TEL AVIV – The President of California’s Pitzer College said he ignore a motion voted on by staff last week in favor of suspending a study abroad program in Israel.
The College Council voted by a margin of 67-28 in favor of halting “the study-abroad program in 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,” the text of the motion said.
Eight voters abstained.
The college’s president, Melvin Oliver, rejected the non-binding motion, saying, “I am refusing to permit Pitzer College to take a position that I believe will only harm the College.”
“The recommendation puts in place a form of academic boycott of Israel and, in the process, sets us on a path away from the free exchange of ideas, a direction which ultimately destroys the academy’s ability to fulfill our educational mission,” Oliver wrote in a statement.
“By singling out Israel, the recommendation itself is prejudiced,” he added.
The motion was advanced by supporters of the BDS movement against Israel and backed by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.
The American Jewish Committee slammed the vote as an “outrageous attack on academic freedom.”
“The decision threatens to allow a dangerous precedent — that it is acceptable for outside political influence to limit student experiences,” they said. “The responsibilities of a leading university, include providing as many opportunities for education and research as possible, is not politicizing academia.”
University of Haifa President Ron Robin said the Pitzer faculty had given “its seal of approval to contemporary anti-Semitism.”
“While such proponents of the BDS movement in the academic community utilize a free speech argument to justify boycotts of Israeli institutions, those who support these votes at Pitzer are actually undermining academic freedom and free speech by depriving students of their freedom to choose where to study abroad,” he stated.
“The Pitzer boycott is particularly misguided given the fact that at University of Haifa, 35 percent of our students are Arabs, and that our Israeli and Arab students work together harmoniously on extracurricular activities and community service,” Robin said. “This is diversity, coexistence, and tolerance at its finest.”
Pitzer alum Elliott Hamilton tweeted that Oliver’s rejection was “purely heroic.”
“He stood in the face of a mob led by an emotionally-driven ideologue and put the promise of academic freedom above political showboating. The institution will never truly be redeemed, but kudos to Pres. Oliver,” he said.