Faculty and alumni release statements on violence in Israel and Palestine, amass hundreds of signatures

A drawing of five hands in expressive pointing and explaining poses. The hands are colored in the colors of the 5cs: blue, red, orange, yellow, and green. The background is a swirl of the colors of the Palestinian and Israeli flags: white, blue, green, black, and red.
As violence continues to escalate in Israel and Palestine, faculty members and alumni of the Claremont Colleges speak out. (Sasha Matthews • The Student Life)

Over the past two weeks, faculty members at the Claremont Colleges have responded to escalating violence in Palestine and Israel. Two groups of faculty members released statements on this violence — one expressing solidarity with Palestine and the other condemning Palestinian militant group Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in Israel. In addition, alumni groups at Pomona College, Scripps College and Pitzer College released statements demanding administrative action and calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

On Oct. 31, faculty members from across the Claremont Consortium released a statement expressing support for Palestinian civilians and calling for readers to take action. As of Nov. 2, the statement has received 139 signatures, with 31 additional anonymous signees. The statement followed an Oct. 23 statement released by faculty members at Claremont McKenna College with 65 signatures denouncing the Oct. 7 attack.

The Oct. 31 faculty statement begins by expressing faculty concerns with ongoing violence in Palestine and Israel: “As faculty at the Claremont Colleges, we continue to watch with concern the escalation of violence in Palestine and Israel; to mourn, without reservation, all loss of human life in Gaza, in Israel and across the occupied Palestinian territory.”

Before addressing the historical context of the situation, the statement notes that as of Oct. 30, Israeli bombardment has killed over 8,300 Palestinians in Gaza. By the time of this article’s publication, that number is over 9,000.  The letter also says the Israeli state response to the events of Oct. 7 should be understood in the context of settler-colonialism and Israel’s apartheid regime, which has led to “two distinct legal regimes that systematically privilege the rights of Israeli settlers in illegal settlements while denying the most basic rights of housing, freedom of movement and security to Palestinians.”

Professors in the statement urged the 5C community to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for institutions and individuals to pressure Israel to comply with international law regarding its treatment of Palestinians. They also urged the colleges to uphold academic freedom and freedom of speech, both of which were recently reaffirmed by the Claremont Colleges AAUP Chapter Executive Committee.

“We call upon our colleagues in Claremont to join us in this solidarity, by contacting Congressional representatives to demand a ceasefire, supporting BDS efforts and upholding academic freedom and free speech protections for all community members,” the statement says.

Signee Lara Deeb, Scripps professor of anthropology and Middle East and North African studies, said current events are a new phase in a long history of “Israeli settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation that began decades ago.”

“It is possible to be devastated by death and destruction in a moment and to mourn the loss of human life — I’m talking about the loss of all human life right now, Israeli human life, Palestinian human life — and also to be able to take a step out and understand that broad historical context,” she told TSL.

The statement echoes Deeb’s call for historical background.

“Without an acknowledgment of this context, condemnations only of specific acts of violence perpetrated by Palestinian armed groups can serve to disavow the roots of violence under a seemingly neutral mask of humanitarian concern.”

The earlier CMC faculty statement, primarily authored by Professor of Mathematics Lenny Fukshansky, focused specifically on denouncing the Oct. 7 attacks.

“We, as members of the faculty take it upon ourselves to condemn this horrific act in the harshest words possible,” the statement reads. “This was a demonstration of pure evil at work — may it never happen again!”

Fukshansky specifically condemned the intent of the attacks, which he said was to “target and kill as many innocent civilians as possible” with “no military purpose.”

“It shocked and deeply traumatized the entire world’s Jewish community, including here, in Claremont, and shocked people of good will of all faiths around the world,” Fukshansky wrote.

In an interview with TSL, Fukshansky explained that the statement was prompted in part by CMC administrators’ lack of response to Hamas’ attack. Citing the college’s policy of not issuing statements on partisan issues, Fukshansky expressed his appreciation for institutional neutrality while also explaining that he did not feel that the events of Oct. 7 constituted a partisan issue.

“This is a terrorist attack. There’s nothing partisan about it — at least, not from where I stand,” Fukshansky told TSL.

Fukshansky said the statement was meant to focus exclusively on the events of Oct. 7, and that it was not meant to address historical issues regarding Israel and Palestine.

“The statement was specifically on the event of October 7… it did not address any events prior to it or after it,” Fukshansky said. “It was a completely nonpartisan, nonpolitical statement on one specific incident.”

Gary Gilbert, associate professor of religious studies at CMC and director of the Jewish studies sequence, was one of 65 faculty members to sign the statement. He echoed Fukshansky’s sentiment.

“We recognize that there is a larger context in which the events of Oct. 7 took place. We wanted to say that the massacre of over 1,000 civilians is a horrific act,” Gilbert said. “We were not making any other political claims. We were not trying to justify subsequent Israeli actions.”

For Gilbert, signing the CMC faculty statement and acknowledging the events of Oct. 7 was important even with an understanding of the historical context. Although he had no comment on the 5C faculty statement, he raised concerns about what he felt more generally was the use of historical context as a means of justification for violence.

