BY CLAREMONT SJP
“If you want to stop Netenyahuism from growing, you have to fight to liberate the Palestinians. You have to fight to emancipate the Palestinians… As long as the Palestinians are occupied, Netenyahuism is the most adequate form of government in Israel.”
Dr. Vjiay Prashad’s observation expresses Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine’s essential understanding: there can be no democracy in Israel until Palestine is liberated.
The current objections held by liberal Israelis are misplaced. Netanyahu is a product of the occupation of Palestine, not a historical anomaly. Because the occupation itself systematically impedes civil and human rights, the author’s claims that the University of Haifa is “liberal” and “opposed to the Netanyahu government” have no relevance to our campaign, which specifically asks for Pitzer to suspend this study abroad program until: 1) the Israeli state ends its restrictions on entry to Israel based on ancestry and/or political speech and 2) the Israeli state adopts policies granting visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities on a fully equal basis as it does to Israeli universities.
The implication that Israeli universities are “natural allies” to SJP’s cause is a gross inaccuracy. As detailed in SJP’s campaign website, the University of Haifa directly opposes Palestinian liberation.
Teddy Katz, former Israeli graduate student, interviewed over 135 Palestinians and Israelis to investigate the Tantura massacre for his graduate thesis. Despite receiving glowing academic reviews, the University of Haifa revoked his degree and accused him of libel.
Allies to whom, then? One can only assume the author once again means “liberal” Israelis.
The author also claims that a boycott eliminates the educational “opportunity” to study abroad in “the West Bank” or “in the Gaza Strip.”
First, this begs the question of who exactly this “opportunity” is for, considering there are Palestinian students at the Claremont Colleges who would not be allowed to participate. There are over 7 million Palestinian refugees today, and many of them cannot enter the entirety of occupied Palestine because the Israeli government denies their right to return. An academic institution, such as the University of Haifa, that resides in this inaccessible territory is not an institution that values all students equally. Without all students being able to study abroad at the University, the institution is antithetical to academic freedom.
Further, the University of Haifa is located about 100 miles North of Gaza and 20 miles Northwest of the West Bank. Mentions of both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are inaccurate and misguided, as the Israeli military consistently controls who enters these areas, including the passing of new restrictions in September 2022. Between 1947 and 1948, more than 40,000 Palestinian citizens of Haifa were forced from their homes. The University of Haifa was founded 15 years later, in 1963, on this stolen land.
Next, the author falsely uses “Arab” and “Palestinian” interchangeably. The fact that the University of Haifa is “more than 40% Arab” has no bearing in reference to how many Palestinian students attend the University and, more importantly, obscures the racist reality of the occupation that undoubtedly influences their education. As stated by historian and activist Ilan Pappé:
Half of the Palestinian students at the University of Haifa suffered from racist policies by the universities and attitudes by their lectures. Even during Ramadan, the university and the lectures did not allow any concessions as they would for Jewish students for their holidays. These are not marginal actions, but integral parts of the university policy.
The author’s claim that the University is the “most diverse school in the Middle East” - a source for this would be nice - demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what diversity and equity actually mean. Palestinian students that make up this “diversity” are subject to racist policies and an inequitable education.
Further, traveling to occupied Palestine to speak to these students and “learn first-hand” from them prioritizes non-Palestinian students’ desire to reach their own “conclusions” above the lived experiences of Palestinian students at the University, as well as negating the decades of work of Palestinian activists and scholars.
The author then, randomly, invokes anti-Arab stereotypes, seemingly aiming to portray the state of Israel as a beacon of equity while painting a brush over the rest of the MENA region, citing discrimination against women, migrants, and LGBTQ communities. While there is truth to the claim that these marginalized communities face discrimination in Lebanon, these complex socio-political structures cannot be summarized in a single sentence. For further reading on the experiences of sexual minorities in Lebanon, we recommend Disruptive Situations by Ghassan Moussawi, as well as this response to the ethnography and how it connects to pinkwashing.
The author, along with many students learning about SJP’s campaign, then asks, “Why Israel?”
Firstly, the US funnels billions of dollars in military aid to Israel annually, amounting to a total of about $260 billion given to Israel by the US since 1946. The University of Haifa itself is home to Israeli army cadet programs, demonstrating a direct relationship between the University and the Israeli Occupation Forces that the US government funds.
As discussed in “Why Israel?” by Pitzer Professor Daniel Segal, Israel relies on US military aid to continue the occupation of Palestine. Pitzer College, therefore, has a responsibility to withdraw any relationship it has with the state of Israel that contributes to the ongoing occupation. The second reason discussed by Professor Segal is that Palestinians themselves are asking for US support through BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) campaigns. Palestinian students at the University of Haifa have voiced support for academic boycotts, stating:
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.
Supporting the current call to suspend Pitzer’s study abroad to Haifa is one way that we, as students in the US, can support Palestinian liberation. The Pitzer student body and faculty of 2018-19 understood the importance of this boycott when they voted to suspend the program then. We hope the current student body will once again heed the call of Palestinians and reaffirm Pitzer’s support for this boycott.
To learn more about Suspend Pitzer Haifa, visit SJP’s website.