July 17, 2019

Pitzer College Council Votes to Suspend Israel Study Abroad Program

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The Pitzer College Council voted to suspend their study abroad program at the University of Haifa on March 14, by margin of 67-28, with 8 abstentions in front of hundreds of people in the McConnell Center’s Founders Room.

The motion, which was introduced by Pitzer faculty in November, initially stated that Pitzer should suspend the program until Israel ends its immigration ban on supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and provides visas to Palestinian university exchanges on an equal basis. The motion was amended before the vote by Faculty Executive Committee chair Claudia Strauss and Pitzer History and Anthropology Professor Daniel Segal to be “uniform policy that applies to all of our study abroad programs,” not just the Israel program. The visas to Palestinians university exchanges section of the motion was dropped and will be brought up at a later meeting.

Strauss argued that the motion didn’t constitute as an “academic boycott” since students could still petition to study abroad at an Israeli university, according to Marc Rod, news editor of The Student Life (TSL) newspaper.

Before the vote occurred, the council agreed to let all 36 student senators present to vote on the matter, undoing the limit set earlier in the week that only 32 student senators could vote. All 7 staff council members present were allowed to vote as well.

The Claremont Independent, which was banned from covering the vote in person, noted that “non-Pitzer Independent staff were allowed to enter, but [Pitzer College President Melvin] Oliver repeatedly asked non-Pitzer students to leave midway into the meeting, but ignored the presence of non-Pitzer pro-Palestine student organizers.”

Oliver will be making the final decision on the matter. Kellen Browning, the editor-in-chief of TSL, tweeted that Oliver declined to comment on the outcome of the vote.

University of Haifa President Ron Robin said in a statement, “We regret today’s vote by the Pitzer College Council to uphold the Pitzer faculty’s misguided plan to boycott the college’s relationship with University of Haifa.”

“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,” Robin said. “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. This is diversity, coexistence, and tolerance at its finest.”

Robin continued, “Further, such boycotts meet the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism by ‘applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.’ Sadly, the Pitzer College Council today gave its seal of approval to contemporary anti-Semitism.”

American Jewish Committee (AJC) Los Angeles Assistant Director Siamak Kordestani and AJC Director of Campus Affairs Zev Hurwitz denounced the motion’s passage in a statement 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,” Kordestani and Hurwitz said. “The responsibilities of a leading university include providing as many opportunities for education and research as possible – not politicizing academia. We urge President Oliver to overturn this misguided action by the College Council.”

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder and director of the AMCHA Initiative, said in a statement that the motion’s passage was “an academic abomination.”

“The Pitzer professors who orchestrated this move should be ashamed of themselves for promoting a reprehensible and hypocritical boycott that tramples on the academic rights and educational opportunities of their own students and colleagues in the name of politics, and goes against everything a university and its faculty should stand for,” Rossman-Benjamin said.