Faculty Vote to End Israel Study Abroad
Pitzer professors seek to suspend the college's program at University of Haifa as study abroad becomes target for supporters of Israel boycott.
By Elizabeth Redden
November 28, 2018
Faculty at Pitzer College voted earlier this month to suspend the college’s study abroad program in Israel.
Pitzer faculty say the question will next go to the College Council for a vote.
Study abroad programs have increasingly become a target of the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The Pitzer vote follows two widely reported instances in which a professor and graduate instructor at the University of Michigan cited their support for the academic boycott in declining to write letters of recommendation for students seeking to study abroad at Israeli universities.
Advocates for ending study abroad programs in Israel argue that academic boycotts are a nonviolent mechanism for resisting Israeli policies that infringe on the freedoms of Palestinians, including academic freedoms, and that American universities shouldn’t be complicit in Israeli visa and border control policies that could prevent all of their students from participating in study abroad programs there.
Opponents of the academic boycott argue that Israel is being unfairly singled out for special scrutiny and that restricting Israel study abroad programs limits students’ learning opportunities and violates their academic freedom.
A Pitzer Student Senate resolution introduced at the organization’s Nov. 11 meeting describes the faculty vote to suspend the college’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa as “an advancement of a political agenda at the expense of students who seek opportunities in Middle East/North African Studies, Arabic, Hebrew, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and the intercultural relations of Israeli and Palestinian ethnicities.”
The resolution says that "only the University of Haifa study abroad program was called into question without the same standards of review being applied to any other study abroad program" and it “denounces the faculty’s desire to suspend the study abroad program at the University of Haifa and the Faculty’s decision to act unilaterally without regard to student voice.” Student Senate representatives did not respond to inquiries about the status of the resolution, but the status on the Senate website is variously listed as "proposed"/"pending approval."
A Pitzer spokeswoman confirmed that the Israel study abroad program is not currently suspended, and said the college administration is declining to comment while the issue is considered through Pitzer's governance channels.
“The college community of students, faculty and staff are deliberating the issue through Pitzer’s shared governance process,” the spokeswoman, Anna Chang, said via email. “The college do not plan to release any formal statements until the process is completed.”
Daniel Segal, the professor who put forward the resolution, said it is his understanding that it will be debated at a Thursday meeting of the College Council and voted on by faculty and voting student delegates at a subsequent meeting in January. He said he cannot say for sure whether the Pitzer administration or board can legally overrule the council but that his expectation is that its vote will be binding. "I do not think there has been a single time when College Council has made a curricular decision that is clearly within their purview that has not then become policy," he said.
The resolution, which Segal said was approved by "at least" a four-to-one ratio in a collegewide faculty meeting earlier this month, calls for suspending the college's exchange program at the University of Haifa "until (a) the Israeli state ends its restrictions on entry to Israel based on ancestry and/or political speech and (b) the Israeli state adopts policies granting visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities on a fully equal basis as it does to Israeli universities."
Part of what is at issue here -- per clause (a) of the resolution -- is a 2017 law barring entry to Israel for foreign supporters of boycotts. An American student with a visa to pursue a master’s degree at Hebrew University of Jerusalem was denied entry to Israel under the law earlier this fall on the basis of her past presidency of a Students for Justice for Palestine chapter at the University of Florida. The student, Lara Alqasem, appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, which ruled that her “actions do not raise satisfactory cause to bar her entry to Israel” and permitted her to enter after she spent more than two weeks in an airport detention center.
Also at issue is the reported differential treatment of individuals of Muslim, Arab or Middle Eastern origin by Israeli border control authorities and -- per clause (b) of the resolution -- what scholarly groups have reported to be an increase in visa denials for foreign faculty seeking to teach at Palestinian universities in the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel controls entry to. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel issued a statement from Samia Botmeh, a dean of Birzeit University, in the West Bank, in which she praised the Pitzer faculty vote and said that foreign faculty are being forced out of the West Bank and would-be international students denied entry.
“We shouldn’t be listing as an approved program, meaning we endorse it, a program which in practice will discriminate against some of our students on the basis of ancestry and/or legitimate political speech,” said Segal, the author of the resolution and the Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and Professor of History. “We should on the other hand be good allies for colleagues who are suffering from grave violations of their academic freedom and who have asked us for their support. It’s the right thing to do to oppose discrimination against some of our students and it’s the right thing to do to support academic freedom of those whose academic freedom is being violated."
