Pitzer College becomes first US school to end Israel study abroad programme

Pitzer College becomes first US school to end Israel study abroad programme
In a rare and unprecedented move, California's Pitzer College has ended its study abroad programme in partnership with Israel’s Haifa University.
4 min read
05 April, 2024
Pitzer College in Claremont, California, has suspended its study abroad programme with the University of Haifa in Israel [Getty]

A US liberal arts and sciences college has announced that it has ended its study abroad programme in Israel

Pitzer College, located in California, is considered the first ever US academic institution to do so. 

The historic move comes after a six-year campaign led by Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) alongside Claremont Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) to permanently suspend the college’s ties with the programme in Israel’s University of Haifa

According to Claremont SJP, the group initially launched the campaign in 2018 when Pitzer's College Council voted to suspend the exchange programme. 

However, the legislation was later vetoed by Pitzer’s former President Melvin Oliver, until the campaign’s relaunch in 2023. 

Pitzer’s student senate voted once again in late March to suspend the college’s ties with Israeli universities- when the legislation officially passed nearly unanimously at 34:1.   

"For the 2018-2019 iteration, our bill was faculty sponsored and voted on through the faculty governance body," a spokesperson for Claremont SJP told The New Arab

"This time, we chose to have our resolution authored and passed through the students for many reasons. For one, we were affirmed in our faculty support from the 2018-2019 67:28 faculty vote to suspend Haifa as well as the creation of an official Claremont Faculty for Justice in Palestine.

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"This year we also worked in tandem with Claremont Jewish Voices for Peace and put in a lot of work to raise the political consciousness of anti-Zionist Jewish students to understand that Jewish safety and Palestinian safety is interdependent."

The group credited increased student support through “a ton of political education programming” from other leftist coalitions on Pitzer’s campus, that enabled the successful vote. 

The latest change was heavily regarded as a BDS victory in the academic world, which Claremont SJP stated that after October 7, condemnation of Israel’s military offensive on Gaza intensified amongst students to take action. 

"Pitzer’s multi-year academic boycott campaign had two goals. Firstly, we wanted to end Pitzer’s complicity in crimes of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. And secondly, we wanted Pitzer, as the first US institution of higher education to close study abroad programs in Israel based on BDS values, to set a precedent for other US schools to take up academic boycott by closing or suspending their study abroad programs with complicit Israeli universities," the spokesperson said. 

"Pitzer College, as a social justice-driven school born out of the US civil rights movement, had the unique opportunity and responsibility to pave the way for every American university to stand up for Palestinian liberation by refusing to remain complicit in Israel’s apartheid regime, upheld by its universities. 

"We hope that students fighting for a liberated Palestine across the US see that the pressure we are putting on our institutions is working."

The University of Haifa, which had a long-standing relationship with Pitzer via its study abroad programme, was reported by the BDS movement as having had a central role in denying Palestinian rights. 

According to BDS, the university has organised educational facilities for members of the Israeli military to receive academic degrees, while being permitted to go on active duty. 

The activist group argued that the initiative allowed members to continue subjugating Palestinians under Israeli occupation. 

However, Pitzer College issued its own statement on 2 April, in which it rejected claims that the programme’s closure was related to a pro-Palestine academic boycott. 

"Pitzer College has removed study abroad programs in 11 countries, including one at the University of Haifa in Israel, from its pre-approved list because they did not meet certain of the criteria outlined in the college’s guiding principles for Study Abroad and International programs, specifically, lack of enrollments for at least five years, exchange imbalance, or curricular overlap," the statement read.  

"These programs are not closed to Pitzer students, nor do any of these actions reflect an academic boycott of any country or educational institution."

Pitzer College added that students can apply to attend any study abroad or exchange programme via a petition process, but indicated that they would not be pre-approved for any enrollments by students. 

In response to a request for further confirmation on the college’s decision, the college made reference to official statements made by the college and the vice president for academic affairs

“In the process of evaluating all of our Study Abroad programs against the established criteria, which include five-year enrollment numbers, it was confirmed that the Pitzer University of Haifa program has had zero enrollments in the last eight years,” Wendy Shattuck, assistant vice-president of college communications, told The New Arab

Despite conflicting viewpoints, Clearmont SJP are set to push a second resolution via the college council on 11 April.

Additionally, the student body plan to facilitate talks on shutting down the programme, as well as rejecting other projects that work with Israeli universities due to accusations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.