“There’s a big difference between justifying an act and explaining it,” Gilbert said. “I would support fully trying to situate what happened on October 7 in that broader historical context … but to say that an attack on over 1000 civilians was somehow justified by that historical context — I completely disagree with that. And that’s why I signed the statement.”

Dan Segal, Pitzer professor emeritus of anthropology and faculty advisor of Students for Justice in Palestine, argued that the CMC statement, which he pointed out was published almost two weeks after the Oct. 7 attack, was biased against Palestinians.

“In terms of mourning lives lost, and having compassion for those who have lost loved ones, we should not be partisan,” Segal, who signed the 5C faculty statement, told TSL. “That statement … was heartless and inhumane in regards to Palestinians murdered by the Israeli state since Oct. 7.  The letter treated some human beings as more than and others as less than.  What is that, if not racism?”

James Morrison, CMC professor of literature and film, signed both statements, noting that he doesn’t see them as contradictory or incompatible.

“I signed the first letter to condemn terrorist violence against Israeli citizens, and the second to condemn state violence on the part of Israel against Palestinians,” Morrison told TSL.

Deeb reflected on the significance of statements like the 5C faculty one, saying it could signal support for students who express solidarity with Palestinians. She noted that there has been a recent rise in Islamophobia, anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim racism, as well as anti-Semitism in the United States.

Deeb said the Claremont Colleges should work to combat all of these things, but she particularly emphasized her desire to see increased support for Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students.

“At a small liberal arts college, I think such statements can signal support for community members,” Deeb said. “In the current climate, I think signaling support for Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students is quite important … because those are the students who have not been highlighted by most of the university administrative statements out there.”

Gilbert commented on the importance of holding open discussions, noting that doing this has been difficult because of the divisive nature of the situation.

“There’s been language used that I think creates barriers to discussion,” Gilbert said. “The language presents these issues in a very binary fashion — black and white, right and wrong, just and unjust. And when you frame a situation, particularly such a sensitive and complex situation as this, in that kind of binary, it’s hard to have a discussion.”

Much like the group of 5C faculty who drafted a statement in solidarity with Palestine, groups of both Pomona and Scripps alumni issued statements on Oct. 20 condemning the Israeli government and calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. These statements were signed by hundreds of alums.

The Scripps alumni statement amassed 324 signatures as of Nov. 2. Signees called for “a ceasefire and an immediate end to Israeli-led genocide and occupation in Palestine” and asked Scripps to condemn “Israeli occupation and genocide.”

In the statement, Scripps alumni claimed that the violent attacks seen on Oct. 7 were part of a larger issue stemming from imperialism, white supremacy and Zionism, which they define as “a European settler-colonial ideology that displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 during al-Nakba.”

“This ideology does not represent the Jewish people, nor is it integral to Judaism,” they wrote. “Countless Jewish community members have risen up against Zionism historically and in the present day.”

Furthermore, they call for Scripps to comply with the BDS movement and to ensure a safe environment for Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students.

“Scripps promotes an education that fosters critical thinking and analytical skills in its students,” the statement read. “We urge the College to condemn disinformation that manufactures consent for the genocide of Palestinians.”

Scripps alumni did not respond to TSL’s request for comment on the statement.

Similarly, in solidarity with Palestine, the Pomona alumni’s statement demanded that the college comply with the BDS movement and urged the broader community to pressure elected officials to initiate a ceasefire. It has 161 signatures as of Nov. 2.

“We, Pomona alumni, are writing to Pomona College and the broader community to express our grief and rage at the Israeli government’s current genocidal war against Palestinians in Gaza, carried out with the full backing of the U.S. government,” the statement read.

The alumni wrote that they “mourn every Palestinian and Israeli life lost in this violence” and “stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and honor their steadfast resistance to oppression.”

Sarah Burch PO ’22, who worked alongside other alumni to draft and distribute the statement, criticized Pomona administration’s lack of condemnation toward the Israeli government.

“I think the Pomona administration’s silence on this issue is really jarring…” she said. “It does not keep anyone safe for the Pomona administration to stay silent in the face of this — in fact, it is a betrayal of the core values of the college. And it’s a betrayal of so many Pomona students, who are, understandably, unable to go about their usual business while such abject horrors are taking place.”

Pitzer’s alumni statement asked community members to pressure their member of Congress and their senators to call for a ceasefire. It also described a need for people to acknowledge the historical context of the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine.

“The violence, atrocities, and violations of human rights did not begin on October 7,” the statement reads. “To think about this moment as if the horrific violence began on October 7 is to fail to think historically—and this would be a shameful mistake for any of us educated at Pitzer College.”

The statement also said that state oppression “requires and produces resistance.”

“Some of that resistance will be violent and some will target civilians, even the most innocent civilians—the precious babies and children of the world. This is not a justification. It is a matter of fact, tragic fact. And all of this means that genuinely abhorring violence requires unqualified support for non-violent resistance, in order to end the oppression and its violence and atrocities.”

This article was updated on Nov. 9, 2023 to include information about Pitzer’s alumni statement.

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