Faculty also approved another resolution at their meeting -- also put forward by Segal -- objecting to a move by the college's Board of Trustees to nullify a resolution to divest from certain companies associated with Israel approved by the Student Senate in April 2017. “Independent of agreeing or disagreeing with that resolution, we the Faculty object to the president and trustees singling out this one issue as a basis for not accepting the Senate’s longstanding autonomy in controlling its funds, in the context of Pitzer’s governance system,” the second resolution stated.
Controversy over the trustees' actions in that instance led to the creation of a working group on Israel-Palestine comprised of students, faculty and trustees. The working group produced a report that was fairly neutral on the question of study abroad, concluding that "too little is known about the precise ways in which the Israeli travel ban [on boycott supporters] would potentially affect staff, students or faculty wishing to participate in our institutional relationship with the University of Haifa" and that "the working group sees the educational benefit of facilitating experiential learning around Israel-Palestine issues and does not wish to create a barrier to study in the region."
The working group’s chairperson, Claudia Strauss, said in an interview Tuesday that she voted in favor of the resolution to suspend the Haifa study abroad program. “I actually went through a change in my own thinking about it after we issued the report,” said Strauss, a professor of anthropology. “In general, I’m not in favor of academic boycotts or limiting study opportunities. My initial thinking about this was I’d like our students to have an opportunity to go over and see things for themselves. But Lara’s case changed my mind about that. I don’t want our students to possibly be detained for their political views.”
Another Pitzer professor, Albert Wachtel, argued that the opposite lesson should be taken from Alqasem’s case. “This student was admitted and is studying in Jerusalem,” said Wachtel, a professor of creative studies. “If she’s an indication of anything, she’s an indication that democracy works in Israel and that its courts balance things out and undertake to negate political decisions which it regards as unacceptable. That’s big. That’s very desirable.”
Segal countered that the Supreme Court decision didn't overturn the law restricting entry to foreign advocates of boycotts; rather the court concluded that Alqasem herself did not meet the bar for refusing entry. “Clearly, we have a problem at the college if we have a program that we list as approved and student A chooses it and can go and student B chooses it and student B has been a prominent member of Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine and cannot go into the program. Then we are approving a program that discriminates on the basis of perfectly legitimate political speech,” Segal said.
The vote by Pitzer faculty was condemned Tuesday by the AMCHA Initiative, an organization that tracks what it views as anti-Israel actions on campuses and opposes the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
“The Pitzer faculty’s attempt to implement academic BDS on campus and subvert the educational opportunities and academic freedom of their own U.S. colleagues and students is absolutely reprehensible,” the group’s executive director, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, said in a written statement. “These Pitzer faculty members have abrogated their most basic professional responsibility -- to promote the academic welfare of their students.”
AMCHA called on Pitzer president Melvin L. Oliver to “immediately condemn this action and publicly commit to ensuring that no Pitzer student will be impeded from studying about or in Israel and that faculty will not be permitted to implement an academic boycott of Israel at Pitzer.”
“EUROPEAN JEWS FOR A JUST PEACE”
Open Letter: Supporting Human Rights is not Antisemitic
17. Januar 2019
More than 90 renowned Jewish scholars and intellectuals – including Noam Chomsky, Eva Illouz, Alfred Grosser, Moshe Zimmermann, Judith Butler and Micha Brumlik – have signed an open letter condemning the attacks against our association, Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East, and calling on German civil society to guarantee freedom of expression for those who oppose the oppression of the Palestinian people.
Supporting Human Rights is not Antisemitic
In recent years the Israeli government and its supporters have tried to stifle debate both abroad and domestically about its systematic oppression of the Palestinian people and the catastrophic impacts of the 51-year-old military occupation. Civil society organizations in Israel and around the world supporting Palestinian human rights are cynically labeled by Israeli government officials as enemies of the state, traitors, and, increasingly, as antisemitic. Spaces for critical engagement are shrinking.
These worrisome developments have not bypassed Germany. We fully support the efforts of German politicians and civil society organizations to combat all contemporary forms of antisemitism – a much-needed endeavour in view of the rise of nationalist parties and movements just 73 years after the defeat of the Nazi state. Yet, under the pretense of protecting Jewish life, attacks against organizations and individuals who show solidarity with the Palestinian fight for equality and liberation have become commonplace. Free speech on Palestinian human rights is infringed through demands to prevent discussions in public spaces, public smear campaigns, and most recently, legislation.
