Is­rael de­bate causes rift at Pitzer

Fac­ulty vote to end study abroad pro­gram in a show of sup­port for Pales­tinian rights.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Teresa Watan­abe

Pitzer Col­lege fac­ulty have voted to sus­pend a study abroad pro­gram in Is­rael, spark­ing wide­spread con­tro­versy over what is be­lieved to be the na­tion’s first such cam­pus ac­tion in sup­port of Pales­tinian rights.

The pro­gram with the Univer­sity of Haifa is tiny — only 11 stu­dents have par­tic­i­pated since it be­gan in 2007 — but its po­ten­tial sus­pen­sion has sparked out­size re­sponse from those who hail it as a hu­man rights break­through and oth­ers who say it un­fairly sin­gles out Is­rael and de­nies aca­demic op­por­tu­ni­ties to Pitzer stu­dents.

Fac­ulty and stu­dents on a col­lege govern­ing coun­cil will vote next se­mes­ter on whether to sup­port last month’s fac­ulty de­ci­sion at the small liberal arts col­lege in Clare­mont. Last week, Pitzer Pres­i­dent Melvin L. Oliver con­demned the vote at the govern­ing coun­cil meet­ing, say­ing it was a re­pu­di­a­tion of the col­lege’s ed­u­ca­tional mis­sion to pro­mote in­ter­cul­tural un­der­stand­ing.

But Daniel Se­gal, the an­thro­pol­ogy and his­tory pro­fes­sor who spear­headed the mo­tion, said the col­lege should stand against Is­rael’s re­stric­tions on aca­demic ex­change, in­clud­ing a 2017 law to bar en­try to those who sup­port boy­cotts, di­vest­ment or sanc­tions against the Jewish state. The fac­ulty mo­tion calls for the study

abroad pro­gram to be re­sumed only af­ter Is­rael ends its en­try re­stric­tions based on “an­ces­try and/or po­lit­i­cal speech” and be­gins to grant visas for ex­changes to Pales­tinian univer­si­ties on a “fully equal ba­sis” to those it grants for ex­changes to Is­raeli ones.

Se­gal, who is Jewish, said his tra­di­tion’s ethics obliged him to sup­port the hu­man rights not only of Jews but of all peo­ple.

The re­cent fac­ulty vote marked the lat­est con­tro­versy at Pitzer over the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. Last year, the Pitzer Stu­dent Se­nate voted to bar the use of stu­dent funds for goods or ser­vices pro­vided by five firms, in­clud­ing Cater­pil­lar and Hewlett-Packard, that the stu­dents be­lieved were com­plicit in sup­press­ing Pales­tinian rights. But Oliver and col­lege trustees nul­li­fied the vote in what they ac­knowl­edged was an un­prece­dented move against stu­dent au­ton­omy.

The Pitzer fac­ulty also voted last month to op­pose that ac­tion by Oliver and the trustees.

Ron Robin, pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Haifa, said it was par­tic­u­larly ironic that fac­ulty chose to tar­get the study abroad pro­gram on his cam­pus be­cause it is the most di­verse in Is­rael, with the pro­por­tion of Arab stu­dents — 35% — higher than the Arab pop­u­la­tion in Is­rael at large. His said the univer­sity’s so­cial mis­sion is to cre­ate a broad mid­dle class in­clu­sive of all re­li­gions, races and eth­nic­i­ties.

“We have Jews and Arab fac­ulty and stu­dents co­ex­ist­ing, and this seems to con­tra­dict the nar­ra­tive about Is­rael as an apartheid state,” Robin said in an in­ter­view. “We hope we’re a crys­tal ball of what Is­raeli so­ci­ety could look like.”

Stu­dents at Pitzer haven’t made a lot of use of the pro­gram. None have par­tic­i­pated in it since 2016, a col­lege spokes­woman said.

Claire Wen­grod, a se­nior ma­jor­ing in po­lit­i­cal stud­ies and mem­ber of the col­lege Fac­ulty Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, said the pro­gram should re­main an op­tion for stu­dents. She and other stu­dent sen­a­tors are spon­sor­ing a res­o­lu­tion to op­pose sus­pen­sion of the pro­gram, crit­i­ciz­ing fac­ulty for not con­sult­ing stu­dents first. The Stu­dent Se­nate is set to vote Sun­day.

“I sup­port stu­dents hav­ing the choice where they want to study,” Wen­grod said. “I don’t think it’s right for the school or fac­ulty to pre­vent stu­dents from do­ing it.”

But Lea Kay­ali, pres­i­dent of Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine at the Clare­mont Col­leges con­sor­tium of Pitzer and four other un­der­grad­u­ate cam­puses, said her or­ga­ni­za­tion feels dif­fer­ently.

“We are re­ally ec­static to see the fac­ulty sup­port­ing Pales­tinian stu­dents and all those [af­fected] by Is­rael’s atro­cious border and visa poli­cies,” she said in an email. “For us, it is time that the col­lege stand in sup­port of stu­dents de­nied ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ences in oc­cu­pied Pales­tine.”

In the last two years, Is­rael’s re­stric­tions on visas have sharply de­creased the num­ber of in­ter­na­tional aca­demics at Pales­tinian univer­si­ties, jeop­ar­diz­ing their pro­grams, ac­cord­ing to the Com­mit­tee on Aca­demic Free­dom of the Mid­dle East Stud­ies Assn. of North Amer­ica. But the Is­raeli Supreme Court re­cently ruled that a stu­dent’s po­lit­i­cal views alone could not be used to deny en­try for study­ing in Is­rael.

Ad­vo­cates for Is­rael said they feared the Pitzer ac­tion could em­bolden fac­ulty on other cam­puses to fol­low suit. AMCHA Ini­tia­tive, a Cal­i­for­nia-based non­profit that fights anti-Semitism on col­lege cam­puses, this week launched a na­tional cam­paign with 100 other or­ga­ni­za­tions to urge col­lege lead­ers to con­demn fac­ulty who pro­mote aca­demic boy­cotts of Is­rael.

AMCHA or­ga­nized a sim­i­lar ef­fort in 2013 af­ter the Amer­i­can Stud­ies Assn. en­dorsed an aca­demic boy­cott of Is­rael.

“Cur­tail­ing stu­dent aca­demic free­dom and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons is rep­re­hen­si­ble and a very dan­ger­ous prece­dent,” said Tammi Ross­man-Ben­jamin, the non­profit’s di­rec­tor.

Oliver, in his re­marks to the col­lege coun­cil, said that Pitzer con­tin­ues ex­changes with coun­tries such as China and Nepal with “sig­nif­i­cant hu­man rights abuses.”

“We need to re­ject this re­stric­tion and dou­ble down on our en­gage­ment with com­mu­ni­ties we dis­agree with, whose po­lit­i­cal sys­tems we de­cry, and where dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias are en­demic,” he said.

Se­gal said con­cerns about sin­gling out Is­rael should not be used to im­pede so­cial jus­tice.

Pitzer Col­lege

A FAC­ULTY vote at Pitzer Col­lege to sus­pend a study abroad pro­gram in Is­rael marks the lat­est con­tro­versy at the school over the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian conf lict.

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