free to use his classroom to promote falsehoods. Academic freedom would not permit a physics teacher to promote the falsehood that e = mc³. If students are going to examine Israel, Zionism and the conflict in the Middle East . . . then [they] should be given the facts and the context, and they should at least have the benefit of the full range of legitimate scholarly views about those topics."
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein urged Brooklyn College President Karen L. Gould to listen to the legitimate concerns that have been raised about Kristofer Petersen-Overton, and make sure that they are adequately addressed: "A professor certainly has the right to his opinions and personal views and to share them with his students. But the professor's academic freedom can never be at the expense of the truth. Until Brooklyn College is assured that Mr. Petersen-Overton is 100 percent capable of promoting the truth, not falsehoods, in the course, and of providing context to a complicated subject like the Middle East, then Brooklyn College should not permit Mr. Petersen-Overton to step foot in the classroom as a teacher of its students."