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Pro-Israel fliers confiscated at campus speech

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Fliers distributed by Binghamton University Jewish students outside a campus speech by a critic of Israel were collected and confiscated by event organizers during the event.

Students from the Hillel Jewish Student Union at Binghamton passed out information outside auditorium doors before a Nov. 10 speech by former Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney. The New York State university’s Hillel president, Rebecca Kohn, described the fliers as facts about Israel and Hamas and other points that they did not believe McKinney would address in her speech, which was titled "Black in America, Black in Palestine."

But before McKinney spoke, leaders of the Binghamton Political Initiative, a graduate-student organized group, asked that anyone who had received a Hillel flier should pass them to the end of the row so they could be collected.

Kohn also said that during the question period, those who asked questions critical of McKinney’s views were quickly cut off or embarrassed. For example, when one pro-Israel questioner briefly stuttered from nerves, McKinney held up the flier that Hillel passed out and said, “Do you need this?"

An article by Hillel describing the events of the McKinney speech was printed as a letter to the editor in the campus newspaper last Friday. Kohn said Hillel was reaching out to the Binghamton Political Initiative to discuss the event. The event was co-sponsored by the Multicultural Resource Center and other campus organizations.

A university spokeswoman said Tuesday that school administrators had met with the Hillel director to discuss Jewish student concerns and said the school hoped that students could work out the issue among themselves.

“While the University defends the right of event organizers to determine the content of their programs, we hope and expect that all attendees at events held on campus will be treated respectfully regardless as to the extent of their agreement with the program’s message," the university said in a statement. "When that does not occur, our response is to continue to work with students and student organizations to promote a more respectful community. Part of that work is helping students to develop the necessary tools to resolve disputes effectively amongst themselves." 

The statement also said that "student organizations are under no requirement to be neutral or balanced in their expressive activity and we have been made aware of concerns that the hosts of this event were not interested in presenting critiques of the guest speaker as part of the program.  At Binghamton University, as at most campuses, those who stand in disagreement with a program’s message certainly have many alternative avenues available to them to express their own viewpoints including hosting their own events, letter writing campaigns and rallies."

Kohn said that while the administration had met with the campus Hillel director, no one had met with any Jewish students. She said the university’s statement amounted to administrators saying that while they did not approve of the disrespect shown to attendees at the McKinney speech, they were not going to take any action.

McKinney, whose father famously blamed "J-E-W-S" when she was defeated in a race for re-election to her Atlanta-area congressional district in 2002, has most recently been involved in the Free Gaza movement. She was arrested last summer by Israel for attempting to break the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip and called Israel’s operation in Gaza "full-scale, outright genocide."

During her Binghamton speech, she made comparisons between Palestinians and blacks in America, and called Israel an apartheid state.

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