California faculty vote to suspend Israel study abroad program

A metal placard on a stone wall says "Pitzer College, established 1963."

Faculty at California’s Pitzer College have voted to suspend discriminatory study abroad in Israel programs. (Pitzer College Facebook)

In an effort to fight discrimination against their students, faculty at Pitzer College have called for the suspension of study abroad in Israel programs with the University of Haifa.

Voting by a 4-to-1 ratio in favor, faculty said the programs should be curtailed “until the Israeli state ends its restrictions on entry to Israel based on ancestry and/or political speech” and until Israel “adopts policies granting visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities on a fully equal basis as it does to Israeli universities.”

Professors also rejected their administration’s move to nullify a resolution passed by Pitzer’s student senate last year in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian rights.

In what the board of trustees admitted was an unprecedented step after decades of respecting student autonomy, it had rescinded the students’ vote to suspend purchases from corporations that profit from Israel’s occupation after coming under fire from Israel lobby organizations, according to civil rights group Palestine Legal.

Pitzer is one of several campuses in the Claremont Colleges consortium in southern California.

Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) said it received the news of the two motions “with great joy.”

“The University of Haifa program is deeply problematic and it is imperative that the colleges withdraw this program from their study abroad curriculums,” the student group said.

Such study abroad programs are part of an Israeli propaganda effort “designed to give international students a ‘positive experience’ of Israel, whitewashing its occupation and denial of Palestinian rights,” according to PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

They also violate equal rights clauses because Israel regularly denies entry to persons on the basis of their Palestinian, Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim ancestry.

By encouraging Pitzer students to participate in the Israel program, “the college has been consciously supporting these discriminatory practices,” Claremont SJP noted.

Israel’s racial profiling has a “discriminatory impact on students participating in educational programs,” while the 2017 passage of its anti-BDS law “means that US students could be prohibited entry into the country for an act of political expression that is fully protected under the US Constitution,” warned the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI).

The group recently launched a call to students and educators not to support or participate in Israel study abroad programs.

“Israeli universities have deep ties to Israeli military occupation and colonization throughout Palestine and are boycottable for this reason alone,” Heike Schotten, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a member of USACBI’s organizing collective, told The Electronic Intifada.

“But Israel’s racist and ideological litmus tests that determine who may – and may not – pass through Israeli-controlled borders means that any US study abroad program in Israel would subject US students to this racist and politically objectionable discrimination,” Schotten added.

“We wouldn’t allow our own students to be treated this way on our campuses. We shouldn’t allow Israel to treat our students this way in an attempt to study at theirs.”

In a statement condemning the Pitzer faculty vote, the University of Haifa alleged that its campus – which is inaccessible to the vast majority of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and from elsewhere around the world – is evidence of Israel’s “commitment to an open and inclusive society in which multiculturalism and interfaith tolerance thrive.”

The university touted the fact that 25 percent of its students are Palestinian citizens of Israel.

But it failed to note that Israel has never allowed the establishment of an Arabic-language university – forcing many Palestinian citizens of Israel who want to pursue higher education in their native language, rather than in Hebrew, to leave their homeland.

Israel supporters have slammed the faculty’s votes and are demanding that the university block implementation of the motions, claiming that they single out Israel and promote “bigotry and anti-Semitism.”

“Falling down on the job”

The move by Pitzer’s faculty to suspend programs with Israeli institutions “is particularly significant because in general, administrations are falling down on the job here,” New York University professor Andrew Ross told The Electronic Intifada. Ross is also a member of USACBI’s organizing collective.

If universities are willing to violate their own basic principles by promoting programs with Israeli institutions in which not all students can participate, Ross said, “it’s up to faculty and students to be the conscience of these institutions.”

For a smaller college like Pitzer, “it does seem possible that faculty votes have a certain amount of power and consequence. It’s not the case everywhere, but they’ve managed to prevail in the face of administrative efforts to suppress this vote,” he added.

The Pitzer faculty motions come on the heels of recent attacks on two instructors at the University of Michigan who refused to write recommendation letters for students wishing to join study abroad programs in Israel.

Under pressure from Israel lobby groups who smeared professor John Cheney-Lippold’s refusal to write a recommendation letter as anti-Semitism, the University of Michigan took away his merit pay raise and sabbatical and charged him with interfering in the student’s request with his own “personal views and politics.”

University of Michigan graduate student instructor Lucy Peterson, who pledged to support the call to boycott Israeli institutions, also faces potential discipline for refusing to write a recommendation letter.

“The two professors at the University of Michigan began by setting us all an example of our proper conduct in relation to education abroad programs in Israel,” said David Lloyd, a professor at the University of California, Riverside.

“They refused to collaborate with them by writing letters, but there are other ways of not cooperating – including pressuring the institution not to participate in them,” Lloyd told The Electronic Intifada.

Lloyd said that his students who have traveled to Palestine for research or just to visit family have been routinely detained, interrogated and strip-searched.

He added that students understand that they can “put themselves in danger by applying to such programs, so they avoid them.”

Lloyd called the move by Pitzer’s faculty a “major advance” for the academic boycott movement.

He added, “it’s time for some of the larger academic institutions to take the right kind of ethical stand now.”

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This is what Israel's afraid of. Increasingly, the apartheid nature of the Zionist state comes into conflict with the values of American students and faculty. It's impossible for people of conscience, with a basic command of the facts, to continue collaborating with Israeli institutions. And that's the worst nightmare troubling the violent sleep of Netanyahu and his cohorts: millions of honest people walking away from this vile racist project. Israel doesn't fear armies- apart from Hezbollah, it seems- nor does it fear imminent economic collapse. It fears desertion from its own captive ranks. The rising disgust for its oppressive actions coupled with a simple insistence on justice represent a greater threat than any found on a battlefield or board room. In a sense, Israeli propaganda has a point in labeling activists for Palestinian rights "terrorists". Because the prospect of losing the war for control of this narrative genuinely terrifies Zionists. If they can't bribe bully bluster and smear their way to shutting down opposition voices around the world, they know that time is against them. More and more people are standing up for Palestine, and in doing so successfully, they're demonstrating how hollow are many of Israel's threats. In the end, what are they going to do- jail us? Bomb us? Throw us into concentration camps? No. In this respect, we remain free. So people are losing their fear of Israel.

When lies no longer do the job, only the truth is left. And the truth for the apartheid regime is terrifying.

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Israel will punish all associated with this protest.
At the first sign of retaliation, Resist more and make it go public.
It is time that America ended its status as a suberb of Israel.

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I strongly support Pitzer Colleges decision to take a principled stance on Israel. It's great news. I hope it serves to encourage other Colleges and Universities to do the same thing. The University of Michigan, for example, needs to learn from such example.

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Israel and the rest of the world.
It is like the fox and the hen house.
The results are always better
If the fox is never on the inside.

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).