September 21, 2019

How Act.IL Mobilized Community Against Ending Haifa Program at Pitzer

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Act.IL Los Angeles Media Room, which focuses on exposing anti-Semitism online, helped mobilize the pro-Israel community against efforts at Pitzer College to suspend the study abroad program at the University of Haifa.

Jessica Barazani, manager of the Act.IL Los Angeles Media Room, told the Journal in a phone interview that Act.IL  – a joint venture of the Israeli-American Council and IDC [Interdisciplinary Connection] Herzliya – organized a petition and video campaign as part of their campaign against the resolution.

“We focused on academic freedom as the main subject of the campaign, and we just wanted to help the community and the students who are concerned about what was happening, because a lot of times students are afraid to speak out due to pressures of other organizations or they just feel that their voice alone won’t make a difference,” Barazani said.

Barazani added that they had been touch with students on campus while their Israel team did research on Pitzer, and then they filmed the video and drafted the petition. The petition received nearly 2,500 signatures.

While Act.IL was disappointed in the Pitzer College Council’s vote to suspend the program, President Melvin Oliver’s veto of the vote “showed that we ultimately achieved our goal of keeping the program alive,” Barazani said.

“We got a lot of comments from prospective students, donors, alumni, certain parents that this really went against the values of Pitzer, so we wanted to show that to President Oliver and show that there was a community who stood behind him and agreed with him in vetoing the resolution, so he didn’t stand alone in that,” Barazani said.

Barazani also pointed out that Oliver “included some phrases that we used in our campaign in his statement, phrases such as academic freedom, the exchange of ideas and… education being above politics.”

However, Mark Bailey, vice president for communications at Pitzer, told the Journal in an emailed statement, “President Oliver would like to make clear that his decision regarding Pitzer College’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa was in no way influenced by the Act.IL petition.  President Oliver’s decision was made solely with Pitzer’s best interests in mind, namely enhancing intercultural understanding through direct engagement and dialogue.”

After Oliver’s veto occurred, Act.IL encouraged the community to send thank-you letters to Oliver to end the campaign “on a positive note,” Barazani said.

The Act.IL global community is making an impact every day, and the latest example is our movement’s role in mobilizing thousands against Pitzer College’s attempt to suspend study abroad at Haifa University,” Yael Zur, director of Act.IL U.S. Operations, said in a statement. “The online and offline efforts made by our activists around the world are confronting prejudice, hate, and the demonization of Israel.”

This post has been updated to include the statement from Pitzer Vice President for Communications Mark Bailey.