I. Introducing Suspend Pitzer Haifa 2023
As part of our ongoing effort to support the Palestinian freedom struggle, Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), is proud to launch our campus-wide campaign to suspend Pitzer’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa until (a) The state of Israel ends its discriminatory restrictions on entry based on ancestry and/or political speech and (b) The state of Israel adopts policies granting visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities on a fully equal basis as it does to Israeli universities.
This is a continuation of Claremont SJP’s campaign from the 2018-2019 academic year, when Pitzer’s College Council successfully voted to conditionally suspend the College’s exchange with the University of Haifa. In doing so, Pitzer became the first higher education institution in the United States to pass such a motion. Just hours after the College Council endorsed the school’s stance on the right side of history, former President Melvin Oliver undemocratically vetoed the legislation. We want to reassert our solidarity with the Palestinian people by once again calling on the College to respond to the Pitzer community’s support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian freedom.
Throughout this statement, we will overview (1) the national student movement for Palestinian freedom and Claremont SJP’s role on our campuses; (2) the history of the 2018-2019 campaign and the unprecedented veto from former President Melvin Oliver; (3) the urgency to relaunch our campaign in the 2023-2024 academic year; (4) and how the Claremont Colleges student body can support this campaign and the larger movement for Palestinian liberation. Our work is grounded in the urgent need for academic boycotting, calls from Palestinians on the ground in Palestine, and political and ethical principles that we demand from our institutions. As the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) asserts, “To enroll, or participate in any way, in a study abroad program at an Israeli institution means ignoring if not perpetuating the ongoing violation of the academic- and, indeed, human- freedoms of Palestinians.”1 Because of the violence and discrimination faced by Palestinians at the University of Haifa and in occupied Palestine, we believe that no student should study abroad at a university operating on occupied land—especially considering that many Palestinian students cannot attend this program.
II. Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine
Students for Justice in Palestine is a collective of student solidarity organizations across Turtle Island.2 SJPs advocate for the liberation of Palestinian peoples and raise awareness about the U.S. government’s complicity in the Israeli apartheid state. In 2005, SJP’s took up the international call for BDS established by Palestinian civil society organizations and have since continuously fought to pass BDS resolutions on their college campuses.3 As a call from Palestinian civil society itself, BDS is a tangible way to support Palestinian freedom. BDS ensures that we don’t back institutions that contribute to discrimination and oppression. We demand our institutions to actively divest and cut their complicity in Israel’s oppression of Palestine and boycott corporations and institutions (including universities) that violate Palestinian human rights. We echo the three main goals set by the BDS movement, which stipulate that the state of Israel
- End the occupation and colonization and dismante the wall;
- Recognize the rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel; and
- Respect, protect, and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.4
The student movement has played a key role in supporting demands for BDS to push for Palestinian liberation. The U.S. continues to provide over $3.8 billion in material support to the state of Israel, annually.5 As students at a U.S. institution, we have a direct responsibility to the Palestinian liberation movement. No other nation besides Israel receives a comparable amount of military funding from our tax dollars.
III. Suspend Pitzer Haifa 2018-2019
The Suspend Pitzer Haifa 2023-2024 campaign builds on the legacy of Claremont SJP’s first effort to suspend Pitzer’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa during the 2018-2019 academic year. On Thursday, November 8th, 2018, Pitzer College’s faculty voted on and passed the following motion 20-3:
The Pitzer Faculty calls for the suspension of the College’s exchange with Haifa University, 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.6
This was a historic win for Palestinian freedom. Afterwards, President Melvin Oliver pushed this motion to the College Council (composed of professors, faculty, admin, and a handful of students), which reaffirmed the vote to conditionally suspend the program with ⅔ majority (67 yes, 28 no, 8 abstentions)7. In doing so, Pitzer College became the first higher education institution in the United States to pass such a motion. However, merely four hours after the bill passed, President Oliver nullified the vote, citing inapplicable and evasive arguments of academic freedom and criticizing the bill for being prejudiced8. This undemocratic nullification overruled the Pitzer community’s decision to suspend the study abroad program in Haifa and further shielded the Israeli state from critique. Just weeks after the vote, President Oliver visited the University of Haifa to undermine the Pitzer community’s embrace of the academic boycott in support of Palestinian freedom.9
The administrative resistance to the 2018-2019 Suspend Pitzer Haifa campaign demonstrated the extent to which Pitzer College disregards community calls for justice guided by a Palestinian call for BDS. Furthermore, internal and external agitation pursued by Israeli apartheid apologists throughout the campaign threatened the safety and well-being of SJP members. The onslaught of racist, anti-Palestinian, and Islamophobic rhetoric on campus in the lead up to and the aftermath of the vote was appalling and revealed the deeply seeded institutional and cultural ways that the 5Cs uphold Israeli apartheid. For example, the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), an organization notorious for surveilling individuals engaged in the Palestinian freedom struggle10, ran paid promotional video advertisements that disingenuously misrepresented the attitudes of students from both the Claremont Colleges and the University of Haifa11. With no reference to the specific material consequences of Pitzer College’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa, the abstract questions shown in the ad campaign sought to craft a false narrative that distorts student opinion.
