USACBI letter of support for #SuspendPitzerHaifa campaign

The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) sent the following letter to Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver, other senior officials, student leaders and faculty and staff at the college in support of the #SuspendPitzerHaifa campaign. The Pitzer students, faculty and staff voted overwhelmingly to suspend the college’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa. However, this democratic vote was vetoed by the college’s president, and USACBI is joining the call for him to rescind his undemocratic veto or resign his position.

The statement is below:

April 16, 2019

USACBI stands firmly with the students, faculty, and staff of Pitzer College who voted overwhelmingly in Pitzer’s College Council, to suspend Pitzer’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa.

As Pitzer’s College Council recognized in its motion, study abroad programs at Israeli Universities cannot be open equally to Pitzer’s own students, given that Israel’s laws of entry involve discrimination on the basis of race/ancestry and on the basis of Constitutionally protected political speech, specifically and notably political speech in support of equality and freedom for Palestinians.

It is no coincidence that the only two vetoes of democratic governance at Pitzer—this 2019 veto of a College Council resolution and a 2017 veto of a Student Senate resolution—are, very much like Israel’s restrictions on entry based on political speech, vetoes that support the Israeli state’s oppression of Palestinians.

So too, at a moment when Israel’s prime minister has endorsed annexation of all or part of the West Bank, no one can deny that this presidential veto shields Israel from the non-violent and most effective leverage available to social justice allies to expand the possibility for a positive peace—to use Reverend King’s term—for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians alike.  That leverage is comprised of actions that suspend business as usual with Israel and its complicit institutions, until Israel desists in its oppression of Palestinians and adheres to international law.

Prior to the two vetoes protecting Israeli state oppression of Palestinians, Pitzer College had a deservedly excellent reputation for its principled and often courageous commitment to social justice.  In the 1970s, Pitzer was the only member of the Claremont Consortium that did not condemn the hiring, by the intercollegiate Black Studies program, of the great social justice hero, Angela Davis.  Pitzer was also one of the first Colleges to drop requiring applicants to submit SAT scores, recognizing that these standardized tests were and remain racially biased.  Pitzer, again, was one of the few colleges in the US to end its relationship with ROTC in the 1990s, precisely because entry to the ROTC program discriminated against queer, lesbian, and gay Pitzer students.  Finally and most recently, Pitzer was the very first nationally prestigious institution of higher education to divest from fossil fuels.

Yet, today, following this veto of the College Council motion, the Pitzer administration has betrayed the college’s commitment to social justice. Pitzer now resembles the many institutions of higher education for which boasts of commitments to social responsibility and social justice are nothing more than marketing ploys. Should he fail to rescind it, the president’s veto of the motion to suspend the Haifa program significantly damages Pitzer College’s reputation and record.

Pitzer’s College Council resolution to suspend its study abroad program at the University of Haifa is consistent with the principles promoted by USACBI’s Study Abroad in Israel boycott campaign, which includes a pledge taken by faculty across the United States to uphold the academic boycott of Israel by refusing participation in Study Abroad programs in Israel. USACBI has called for this national campaign to boycott Study Abroad in Israel programs until Israel respects the rights of Palestinians under international law, including the right to education.

We commend the Pitzer students, faculty and staff of Pitzer’s College Council who have acted in principled support for a right to education free of discrimination.  We urge Pitzer’s president to rescind his undemocratic veto or resign his position.

USACBI Organizing Collective

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Chandler Davis, USACBI Advisory Board and Professor Emeritus, Mathematics, University of Toronto

Richard Falk, USACBI Advisory Board, and Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center, UCSB

Robin D. G. Kelley, USACBI Advisory Board, and Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA

Ilan Pappé, USACBI Advisory Board, and Chair in the Department of History, the University of Exeter and co-director of the Exeter Center for Ethno-Political Studies

Jasbir Puar, USACBI Advisory Board, and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University

Cornel West, USACBI Advisory Board and Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University

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