The attacks against the Germany-based group „Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East“ (Jewish Voice) are emblematic of this global process and have drawn us together out of concern. The group, that counts among its members also recent Israeli migrants to Germany, has unequivocally raised its voice in support of peace and justice in Israel and Palestine and has consistently condemned manifestations of racism and antisemitism, including cases where they are disguised as critique of Israel. Nonetheless, as a result of a smear campaign by right-wing journalists and organizations, the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft closed the account of the group in 2016, a decision the bank overturned shortly after.
The pressure on a German bank to force the closure of an account of a Jewish organization — for the first time since the Federal Republic replaced the National Socialist regime — has continued unabated ever since. The management of the bank has recently decided, in compliance with the government commissioner for anti-Semitism, Dr. Felix Klein, to seek an advisory opinion in order to decide whether Jewish Voice should be “classified as antisemitic“. The German historian, Dr. Juliane Wetzel, took on the task to produce such a report, in accordance with the highly-politicized and flawed IHRA Definition of Antisemitism. This document can be dangerously instrumentalized to afford the Israeli State immunity against criticism for grave and widespread violations of human rights and international law, criticism which is considered legitimate and needed when directed at other countries.
This move is alarming: representatives from the German state, finance sector and academia have come together to make a judgement about whether or not a group of Jews and Israelis, many of them descendants of Holocaust survivors, are antisemitic. For good reasons, members of Jewish Voice refuse to collaborate with such a ridiculous and offensive undertaking.
As Jewish and Israeli scholars and intellectuals, dedicated to the fight against Antisemitism and all forms of racism, we condemn the ongoing campaign to silence the Jewish Voice and its members, regardless of whether we agree with all of their positions or not.
We call upon the members of German civil society to fight antisemitism relentlessly while maintaining a clear distinction between criticism of the state of Israel, harsh as it may be, and antisemitism, and to preserve free speech for those who reject Israeli repression against the Palestinian people and insist that it comes to an end.
We stand for human rights.
We stand in solidarity with the Jewish Voice.
Prof. Gadi Algazy, Historian, Tel Aviv University
Dr. Meir Amor, Associate Professor, Department of sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
Prof. Gil Anidjar, Department of Religion, Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University, New York
Avigail Arnheim, Director of The Felicia Blumenthal Music Center Association and International Music Festival Tell Aviv
Dr. Yuval Ayalon, Department of History, Philosophy and Judaic Studies, The Open University of Israel
Dr. Tamar Amar-Dahl, Historian, Berlin
Prof. Outi Bat-El, Department of Linguistics, Tel-Aviv University
Dr. Shaul Bar-Haim, Sociology Department, University of Essex
Dr. Moshe Behar, Arabic & Middle Eastern Studies, School of Arts, Languages & Cultures
The University of Manchester
Prof. Zvi Ben-Dor, Department of History, NYU
Smadar Ben-Natan, adv., PhD Candidate Tel-Aviv University, Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley
Dr. Ayelet Ben-Yishai, Chair, Department of English, University of Haifa
Prof. Dr. Gabriele Bergers, Department of Oncology, University of Leuven
Prof. Jerome Bourdon, Department of Communication, Tel Aviv University
Prof. Daniel Boyarin, Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture, UC Berkeley
Prof. Judith Butler, Comperative Literature and Program for Clinical theory, UC Berkeley
Assistant Prof. Samuel Hayim Brody, Religious Studies, University of Kansas
Prof. emeritus José Brunner, Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, The Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University
Prof. emeritus Dr. Micha Brumlik, Fritz Bauer Institut, FfM
Prof. Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, American Jewish University
Prof. emeritus Noam Chomsky, MIT, Laureate Professor, University of Arizona
Prof. Yossi Dahan, Law Prof. and head of the human rights program, College of Law & Business, Ramat Gan, Israel
Prof. emerita Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, Comparative Literature, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Prof. David Enoch, Department of Philosophy and Law, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Prof. emeritus. Emmanuel Farjoun, Hebrew Universitiy, Jerusaelm
Prof. emeritus Gideon Freudenthal, Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University
Prof. Alon Friedman, MD, PhD, Denis Chair in Epilepsy Research, Department of Neuroscience and Paediatrics, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS
Dr. Yoav Galai, Lecturer in Global Political Communication, Department of Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London
