Rep. Rashida Tlaib Joins Boycott of School in Israel with High Arab Student Population 

Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., right, walks with a reporter to a session during member-elect briefings and orientation on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

A pro-Palestinian effort to cancel a California college’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa in Israel is publicizing that Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) has joined the cause, according to media reports.

“@RashidaTlaib is in with #SuspendPitzerHaifa. @pitzercollege,” Daniel Segal, an anthropology and history professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, put up on his Twitter account.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel also tweeted about Tlaib’s support.

“U.S. Congress member @RashidaTlaib supports faculty at @pitzercollege who voted overwhelmingly to suspend a study abroad program with Haifa University over Israel’s discriminatory policies against Palestinians,” the campaign tweeted.

“The College Council must uphold the faculty vote. #SuspendPitzerHaifa,” the tweet said.

Both tweets were accompanied by a picture of Tlaib holding the informational pamphlet about the boycott effort.

Leftwing faculty members voted to abandon the study abroad program in November unless Israel met demands to Israel regarding Palestinians and the Pitzer College Council — made up of faculty and students — was set to vote on the matter on Thursday.

They voted for this despite the fact that the University of Haifa has the largest population of Arab students in Israel, according to a Haaretz report last year.

“The University of Haifa had the largest proportion of Israeli Arab students, 41.1 percent, followed by 22.2 percent at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology,” Haaretz reported.

The Intercept interviewed the newly elected Tlaib in early December, and she expressed her anti-Israel views, including supporting the BDS movement:

Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic representative-elect from Michigan, belongs to a cohort of incoming members of Congress who’ve vowed to upend the status quo — even on third-rail issues in Washington like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To that end, Tlaib is planning to lead a congressional delegation to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, she told The Intercept. Her planned trip is a swift rebuke of a decades-old tradition for newly elected members: a junket to Israel sponsored by the education arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

Tlaib’s challenge to AIPAC isn’t limited to leading a separate trip to the region. In her interview with The Intercept, she for the first time came out in support of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, the movement known as BDS that seeks to punish Israel over its human rights abuses.

“I personally support the BDS movement,” said Tlaib. She added that economic boycotts are a way to bring attention to “issues like the racism and the international human rights violations by Israel right now.”

In January, Segal wrote about the call to end the partnership between his college and Israel for Inside Higher Education, which included stating that the faculty wanted to “lend support to the Palestinian struggle for equality” and act against Israel’s “illegal occupation of Palestine.”

The commentary said, in part: 

The first condition is that entry to Israel, and thus to the Haifa program, must be free of discrimination based on ancestry and legitimate political speech. The second is that Israel allow foreign exchanges with Palestinian universities on the same basis that it does for Israeli universities. Currently, the Israeli state does not issue visas that allow foreign students and faculty members to join Palestinian universities for a full semester, much less any longer.

“Why did you pose this question here and now?”

As a proud Jew, I know well that I live in an America with increased anti-Semitism. But I also know that deploying false charges of anti-Semitism to shield the Israeli state from legitimate criticism undermines recognition of, and thus the struggle against, actual anti-Semitism. We need, in short, to end the double standard that is indeed present in regard to Israel in the public sphere in the United States — the double standard that blocks, at every turn and by every means, the cause of social justice for our Palestinian sisters and brothers.

Not everyone is supportive of a break from the University of Haifa, however, including Pitzer’s president, according to Fox News:

The (college) president, Melvin Oliver, has fought back against the push to end the program. According to The Student Life, he said in November that ending the program would mark a “major blow” to the college and noted the other countries to which the college runs study abroad programs.

“Why would we not suspend our program with China? Or take our longest standing program in Nepal, where the Pitzer in Nepal program has been run for over 40 years. During that time they have had a bloody civil war that killed 19,000 people,” he said. “Why Israel?”

The student-run Claremont Independent’s editorial board is against the move, Fox reported.

“In a twist of irony, this vote is also counterproductive to even the efforts of pro-Palestinian student activists; it prevents students from seeing the current conflict in-person and forces a reliance on second-hand sources. Is not actually attending the place where the conflict is occurring, seeing and experiencing it yourself the purest way to see the conflict unfiltered?” the article asked.

“This push to ban the study abroad at Haifa is nothing but the absolutely worst form of virtue signaling,” the article said.

The Washington Free Beacon reported on the response from the University of Haifa’s President Ron Robin.

“We have Jews and Arab faculty and students coexisting, and this seems to contradict the narrative about Israel as an apartheid state,” Robin said. “We hope we’re a crystal ball of what Israeli society could look like.”

“The director of campus affairs for the American Jewish Committee also criticized the move, saying that faculty was letting ‘outside political influences’ impact the academic life of students,” the Beacon reported.

“At issue in the Pitzer vote is not only the study abroad program in Haifa but the idea that a student should not have his or her academic pursuits hindered by outside political influences,” Zev Hurwitz said. “True academic freedom allows the free exchange of ideas regardless of circumstances in the host country.”

Follow Penny Starr on Twitter.


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