OPINION: ‘Suspend Haifa’ is a rallying cry of intolerance

Melvin Oliver, a Black man with grey hair and eyeglasses, sits a table, looking at his hands. He is wearing a grey suit with a blue shirt and an orange tie.
Pitzer President Melvin Oliver before the March 14 College Council meeting, at which the council voted to suspend Pitzer’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa in Israel. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

After Pitzer’s College Council made the highly contentious decision to recommend the suspension of the school’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa in Israel March 14, Pitzer President Melvin Oliver chose not to accept the council’s recommendation. While we applaud Oliver’s decision, we want to address the gravity of the council’s decision and its impact on Pitzer, the 5Cs and Jewish students everywhere.

First, as Oliver rightly pointed out, the remarkable move begs the question: Why Israel? Why of all Pitzer study abroad programs did the council choose to focus their effort on delegitimizing Israel and rescinding its study abroad program?

For one, it is utterly illogical to penalize Pitzer students and the opportunities to learn and grow due to the actions of a foreign government, as advocates of the motion proposed. Just as it would not make sense for universities outside the U.S. to revoke exchange programs with Pitzer due to the Trump administration, the same is true for the program in Israel.

Although Israel has its political faults — foremost among them the continued occupation of the West Bank — it is confusing, and perhaps nefarious, to target Israel’s program. In evaluating study abroad programs based on ambiguously determined democratic principles, it belies credulity to begin with the one true democracy in the Middle East.

Confounding this question are the study abroad programs found at Pitzer apart from the one in Israel. There are other direct enroll programs — such as in Kunming, China — in countries with horrendous human rights records. Yet, there was no concerted effort to remove those programs.

Proponents of the suspension claim their goal is to reassess the merits of each program and remove those they find to be incompatible with Pitzer’s values. This lie is as ridiculous as it is patronizing.

There is no doubt the purpose of the suspension is foremost to attack and disassemble any relationship to Israel, undoubtedly out of fear that students may discover the truth of the liberal pluralism and strong principles of freedom found in Israel and Haifa specifically. Their invention of equal standards is laughably disproven by the title of their campaign: “suspend Haifa,” not “suspend study abroad programs that do not comport with our values.”

The suspension’s purpose is also plainly evident by the lack of criticism for Pitzer’s bilateral exchange program with American University in Beirut, Lebanon — a country that bars Israelis from entering, including hypothetical Israeli Pitzer students who wish to apply to the program. No effort was made to re-evaluate, let alone assail that program.

It seems, once again, enemies of the State of Israel and self-determination for the Jewish people have latched onto the most benign programs in one of the most peaceful, harmonious, multiethnic and multicultural cities in all of Israel to further their goals of delegitimization and, ultimately, destruction of the Jewish state.

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It is not a stretch. The Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign that drove the furor around the Haifa program at Pitzer is tied directly to Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas, according to multiple investigations such as the exposé “BDS Umbrella Group Tied to Palestinian Terrorist Organizations,” published in Tablet Magazine in June 2018, and Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy. It is a nonviolent part of the larger aim to wipe Israel off the face of the map and replace it with an Islamic theocracy.

Of course, not every person who supported the motion or decried Oliver’s decision harbors ill intentions toward Israel or Jews. We believe many are well-intentioned and wish to support peaceful initiatives to spur change in a stagnant, exhausting conflict.

However, singling out Israel, targeting Jewish students on campus and refusing to listen to concerned members of the community is exactly the wrong way to go about it. We welcome dialogue; we want Pitzer students to become informed about issues facingthe Middle East and form opinions about them.

One such way is to choose to participate in the study abroad program in Haifa. At the University of Haifa, students will encounter Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs studying side-by-side. They will learn about equal protection under the law afforded to all citizens of Israel, Jewish or not. They will very likely hear harsh criticisms of the Israeli government, as we find criticisms of our own government on our campuses.

No other option could be of more value to students concerned with the future of the Middle East than to go there in person and study and engage with locals.

With no other place to go, members of Zachary Freiman’s PO ’20 family who survived the Holocaust escaped persecution in the Soviet Union by fleeing to Israel. He is a member of the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance .

Claire Wengrod PZ ’19 is a student senator and is involved in Jewish life on campus and works to fight anti-Semitism and help those affected by it.

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