Pitzer College becomes first to vote to end study-abroad program in Israel

March 15, 2019

Pitzer College voted Thursday night to drop its only study-abroad program in Israel, drawing cheers from Palestinian activists and strong condemnation from Jewish groups that accused the California institution of placing politics over students.

The Pitzer College Council, a governing body of faculty and student senators, voted 67-28, with eight abstaining, to end the program at the left-tilting University of Haifa, located atop Mount Carmel, according to the Claremont Independent.

The motion must still be approved by Pitzer President Melvin L. Oliver, who has criticized calls to cut ties with Israel, calling the effort “a repudiation of our educational mission.”

AMCHA Initiative co-founder and director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin described Pitzer as the first U.S. college to vote to end its Israel study-abroad program as part of an academic boycott.

“What happened today at Pitzer is an academic abomination,” AMCHA, a nonprofit, said in a statement. “Prioritizing politics over students is reprehensible, but sadly, the Pitzer College Council did just that. Academic boycotts violate the rights of students and faculty on U.S. campuses, and this precedent-setting vote is frightening.”

Supporting the boycott was Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, who posed with a #SuspendPitzerHaifa message in a tweet posted Monday by Pitzer anthropology and history professor Daniel A. Segal, a leader of the campaign to suspend the study-abroad program.

The @pitzercollege Councila governing body of faculty and student senators which usually decides college policyhas voted in favor of suspending Pitzer’s only study abroad program in Israel with @HaifaUniversity.https://t.co/mUcZeBhMF2 ClaremontIndependent (@CmontInd) March 15, 2019

@RashidaTlaib is in with #SuspendPitzerHaifa. @pitzercollege @caliactivist @sareemakdisi @YousefMunayyer @jjz1600 @RepJudyChu @jvplive @theIMEU pic.twitter.com/5NUQoQk6c7 Daniel A. Segal (@DanSegal14) March 11, 2019

“The responsibilities of a leading university include providing as many opportunities for education and research as possible not politicizing academia.” Read our full statement on @pitzercollege’s vote to end its @HaifaUniversity study abroad program: https://t.co/vc91LtQquQ AJC (@AJCGlobal) March 15, 2019

The council approved his amendment to the proposed policy stating that the suspension would remain in effect until “the Israeli state ends its restrictions on entry to Israel based on ancestry and/or political speech,” and “the Israeli state adopts policies granting visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities on a fully equal basis as it does to Israeli universities.”

Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine cheered the vote as “a historic win,” saying it “encourages institutions around the world to follow Pitzer’s lead and cut complicity with the Israeli occupation.”

“This is a historic vote, as it makes Pitzer College the first college in the country to suspend a study abroad program in Israel based on its gravely discriminatory policies towards Palestinians and in a settler-colonial state that continues its egregious violations of human rights,” SJP said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Committee blasted the decision 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,” the AJC said in a statement. “The responsibilities of a leading university include providing as many opportunities for education and research as possible not politicizing academia. We urge President Oliver to overturn this misguided action by the College Council.”

The move to suspend the University of Haifa program came after the college’s board of trustees voted last year to nullify a student government resolution to adopt the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

Pitzer belongs to the five-college Claremont consortium along with Pomona, Claremont-McKenna, Scripps and Harvey Mudd colleges.