“The very existence” of Pitzer College’s Israel/Palestine working group, Pitzer professor Albert Wachtel said Friday, “is an anti-Semitic statement.”
The working group, which is comprised of two faculty members, two students, two trustees, and one staff member, was formed in response to the Board of Trustees’ June decision to nullify a Senate amendment that barred the use of student activities fees to buy products from certain organizations associated with Israel.
Wachtel, a professor at Pitzer since 1974 who currently teaches Creative Studies, spoke during a town hall called by Pitzer Student Senate as a “listening session” for the group.
The town hall was open only to members of the Pitzer community, including current and former students as well as faculty, staff, and trustees.
A Campus Safety officer guarded the entrance, a fact which Wachtel highlighted.
“We were forced to enter here through a policeman simply because you want this to be a private conversation,” Wachtel said. “The reason why people in Palestine and Israel are inspected is to make sure they are not carrying bombs that will kill tens and hundreds of people.”
Wachtel continued that students must consider the context of the Israel as a country surrounded by states that “cut off the arms of human beings for having stolen a piece of bread.”
Noah Knowlton-Latkin PZ ’17, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, told TSL after the event that Wachtel’s categorization was “nonsense”.
“To try and conflate [the companies addressed in the amendment] with Judaism is so harmful both to Jews ourselves but also to our movement,” Knowlton-Latkin said. “This is an age-old tactic.”
Pitzer Student Senate Secretary Kamyab Mashian PZ ‘19 also said he disagreed with Wachtel’s statement.
“I think the working group was set up to help resolve a divisive issue on campus, and nobody can deny that the Israel/Palestine issue is divisive,” he wrote in a message to TSL after the town hall. But “addressing the tension on campus is quite different from putting an undue spotlight on Israel.”
“I was surprised by the extent to which [Wachtel] appears to have misunderstood the intent and purpose of the working group,” he added.
During the town hall, Knowlton-Latkin, too, explicitly pointed to violence in Israel-Palestine.
“From a Palestinian viewpoint, it’s very discomforting to know that the money that you’re paying to go to school is going towards companies that are literally profiting from killing your family and killing your people,” he said.
Wachtel left the town hall, which lasted about an hour, soon after speaking.