To: Dr. Eric Shroeder Summer Abroad faculty Director, Dr. Jean-Xavier Guinard Associate Vice Provost, and Dr. William Lacy Vice provost at the University of California Davis
From: The EAP Equality Coalition
Date: June 1, 2009
As University of California students, faculty, and people of conscience, we strive to uphold the Principles of Community whereby “We affirm the inherent dignity in all of us, and strive to maintain a climate of justice.” In light of these principles supporting equality and justice, we find the recent inception of the new Summer Abroad to Israel program morally objectionable.
Given that the university also shares our commitment to uphold “the highest standards of civility and decency towards all,” we are dismayed that UC Davis established the program with Israel, which required the university to make recommendations that nullified even the US Department of the State”s (DOS) Travel Advisory.
We are deeply troubled that UC Davis decided to make an exception for the program in Israel, and did so in the wake of Israel”s war on Gaza in winter 2008-09. UN special investigators on human rights offer compelling evidence that “Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza violates international humanitarian law,” and requires an independent investigation into whether it involved war crimes.
Numerous UN-protected Palestinian schools and universities were bombed by Israeli missiles in the recent war on Gaza. We are very dismayed that the university has continued a program with Israel in the wake of these recent attacks, that have been condemned by the international community. Even though this program was planned before the latest Israeli offensive in Gaza that caused the deaths of 1500 people, once this massacre became public, the university should have revoked its approval of the program.
Continuing the Study Abroad in Israel suggests the university”s condoning of the Israeli massacres and sanctioning of the Israeli state”s ongoing policies of discrimination toward non-Jews. Israel”s long-standing pattern of human rights violations includes the exploitation, annexation, and illegal settlement of Palestinian territories, as well as segregation of and discrimination toward Palestinians in the occupied territories and inside Israel. The location and structure of the program in Israel hinder an unbiased representation of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict; indeed they reinforce a limited and narrow understanding of these issues.
We understand that the university is going through extreme precautions to ensure the inception of this program by forwarding the names of enrolled students to the Israeli consulate in San Francisco to ensure their proper passage through Israeli airports and checkpoints. Israeli military personnel will also apparently accompany UC students during their outdoor endeavors. Although doing this may provide an illusion of protection for the students, it does not guarantee their safety, especially those suspected of being Arab or Muslim, in a state that practices systemic racial discrimination, as illustrated by the DOS warning: “American citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being of Arab or Muslim origin are likely to face additional, often time-consuming, and probing questioning by immigration and border authorities, or may even be denied entry into Israel.”
In fact, these measures only compromise the freedom of education of the participants. The military presence also serves to romanticize the notion of the Israeli Defense Force as a protective state entity that ensures human security, when in reality the IDF is currently under numerous investigations for consistently attacking innocent civilians, including children and students, and violating international human rights law. The impact of the “security wall,” the closures of roads and restrictions on travel, the demolition of homes, the destruction of trees, all impact the mobility and livelihood of Palestinians and violate their human rights, including their right to education, and consequently make a mockery of the notion of academic freedom for students and scholars.
These extreme measures of providing military escort also violate the philosophy of the EAP. Study Abroad programs strive to provide “opportunities to discover, learn about and engage with other cultures to challenge our students to rethink the way they look at the world”; however, normal Israeli citizens do not walk around Israel with military protection. Therefore, by having the inevitable military presence in the program, students experience an education that is embedded with the military, and that limits their understanding of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. By continuing this program, the university transgresses core standards of equality, justice and precedence.
The University of California has a historic pattern of divestment from South Africa in 1986 because of systematic racism against black Africans, and again in 2006 from Sudan, due to issues of transnational displacement and ethnic cleansing. Now in 2009, the UC should divest from Israel because Israel also enforces systemic discrimination against Palestinian citizens in Israel, and is accused of ethnic cleansing and war crimes against the Palestinians in the occupied territories. By supporting this program the university fails to uphold its own statements of values.
Given UC Davis”s commitment to the “Principles of Community,” where the university pledges to “affirm the inherent dignity in all of us, and…strive to maintain a climate of justice…and confront and reject all manifestations of discrimination, including those based on race, ethnicity, gender,” it becomes morally contradictory and compromising to have a Study Abroad program in Israel. Therefore, in light of this evidence, it is ethically incumbent on EAP officials to reconsider the inception of the Summer Abroad program in Israel, and to terminate it forthwith.