US university votes to suspend study abroad in Israel following BDS campaign

US university votes to suspend study abroad in Israel following BDS campaign
Pitzer College voted on Thursday to suspend the university's study abroad programme in Haifa, Israel, but the university's president said the decision could not be implemented.
3 min read
15 March, 2019
The students and staff voted to end a study abroad program in Haifa [AFP]

A US university on Thursday voted to suspend its study abroad programme in Israel after a successful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign backed by Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.

After students and staff at California's Pitzer College voted 67-28 to cancel the college's study abroad programme at the University of Haifa, President Melvin Oliver vetoed the decision and announced that the affiliation would continue.

"Under the college's system of shared governance, the motion is a recommendation to the president of the college," he explained. "As president of Pitzer College, I have determined that I will not implement this recommendation."

Tlaib, whose parents are respectively from Beit Ur al-Fouqa in the West Bank and Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem, was pictured holding a pamphlet for the campaign and smiling in a tweet this week.

The winning motion advocated for the university to suspend the programme until Israel revokes a controversial law banning BDS supporters from entering the country.

The Pitzer community also asked that it not be reinstated until Israel promised to allow diaspora Palestinians to enter the country unimpeded.

Citizens of other countries who are Palestinian in origin - even those with powerful passports such as the United States - are routinely denied entry into Israel and occupied Palestine. Israel controls both the West Bank and Gaza Strip's international borders, barring the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

Pitzer College should foster opportunities for students to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the motion said, but should do so "in ways that avoid complicity in violations of human rights and academic freedom".

The motion was originally proposed by Daniel Segal, a professor of anthropology and history at the university.

After "careful" deliberation, Oliver said on Thursday that the decision would ultimately not be implemented as it would cause the university to "take an unavoidably political position on one of the most controversial issues of our time".

The university president also claimed the motion was "prejudicial" and had singled out Israel as a target for "academic boycott" which would "curtail" the academic freedom of Pitzer students.

The motion was amended by Segal and Faculty Executive Committee chair Claudia Strauss prior to the vote to reflect that the measure would apply to all study abroad programmes in countries with "policies that restrict entry on the basis of either (a) legally protected political speech or (b) race or ancestry (as distinct from citizenship)".

Additionally, if the motion were to pass, students would still be allowed to petition the university to study in Israel. Only Pitzer College's pre-approved study abroad programme in Haifa would have been suspended, reported student journalist Marc Rod.

University of Haifa President Ron Robin hit back at the vote in a statement to the Jewish Journal, saying "such boycotts meet the US State Department's definition of anti-Semitism".

"Social responsibility is a core value of the College and we hope social justice becomes the life’s mission of many of our graduates and a guiding principle for all our students and alumni," said Oliver.

"But social justice is not, and in itself cannot be, the mission of the College, or our mission would become political and not educational."