The Pitzer College Council will vote today on whether to suspend the school’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa in Israel. Advocates for suspending the program, including Pitzer College professor Dan Segal cite Israel’s “discrimination on the basis of ancestry and legitimate political speech” as motivation for bringing the motion forward.
Here are the key players on both sides of the debate and events which have occurred in the lead-up to the vote.
SUSPEND THE PROGRAM
Dan Segal, a professor of anthropology and a faculty representative on Pitzer’s Study Abroad and International Programs Committee, brought forward the initial motion to suspend the Haifa program at the Nov. 8 faculty meeting. He has been the most vocal faculty member in support of suspending the program.
In comments to the Pitzer Board of Trustees, Segal wrote that participating in the study abroad program “exposes [Pitzer students] to discrimination on the basis of ancestry and legitimate political speech — specifically speech in favor of the nonviolent pursuit of social justice” and that the original motion passed by faculty “lends crucial support for academic freedom for Palestinian universities.”
On Tuesday, Segal co-sponsored an amended motion with Faculty Executive Committee Chair Claudia Strauss that lays out a uniform policy ending study abroad programs in countries that “restrict entry on the basis of either (a) legally protected political speech or (b) race or ancestry (as distinct from citizenship).”
Under the resolution, the FEC would initiate a case study of any program violating the aforementioned policies before having Pitzer College Council vote on its suspension.
This policy would be applied to all Pitzer study abroad programs.
After establishing this policy, the motion would apply it to Haifa — suspending the program.
This amended motion is a “direct response to the concern voiced by some faculty and students that absent such an initial statement of uniform policy, some outside audiences will misread and/or misrepresent the motion as somehow having a double-standard about the Israeli state,” Segal said via email.
Students for Justice in Palestine
Students for Justice in Palestine is a “grassroots student organization that is part of a national coalition of college chapters,” SJP chair Lea Kayali PO ’19 said via email. “SJP raises awareness about the situation in Palestine and advocates for an end to the Israeli occupation through educational initiatives, college motions … and student actions.”
In advance of the Haifa vote, the organization has focused on outreach to Pitzer faculty and student senators, and on building a coalition of other campus groups, according to SJP member Jorj Chisam-Majid PZ ’20. Several Pitzer affinity groups have provided statements of support for the Haifa motion.
SJP feels “very confident about the vote because we have received a lot of support and have had very successful outreach campaigns,” Chisam-Majid said. “What we are more worried out is a situation where [Pitzer] President [Melvin] Oliver and the Board of Trustees veto the vote — which would be another huge blow to the shared governance and Pitzer’s commitment to social justice.”
Added Kayali: “In the U.S., we have a unique obligation to be attentive to and act on Israeli human rights violations. The U.S. gives Israel $3.8 billion in military aid annually, and routinely defends Israel’s violations of international human rights.”
DON’T SUSPEND THE PROGRAM
Pitzer President Melvin Oliver
At a Pitzer College Council meeting last November, President Melvin Oliver opposed the faculty motion, questioning why the resolution targeted Israel only, and not other countries that have allegedly perpetrated human rights abuses, including China and Nepal.
After the College Council vote, Oliver will make a final decision on the Haifa program’s fate, taking into consideration the council decision. However, the president has historically honored College Council decisions, according to Pitzer Student Senate member Isaiah Kramer PZ ’20.
Claremont Jewish Organizations (Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance, Claremont Colleges Hillel, J Street U Claremont Colleges)
The Claremont Colleges Hillel, J Street U Claremont Colleges and Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance released a joint statement March 13 urging the Pitzer College Council to apply the same standards to all of Pitzer’s study abroad programs or “vote down the motion if it remains as-is.”
The statement mentions a Jewish student leader in opposition to the Haifa motion who was targeted by “menacing emails and had their name placed on a hate site,” and condemns Islamophobic rhetoric targeting Muslim and Arab students at Pitzer.
Zachary Freiman PO ’20, who is on the board of the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance, said “the effort to delegitimize the State of Israel, whether through the anti-Semitic [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] campaign or other means, and scrub the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel is a modern-day form of anti-Semitism.”
Claremont Colleges Hillel, a 5C Jewish student organization, posted a statement on its Facebook page.
“We have heard from many students, especially Jewish students, that they have felt ostracized and confused by the rhetoric surrounding the upcoming vote,” the post states. “We certainly empathize with this perspective as the movement to suspend the Haifa program seems to have been selectively chosen to single out Israel.”
The joint statement from Hillel, J Street and CPIA also acknowledged that “there is no question that Palestinians live under occupation and are subject to discrimination.”
EVENTS ON CAMPUS
Israel on Campus Coalition
The Israel on Campus Coalition posted a video on its Facebook page March 11 in opposition to suspending the Haifa program. The text in the video, which featured interviews with 5C students read, “How would you feel if your student exchange program was cancelled … Only because of where you come from?”
The ICC is an organization that “unite[s] and empower[s] pro-Israel campus organizations,” according to its website. It is unclear whether the organization is working with 5C students or groups.
Jessi Hjelle SC ’21 said her comments in the video were misconstrued to seem like she supported the Haifa program when she actually opposes it.
Hjelle said she was approached by a group of people who appeared to be students, asking her if she wanted to be in a study abroad video. They asked if she planned to study abroad and where, and what she would do if she was told she could not study abroad in her preferred country.
“At no point during this time did these people mention Israel or Haifa to me,” Hjelle said via message. “They took my answers and used them out of context for their own propaganda.”
When Hjelle reached out to ICC to ask if they would edit her out of the video, she said they ignored her.
SJP released a statement condemning the video as “unethical propaganda” and stating that they “denounce ICC’s disingenuous distortion of student opinion, designed to fabricate a false narrative.”
Posters on campus and other threats
Posters have appeared across Pitzer’s campus depicting a tweet from several years ago allegedly from the Palestinian Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist organization Hamas, which the U.S. State Department classifies as a terrorist organization, expressing support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, accompanied by a photo of masked Hamas militants carrying rifles.
The posters urge Pitzer to keep the Haifa program and have become a source of fear for some Muslim and Palestinian students on campus.
Chisam-Majid said they were “terrified” by the posters, which “clearly draw on old racist and Islamophobic tropes that insinuate any activism by us is similar to ‘terrorism’ and that the BDS movement is somehow violent.”
Posters like these often come before a round of doxxing and harassment — especially by outside actors, they said.
At the March 10 Pitzer Student Senate meeting, Kramer said he had filed a safety report. He also said there was security camera footage of someone putting up posters, and security will attempt to identify the responsible individual.
Pitzer’s Dean of Faculty Nigel Boyle said administrative offices have also received anonymous harassment via phone calls and emails. IT was able to trace some of the emails to Pennsylvania, he said.
“Obviously the fear is that that’s something that could escalate quite nastily,” Boyle said. “You always worry how certain individuals might react to inflammatory pieces they might read.”