Had President Oliver not vetoed the resolution, Pitzer would have set a historic precedent for institutions across the United States to act in solidarity with the Palestinian people through an academic boycott of a study abroad program, putting Pitzer on the right side of history. Throughout the school’s sixty-year history, Pitzer has twice unilaterally rejected a democratic motion set by the College Council. Both vetoes occurred under President Oliver, and both bills addressed the struggle of the Palestinian people. The first veto took place in 2017; after the Pitzer Student Senate passed a divestment to remove student funds from any corporation or organization associated with the unethical occupation of Palestinian territories, the Board of Trustees undemocratically overturned the bill12. Despite initially passing with an overwhelming majority vote, the Pitzer administration nullified a student government resolution aimed to prohibit student discretionary funding towards “payment[s] on goods or services from any corporation or organization associated with the unethical occupation of Palestinian territories.”13
Other presidents at the Claremont Colleges have hindered student activism in support of Palestinian freedom. In April 2021, the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) unanimously passed a resolution divesting ASPC funds from a list of 112 companies deemed by the U.N. as complicit in the occupation of Palestine14. Before ASPC even had the opportunity to announce the vote, Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr and eight administrators issued a school-wide email to condemn the resolution and “urge ASPC to reverse course and allow for full discussion.”15 This act of student suppression by President Starr follows an alarming trend of 5C administrations undemocratically interfering in student government affairs.
Of Pitzer’s five purported core values, the blatant disregard for student voices dismisses three crucial values: “social responsibility,” “intercultural understanding,” and “student engagement.” While the college boasts its tradition of student activism and social justice, the administration has demonstrated an inability to respect students’ attempts to hold the college to a social and moral standard regarding Palestinian liberation.
In the years following the first Suspend Pitzer Haifa campaign, we have witnessed growing support for Palestinian freedom at the Claremont Colleges and worldwide, with the rising international consensus that Israel is an apartheid state. The world’s two leading human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, recently declared Israel guilty of apartheid16. Throughout, Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (5C SJP) has firmly continued to support Palestinian calls for an international boycott.
IV. Relaunching Suspend Pitzer Haifa 2023-2024
With President Oliver’s recent retirement, it is time for President-Designate Strom Thacker to abide by the Pitzer community’s overwhelming support of Palestinian freedom by cutting ties with the University of Haifa. Situated upon the ruins of the ethnically cleansed Palestinian village of el-Khuribeh, the University of Haifa systematically discriminates against Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students. Between 1947 and 1948, more than 40,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes in Haifa alone, and refugees still, to this day, cannot return to their homes17. Descendants of these refugees who study at the Claremont Colleges would likely be barred from this study abroad program.
The University of Haifa’s anti-Palestinian policies remain integral to the University today. The University’s administration revoked the degree of a master’s student who did research on the 1948 massacre of Palestinians in Tantura, which is emblematic of the larger repression of critical research and expression at Israeli universities18. Furthermore, among Israeli universities—all of whom are complicit in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine—Haifa has a particularly close relationship with Israel’s military occupation. The University is the home of Israeli army cadet programs.19 The University offers scholarships that require passing an exam on Judaism, which is mandatory in schools, thereby denying Palestinian and Arab students the opportunity to partake.20 The University’s long history of inflicting violence on Palestinians and discriminating against non-Jewish students renders Pitzer’s study abroad program unethical and unfair. With most Palestinians unable to participate, this study abroad program completely undermines the institution’s commitment to “academic freedom.” In fact, taking up the academic boycott of Israel represents the pinnacle of academic freedom and a larger fight for justice internationally. As Palestinian students at the University of Haifa wrote in March 2019,
We the Palestinian students in Haifa University refuse to be used as ‘the diversity’ pretension to whitewash its racist policies towards Palestinian students…Since we the Palestinian students in Haifa University are banned from supporting or calling for the boycott of Israeli universities and Israeli academia in general, we thank the rallying students for rising the Palestinian cause in American universities.21
Study abroad programs through the University of Haifa both support and normalize these apartheid practices. If Pitzer College suspends our study abroad program with the University of Haifa, we would be the first in the country to endorse the academic boycott and fight for Palestinian freedom in this way. Pitzer must do the hard and fundamental work to set historical precedent for suspending Israeli study abroad programs across the nation.
