Pitzer College Council seeks to resolve student and faculty debate over boycott of Israel study abroad program

The University of Haifa, Israel is the subject of controversy at Pitzer College. (Courtesy of Zvi Roger)

The Pitzer College Council, a student and faculty governance board, will deliberate Thursday on whether to suspend Pitzer’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa in Israel.

The Council discussion follows a vote during a Pitzer faculty meeting adopting two motions boycotting Israeli products and the study abroad program in a meeting Nov. 8.

Pitzer Student Senate members responded with proposed resolution 55-R-04 condemning the faculty’s move to suspend the study abroad program. The subject of this resolution, which was officially voted on but did not pass last Sunday, will be discussed with both faculty and students present at the College Council meeting Thursday, according to Pitzer Senate member Isaiah Kramer PZ ’20.

If the study abroad motion passes, President Melvin Oliver would then take it as recommendations to move forward.

The motion calls for a suspension of the University of Haifa program until the Israeli government ends entry restrictions based on ethnicity or political dissent as well as ends discrimination in granting visas to exchange students at Palestinian versus Israeli Universities.

Dan Segal, a professor of anthropology and faculty representative on Pitzer’s Study Abroad and International Programs Committee, brought forward both motions at the Nov. 8 faculty meeting.

Segal said he and other faculty members attempted to bring the motions forward for two years, and that “various inappropriate delays were imposed to block the debate because they were so controversial,” he said.

Regarding the study abroad motion, Segal said the program is inaccessible to certain students because of the “clear evidence of the Israeli state practicing restricting entry to students of Palestinian ancestry.”

Though no Pitzer students have historically been blocked from entry to the program, Segal worried that Israel’s increasingly restrictive 2017 entry laws would block “any of our SJP students, any students that have spoken in favor of [Boycott, Divest, Sanction Israel (BDS)] — which is not speaking in favor of violence; BDS is nonviolent.”

He also pointed to an instance this fall in which a University of Florida student was detained while trying to participate in a similar study abroad program.

Since 2007, 11 students have participated in the University of Haifa program, most recently in Spring 2016, according to Segal.

All four of the other Claremont Colleges currently have study abroad programs in Israel, and all, but Pomona College, partner directly with the University of Haifa, according to their study abroad websites.

Kramer and Claire Wengrod PZ ’19 were two of the Pitzer Student Senate members who proposed resolution 55-R-04.

Kramer said a primary motivator of the resolution was the rushed manner of the Faculty vote.

“It was a very controversial faculty meeting,” Kramer said, adding that half the faculty had left when the second motion was introduced, which occurred past the scheduled duration of the meeting.

Kramer said that studying abroad at Haifa “[is] the only opportunity for Jewish students at Pitzer to feel safe in the Middle East because our other programs are in Al Akhawayn, Turkey, and Lebanon, where it’s very much unsafe to be Jewish.”

Segal disagreed.

“I, as a Jewish faculty member, have expressed interest and never witnessed any evidence of this; it’s hearsay, but we can document extensive discrimination of Americans and Palestinians in Israel,” he said.

Kramer and Wengrod also said the program should be compared to other countries with widely regarded human rights violations.

Wengrod said she would “call on the school to evaluate all of our programs and figure out what we can do to meet our needs better while also meet our core values in study abroad programs.”

Concerns over the University of Haifa study abroad program were brought into focus last fall when a joint student and faculty Pitzer Working Group on Israel-Palestine organized surveys, panels, and town halls relating to BDS and the study abroad program.

The group’s final recommendations did not outline a clear plan on how to proceed with the study abroad program or BDS budget motions, citing a need for “further discussion and additional education about the conflict.” It also expressed a desire for better understanding of other programs that deal with potentially comparable discriminatory practices at the border.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a motion on whether to support the Boycott, Divest, Sanction Israel movement (BDS) would be put up for a vote at Pitzer College Council’s meeting. The article has been updated to reflect that that motion is not on the agenda. An earlier version of this article also stated that the Faculty Executive Committee voted on the motions. The article has been updated to reflect that it was the faculty. The article has also been updated to reflect that Israeli projects have not been part of this conversation regarding the University of Haifa study abroad program, as it stated in an earlier version. TSL regrets these errors.

This article was last updated Nov. 29 at 10:50 a.m.

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