Let’s Talk About Palestine

If and when administrators at the Claremont Colleges feel the need to opine on the Arab-Jewish Israeli conflict, they should speak and act carefully to avoid privileging pro-Israeli perspectives and stifling pro-Palestinian ones. Unfortunately, they do not all seem to have pursued this course of action. 

In December, Pomona College President David Oxtoby rejected the American Studies Association’s (ASA) proposed boycott of formal partnerships with Israeli universities, claiming that the boycott was counterproductive to academic dialogue around the Arab-Jewish Israeli conflict. Oxtoby’s statement implicitly validated the position of most U.S. broadcast and print media — that Israel is the victim of a warrantless campaign of delegitimization — because he condemned the boycott without acknowledging the Israeli misdeeds driving pro-boycott sentiment. Many students at the Claremont Colleges understand that placing the blame for the suffering and violence exclusively on Palestinians is a misrepresentation. The Israeli government sanctioned war crimes, most recently in 2009, without reproach from the U.S. government or academic institutions such as Pomona.

Administrators at Claremont McKenna College also appear to favor pro-Israel perspectives on campus. In March 2013, CMC economics professor Yaron Raviv called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member Najib Hamideh PZ ’15 a “f**king cockroach” at a mock checkpoint outside of Collins Dining Hall. Though CMC’s administration did not receive a formal complaint, they subsequently investigated four SJP students and ruled that they had not complied with the school’s policies on student demonstrations. CMC simultaneously concluded that Raviv was not at fault for his comments to Hamideh. CMC’s administration used its judicial authority to publicly chastise SJP, while Raviv faced no consequences for directly targeting Hamideh on account of his identity. Oxtoby’s statement, which dismissed ASA’s proposed boycott of Israel without acknowledging that many of the underlying critiques are valid, is an unhappy epilogue to this incident.

Pomona could facilitate respectful dialogue on its own campus by soliciting and engaging with pro-dialogue organizations in Israel-Palestine such as the Coalition of Women for Peace, B’Tselem, HaMoked, Yesh Din, Adalah, Al Haq, and the Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies. These organizations represent a spectrum of populations and views that have yet to receive widespread media coverage in the United States or, for that matter, in Claremont. Pomona could also learn more about the Jewish Israeli-Arab conflict by joining study abroad programs such as the Al Quds-Bard partnership in East Jerusalem or the Utah Valley University program in Ramallah. Alternatively, Pomona could sponsor Palestinian exchange students in Claremont — a solution that would address security concerns about sending Pomona students to the West Bank.

Oxtoby condemned the ASA boycott as a threat to academic freedom without mentioning the evident shortcomings in how we discuss, or do not discuss, Israel and Palestine in Claremont. If Pomona is committed to respectful discourse around the Arab-Jewish Israeli conflict, it would do well to enrich and enliven that respectful discourse between students, staff, and faculty, and encourage communication with organizations in Israel, Palestinian refugee camps, and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Nicholas Sundback PO ’14 is an international relations major and Spanish minor. He is the Senior Editor of the Claremont Journal of International Relations.

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