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November 27, 2018 3:27 pm

Pitzer College Condemned Over Faculty’s Vote to End Study Abroad Program in Israel

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

The Grove House and the Rodman Arboretum at Pitzer College. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A campus antisemitism watchdog group and the University of Haifa have condemned the faculty of Pitzer College for its decision to end a study abroad program in Israel for political reasons.

According to The Claremont Independent, the faculty at Pitzer — which is part of the Claremont Colleges in California– voted to end the program on Nov. 8 and expressed support for a previous Student Senate resolution that endorsed boycotting Israel.

The faculty motion called for “suspension of the College’s exchange with Haifa University, 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.”

Regarding the Student Senate resolution, the faculty condemned a decision by the Board of Trustees to nullify it, saying, “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.”

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The Claremont branch of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) greeted the faculty motion “with great joy.”

“On November 8th, the faculty of the college decided to listen to student voices — to support the call for justice, respect and dignified life through Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement,” SJP stated. “The faculty motions are two important and crucial milestones in the path towards justice for Palestinians, and we hope that the Claremont student populace supports them with the utmost enthusiasm.”

A petition has been started in protest of the faculty motions, stating in part, “As strong supporters of free speech and academic freedom on campus, we are deeply troubled by the recent vote by members of the Pitzer Faculty calling for an end to the College’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa.”

A new Student Senate resolution condemning the faculty motion has also been introduced. It points out, “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.”

The resolution says that the motion “constitutes an abuse of power and rebuke of Pitzer’s tradition of shared governance.”

In response to the Pitzer faculty’s motion, University of Haifa President Ron Robin issued a statement saying, “The University of Haifa is highly disappointed that Pitzer College’s faculty has voted to suspend the school’s study abroad relationship with the University of Haifa. While we support the values of freedom of speech and academic freedom, we oppose the BDS movement against Israel as well as boycotts targeting any individual or institution on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, or other discriminatory factor.”

“As Pitzer’s Student Senate articulated in a powerful resolution,” he added, “the faculty’s decision is ‘a flagrant 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.'”

“Indeed, Israel’s commitment to an open and inclusive society in which multiculturalism and interfaith tolerance thrive is no more evident than on the University of Haifa campus, where an approximately 25-percent-Arab student body exceeds the 20-percent-Arab population of the country as a whole,” the statement said.

Robin also slammed the Pitzer faculty for treating Israel unfairly, saying, “Importantly, the Student Senate also noted that Pitzer College subjected its relationship with University of Haifa to a double standard vis-à-vis its review process for other study abroad programs. We invite all who have any questions about University of Haifa to come visit the University themselves and draw their own conclusions about our academic community.”

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin — director of the campus antisemitism monitoring group AMCHA Initiative — also condemned the faculty motion, saying it was part of a larger campaign against the Jewish state.

“For years the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel — which coordinates the academic boycott of Israel as part of the larger BDS movement — has implied its target is only Israeli universities and scholars,” she said. “Faculty who implement PACBI’s boycott are directly harming and curtailing the rights of the students and faculty on their own campuses.”

Rossman-Benjamin called on Pitzer University President Melvin L. Oliver to “act immediately to address this egregious faculty behavior that subverts the educational opportunities and violates the academic freedom of his students.”

Contacted by The Algemeiner, the office of Pitzer’s Dean of Faculty declined to comment on the motions.

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