V. What Now?
Given all of the reasons above, we call on Pitzer College to suspend its study abroad program with the University of Haifa 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. We understand prioritizing human rights, ethical considerations, and asserting BDS to be the ultimate expressions of academic freedom. Students at the Claremont Colleges can support these efforts to suspend Pitzer’s Haifa study abroad program by signing this petition and registering for our email updates. Further, students and faculty can access various resources on our website. As students at the Claremont Colleges, we demand that Pitzer uplift both community and international calls for Palestinian freedom and cut ties with the University of Haifa.
In solidarity and struggle,
Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine
1US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, https://usacbi.org/.
2 See https://www.nationalsjp.org/about
3Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), https://bdsmovement.net/what-is-bds.
4 Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), https://bdsmovement.net/what-is-bds.
5Jake Horton, “Israel-Gaza: How much money does Israel get from the US?,” BBC, May 24, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/57170576.
6 Ben Sales, “California College’s Faculty Votes to Suspend Study Abroad in Israel,” Haaretz, Nov 28, 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/2018-11-28/ty-article/california-college-suspends-study-abroad-program-in-israel/0000017f-f78e-d044-adff-f7ff66460000.
7 Kellen Browning, Patrick Liu, and Jaimie Ding, “Pitzer College Council votes to suspend Israel study abroad program at University of Haifa,” The Student Life, March 14, 2019, https://tsl.news/breaking-pitzer-college-council-votes-to-suspend-israel-study-abroad-program-at-university-of-haifa
8 Marc Rod, “Pitzer President Melvin Oliver vetoes suspension of Haifa study abroad program,” March 14, 2019, The Student Life, https://tsl.news/pitzer-president-melvin-oliver-vetoes-suspension-of-haifa-study-abroad-program/.
9Aaron Bandler, “Pitzer President Visits University of Haifa,” Jewish Journal, May 28, 2019, https://jewishjournal.com/community/299200/pitzer-college-president-visits-haifa-u-to-reiterate-his-opposition-to-israel-boycott/.
10 Justin Elliott and Josh Nathan-Kazis, “D.C.-Based Pro-Israel Group Secretly Ran Misleading Facebook Ads to Target Pro-Palestinian Activist,” ProPublica and The Forward, Sept. 12, 2018, https://www.propublica.org/article/dc-pro-israel-group-ran-facebook-ads-to-target-pro-palestinian-activist.
11 Israel on Campus Coalition, March 11, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/352527958302/posts/10156544204408303/.
12 Kellen Browning, Samuel Breslow, and Elinor Aspegren, “‘A Slap in the Face’: Pitzer Trustees Toss Out Senate BDS Amendment,” The Student Life, June 21, 2017, https://tsl.news/news6798/.
14 Anushe Engineer and Yasmin Elqutami, “Starr pushes ASPC to ‘reverse course’ on divestment bill that would reform internal finances in support of Palestine,” The Student Life, April 27, 2021, https://tsl.news/aspc-divestment-bill-sparks-pushback/.
16 “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” Human Rights Watch, April 27, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution. “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians,” Amnesty International, February 1, 2022, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2022/02/israels-system-of-apartheid/.
17 Morris, Benny. “Haifa’s Arabs: Displacement and Concentration, July 1948.” Middle East Journal 42, no. 2 (1988): 241–59. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4327736.
18 Ofer Aderet, “Israeli University Head Slams Research on 1948 Tantura Massacre ‘Used to Advance Political Agenda’,” Haaretz, Jun 8, 2022, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2022-06-08/ty-article/.premium/for-political-agenda-haifa-uni-head-slams-thesis-on-alleged-tantura-massacre/00000181-425b-df72-a5cb-c2ffc5040000.
19 “University of Haifa to Lead Israel’s Military Colleges,” Heights: University of Haifa Magazine, https://magazine.haifa.ac.il/index.php/inside/113-university-of-haifa-to-lead-israel4.
20 Adi Hashmonai and Or Kashti, “University of Haifa Scholarship Effectively Excludes Arabs,” Haaretz, Jun 8, 2022, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2022-06-08/ty-article/top-israeli-university-scholarship-effectively-excludes-arab-students/00000181-3f25-df72-a5cb-bffff8cc0000.
21 Roots Unity Bloc (Haifa University) and Edward Said Forum (Tel-aviv University), “A Statement by Palestinian Students in Occupied Palestine,” March 14, 2019, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2KIYUc2SjdgZ2FXUURXcTFwQnRjYldVUWVCNDZId09mYjVF/view?usp=sharing&resourcekey=0-ThzHoy6QHiQ0FtD3SVrFuQ.