Prof. Katharina Galor, Jewish Studies, Brown University, USA
Dr. Amira Gelblum, Historian, Open University, Israel
Prof. Rachel Giora, Department of Linguistics, Tel-Aviv University
Prof. Amos Goldberg, Former Chair of the Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry Department, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Prof. Dr. Alfred Grosser, Paris
Associate Prof. Ran Greenstein, Sociology Department, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Prof. Heidi Grunebaum, Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
Dr. Ilana Hammerman, Writer and Editor, Jerusalem
Prof. Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College Hanover, USA
Prof. Hanan Hever, Department of Comparative Literature and Jewish Studies, Yale University
Prof. Eva Illouz, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Dr. Anne Karpf, Reader at London Metropolitan University
Prof. Hannah Kasher, Department of Jewish Thought, Bar-Ilan University
Prof. emeritus Michael Keren, Department of Economics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Prof. Brian Klug, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford
Prof. Francesca Klug, Visiting Professor at LSE Human Rights
Dr. Hagar Kotef, SOAS, University of London
Prof. Chana Kronfeld, Hebrew and Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley
Kuper Richard, European Politics, University of Hertfordshire (retired)
Nitzan Lebovic, Associate Professor of History, Apter Chair of Holocaust Studies and Ethical Values, Lehigh University, PA, USA
Prof. Gerardo Leibner, Historian, Tel Aviv University
Dr. Andre Levy, Sociology and Anthropology, Ben Gurion University
Dr. Gal Levy, Democracy Studies, Open University, Israel
Dr. Rachel Livne-Freudenthal, Leo Baeck Institut, Jerusalem
Prof. emeritus Moshé Machover, Professor of Philosophy, University of London
Ruchama Marton, MD, Founder and Honorary President of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel
Dr. Anat Matar, The Dept. of Philosophy, Tel Aviv University
Rela Mazali, Author, Independent Scholar, Activist.
Dr. Gilad Melzer, Culture Studies, Beit Berl College
Prof. emeritus Everett Mendelsohn, History of Science, Harvard University
Prof. emeritus Paul Mendes-Flohr, Jewish Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Prof. Isaac (Yanni) Nevo, Department of Philosophy, Ben Gurion University
Dr. Amos Noy, Culture Studies, Jerusalem
Orly Noy, Writer, Journalist and Translator, Jerusalem
Atalia Omer, Associate Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
Prof. Adi Ophir, Tel Aviv University
Maayan Padan, Gender Program, Ben-Gurion University
Prof. emerita Benita Parry, English and comparative literature University of Warwick, UK
Prof. Steven Robins, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Prof. Jacqueline Rose, Humanities and Co-Director, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, Birkbeck University of London
Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead, Department of Management, London School of Economics
Prof. Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Department of Jewish Philosophie and Talmud, Tel Aviv University
Prof. Michael Rothberg, English, Comparative Literature, and Holocaust Studies, UCLA
Dr. Sara Roy, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University
Prof. emeritus Donald Sassoon, Comparative European History, School of History Queen Mary, University of London
Dr. Kobi Snitz, Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institut, Rehovot
Professor Lynne Segal, Birkbeck College, The University of London
Dr. Itamar Shachar, Marie Curie Post-doctoral Fellow, Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam
Professor Avi Shlaim, St. Anthony College, The University of Oxford
Dr. Marcos Silber, Chairman Department of Jewish History, University of Haifa
Prof. Michael Steinberg, Department of History, Brown University
Lior Sternfeld, Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies, Penn State University
Prof. Adam Sutcliffe, European History, Department of History, King’s College London
Ilana Sumka, Founder, The Center for Jewish Nonviolence
Associate Professor Moshik Temkin, History and Public Policy, Harvard
Dr. Anya Topolski, Associate Professor Ethics and Political Philosophy, Radboud Universiteit, Nijmegen
Dr. Nadia Valman, English Department, Queen Mary, University of London
Prof. Dr. Roy Wagner, Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences, ETH Zürich
Dr. Elian Weizman, lecturer in Middle East politics, Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS, University of London
Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace, USA
Dr. Yair Wallach, Israeli Studies, SOAS, University of London
Dr. Noga Wolff, Political Sciences, College for Academic Studies, Or Yehuda, Israel
Prof. Haim Yacobi, Development Planing Unit, University College London
Prof. emeritus Moshe Zimmermann, Koebner Minerva Center for German History, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Prof. emeritus Moshe Zuckermann, Tel Aviv University
Institutional affiliation provided for identification purposes only