(JTA) — The faculty of Pitzer College in Southern California voted to suspend the school’s study abroad program at Haifa University in Israel.
The faculty also voted to condemn the school’s trustees for opposing a student government resolution to divest from Israel, according to the Claremont Independent, a student newspaper at the private liberal arts school in Claremont. The student senate voted last year to divest from five companies as part of the movement to boycott Israel.
Recent months have seen college instructors, acting on political grounds, repeatedly oppose their students’ intentions to study in Israel. Two instructors at the University of Michigan refused to write letters of recommendation for students to study there. One of them, American Studies Professor John Cheney-Lippold, was deprived of a merit raise and sabbatical due to his decision.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the anti-Semitism campus monitor the AMCHA initiative, said there have been cases where faculty members at colleges have signed petitions to suspend or shut down Israel study abroad programs, but that this represented the first time an official faculty body voted to do so.
“One of the reasons it’s very disturbing is that it’s the first time we’ve seen this,” she told JTA on Wednesday.
Pitzer, which is about 30 miles from Los Angeles and part of the Claremont Colleges consortium in Southern California, runs a semester abroad program at the University of Haifa in the fall and spring. According to Hillel International, 11 percent of the approximately 1,000 students on campus are Jewish.
On Nov. 8, the faculty voted to suspend the program “until (a) the Israeli state ends its restrictions on entry to Israel based on ancestry and/or political speech and (b) the Israeli state adopts policies granting visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities on a fully equal basis as it does to Israeli universities.”
In 2017, Israel passed a law enabling the state to bar entry to foreigners who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.
The University of Haifa responded in a statement saying that the university exemplifies an environment of multiculturalism and pluralism. Haifa has a large Arab population and is known as a city where Jews and Arabs tend to live in shared society.
“While we support the values of freedom of speech and academic freedom, we oppose the BDS movement against Israel as well as boycotts targeting any individual or institution on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, or other discriminatory factor,” the university’s statement said. “Israel’s commitment to an open and inclusive society in which multiculturalism and interfaith tolerance thrive is no more evident than on the University of Haifa campus, where an approximately 25-percent-Arab student body exceeds the 20-percent-Arab population of the country as a whole.”
The Pitzer student senate will vote on a resolution this week that condemns the faculty vote for being taken without student input and singling out Israel among all of the school’s study abroad programs. It also criticizes the faculty for seeking the “advancement of a political agenda at the expense of students who seek opportunities in Middle East/North African Studies, Arabic, Hebrew, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and the intercultural relations of Israeli and Palestinian ethnicities.”
The Claremont chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine celebrated the faculty vote, calling the Haifa program “deeply problematic.”
“Israel has passed increasingly draconian policies banning political speech and barring activists for Palestinian human rights from entering the country,” the group’s statement said. “On top of this, Israel has a systemic practice of racial discrimination at the border, meaning that this program is largely inaccessible to students from Middle Eastern descent. By encouraging other Pitzer students to embark on this program, the college has been consciously supporting these discriminatory practices.”