Pitzer College President Vetoes Move to Suspend Study Abroad in Israel
JNS.org – By a margin of 67-28, with eight abstentions, the College Council at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., voted on Thursday to suspend the school’s study-abroad program at the University of Haifa in Israel; however, college president Melvin L. Oliver, said he would not implement the recommendation.
Introduced by anthropology and history Professor Daniel Segal, who had a previous record in support of the anti-Zionist boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, the motion said that “Pitzer would suspend the study-abroad program in 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.”
The measure was supported by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), an advocate of BDS.
Oliver vetoed the motion on Thursday evening, saying that “under the College’s system of shared governance, the motion is a recommendation to the president of the College. As president of Pitzer College, I have determined that I will not implement this recommendation.”
“While my decision not to implement the recommendation is being communicated immediately,” he continued, “it is a decision that I have reached in a careful and deliberate manner. Some will say that I am taking my own position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in choosing not to implement the recommendation of the College Council. I am not. Instead, I am refusing to permit Pitzer College to take a position that I believe will only harm the College.”
Last November, the council also voted in favor of Pitzer halting its study-abroad program in Israel.
“What happened today at Pitzer is an academic abomination,” AMCHA Initiative co-founder and director, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, said in a statement. “Prioritizing politics over students is reprehensible, but sadly, the Pitzer College Council did just that. Academic boycotts violate the rights of students and faculty on U.S. campuses, and this precedent-setting vote is frightening.”
“Fortunately, the buck stops with Pitzer President Oliver, who clearly understands this,” she continued. “As he stated back in November, ‘To deny Pitzer students who want to study at Haifa University the opportunity to study abroad and to enter into dialogue and promote intercultural understanding at the altar of political considerations is anathema to Pitzer’s core values’ and would ‘foolishly alienate Jewish and non-Jewish constituents.’ ”
Study-abroad programs have increasingly become a target of the BDS movement. Last fall, two instructors at the University of Michigan, citing the academic boycott of Israel, refused to write letters of recommendations for students seeking time to learn in Israel.
Max Samarov, executive director of research and strategy at StandWithUs, said the council move is a clear example of bias against Israel.
“If this motion were truly about ethical standards for study abroad, they would have started with Pitzer programs in Lebanon and China, rather than targeting one of the most diverse universities in the only functioning democracy in the Middle East,” he said. “In reality, this vote was designed to push a narrow anti-Israel agenda that harms students, violates academic freedom, and fuels more conflict and injustice in the Middle East. By rejecting this discriminatory recommendation, President Oliver ensured that Pitzer will not fall on the wrong side of history.”
Haifa University exhibits ‘diversity, coexistence and tolerance at its finest’
American Jewish Committee (AJC) Los Angeles assistant director Siamak Kordestani and AJC director of campus affairs Zev Hurwitz also blasted the vote as “an outrageous attack on academic freedom.”
“The decision threatens to allow a dangerous precedent—that it is acceptable for outside political influence to limit student experiences,” they said. “The responsibilities of a leading university, include providing as many opportunities for education and research as possible, is not politicizing academia.”
University of Haifa president Ron Robin condemned the vote to uphold last fall’s resolution.
“We regret [the] vote by the Pitzer College Council to uphold the Pitzer faculty’s misguided plan to boycott the college’s relationship with University of Haifa,” he said. “While such proponents of the BDS movement in the academic community utilize a free speech argument to justify boycotts of Israeli institutions, those who support these votes at Pitzer are actually undermining academic freedom and free speech by depriving students of their freedom to choose where to study abroad.”
“The Pitzer boycott is particularly misguided given the fact that at University of Haifa, 35 percent of our students are Arabs, and that our Israeli and Arab students work together harmoniously on extracurricular activities and community service,” he explained. “This is diversity, coexistence and tolerance at its finest.”
He added that the council “gave its seal of approval to contemporary anti-Semitism.”
“What @pitzercollege President Melvin Oliver did was purely heroic. He stood in the face of a mob led by an emotionally-driven ideologue and put the promise of academic freedom above political showboating. The institution will never truly be redeemed, but kudos to Pres. Oliver,” tweeted Pitzer alum Elliott Hamilton.