New York – In a letter to Brooklyn College President Dr. Karen L. Gould, Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) decried the recent appointment of Adjunct Professor Kristofer J. Petersen-Overton who was hired to teach a Politics of the Middle East graduate course this spring at the College.
Several concerned Brooklyn College political science graduate students, contacted the Assemblyman who, in turn, wrote to Dr. Gould after reviewing the grossly biased course syllabus and researching Petersen-Overton’s professional background and published works.
Mr. Petersen-Overton has authored a number of anti-Israel papers, including one entitled, Inventing the Martyr: Martyrdom as Palestinian National Signifier, which endeavors to justify Palestinian suicide bombings as a means of “struggle and sacrifice” against “Israeli occupation.”
“I would love to ask this professor ‘do you condone suicide bombings and the killings of innocents in the name of Palestinian nationalism?’” Hikind said. “And I can guarantee that he would refuse to answer my question.”
A student added, “When a graduate course titled “Politics of the Middle East” states explicitly on its syllabus that it will not include details on Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, and says it will focus specifically on Israel/Palestine — any thinking student is disturbed by the subterfuge.”
On his webpage (http://gc-cuny.academia.edu/kpetersenoverton), Mr. Petersen-Overton writes, “I worked for some time as a human rights activist in Gaza and the West Bank and I still maintain close contact with the Palestinian activist community.” Mr. Petersen-Overton’s work history also includes experience with the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. The Centre is well-known for its anti-Israel agenda, for publishing reports lacking accuracy and integrity condemning Israeli policy, and for describing Israeli military operations as “war crimes.”
“How can students in the class be assured of a balanced course when Mr. Petersen’s writings, affiliations, and syllabus make it clear that he identifies strongly and one-sidedly with the Palestinian narrative?” asked Judith Leibowitz, an Honors program student at Brooklyn College and a Fellow Representative for CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America).
“Taxpayer dollars should not be used to pay an overt supporter of terrorism to teach at Brooklyn College,” Hikind remarked. “This professor is better suited for a teaching position at the Islamic University of Gaza, not at CUNY.”
The text of the Assemblyman’s letter is below:
January 24, 2011
Dr. Karen L. Gould
2900 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11210
Dear Dr. Gould:
I am writing to express my deep reservations about the recent appointment of Adjunct Professor Kristofer J. Petersen-Overton who is scheduled to teach a Politics of the Middle East graduate course this spring at Brooklyn College.
In reviewing Mr. Petersen-Overton’s writings and professional background, I was alarmed about the slanted nature of his works, as well as what can only be termed as his use of hateful invectives against the State of Israel. Mr. Petersen-Overton’s curriculum vitae reflects service as a research assistant for the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 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.
Of great concern to me is one of Mr. Petersen-Overton’s papers entitled Inventing the Martyr: Martyrdom as Palestinian National Signifier, which endeavors to justify and condone Palestinian suicide bombings as a means of “struggle and sacrifice” (p. 3) against “Israeli occupation” (p. 2). Mr. Peterson-Overton writes, “Although the martyr has come to define not only innocent non-participants killed in the crossfire, but also those who die voluntarily [emphasis his] for the nation as a human bomb, both are equally honored by virtue of their death alone—a phenomenon that speaks volumes about the symbolic importance of martyrdom in Palestine” (p. 19).
He further states, “I believe the act of martyrdom has become an incredibly powerful national signifier. . . .I argue in this final section that martyrdom in Palestine is viewed as yet another conscious and unequivocal form of sacrifice for the nation” (p. 19). In short, Mr. Peterson-Overton romanticizes the notion of suicide bombings and the bombers themselves, and undermines the only democracy in the Middle East.
Moreover, Mr. Petersen-Overton’s course syllabus reads like a Who’s Who of Palestinian sympathizers and historical revisionists, with no equitable counterbalance. Titles include: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappé; Neve Gordon’s From Colonization to Separation: Exploring the Structure of Israel’s Occupation; and Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation to name a few.
The responsibility of a true academic is to remain objective in imparting information and to allow students to draw their own conclusions. Instead, Mr. Petersen-Overton’s required and recommended reading selections intentionally stifle the passionate discourse of students who would challenge his political ideologies.
Ironically, although Mr. Petersen-Overton was hired to teach a course on Middle East politics, his syllabus indicates that the course will be conducted at two levels, the first being “a macro level which focuses on the Arab Middle East in general—and does not include details about Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan or Pakistan.” It is disingenuous for Mr. Petersen-Overton to teach a course on the Middle East while blatantly disregarding the above-referenced countries which have greatly impacted the region’s politics.
Mr. Petersen-Overton’s personal biases should not be allowed to pollute the academic realm, nor should taxpayer dollars be devoted to promoting his one-sided agenda. I ask you, Dr. Gould, is Mr. Petersen-Overton, an overt supporter of terrorism, really the best candidate Brooklyn College could find to teach this course? Surely, you must concede that the answer is a resounding “no.” Indeed, Mr. Petersen-Overton would be better suited for a teaching position at the Islamic University of Gaza.
Member of Assembly
cc: CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein
Graduate Deputy & Associate Professor Mark Ungar, Department of Political Science, Brooklyn College