News & Politics

Pitzer College Professors Vote to End School’s Partnership With the University of Haifa

The majority of Pitzer College faculty voted on November 8 to end the school’s study abroad partnership with the University of Haifa in a boycott, divest, sanctions (BSD)-inspired move.

The University of Haifa is the only university in Israel where Pitzer students can study abroad, according to the school’s website. Each year, a handful of Pitzer students take classes taught in English at the school.

According to the Pitzer newspaper, the partnership has existed as early as 1980. Student Ari Sherman, after visiting Haifa through Pitzer, wrote in April 1980 that not only did he enjoy his visit, but that he now calls the country of Israel “home.”

With the recent vote, it appears that partnership will come to an end. While it’s unclear how many faculty attended the meeting for the vote, 172 faculty are listed in the Pitzer directory. The voting information is sealed.

While the vote wasn’t public, at least one student government official attended.

Three days later, students published a resolution on the issue, urging Pitzer to keep ties with Haifa and claiming the vote maliciously singled out Israel and failed to involve other campus stakeholders.

“Only the University of Haifa study abroad program was called into question… marking a departure from [considering] a program on its merits but rather forwarding a clear political agenda,” says 55-R-04, authored by students Isaiah Kramer and Brendan Schultz.

Neither student could be reached by PJ Media. Pitzer University spokeswoman Anna Chang did note that the partnership is still “ongoing” at least till the end of the academic year while the campus community mulls it over.

Dozens of pro-Israel and Zionist nonprofits made statements denouncing the vote, as reported by Jackson Richman of the Jewish News Syndicate.

“The vote to suspend Pitzer College’s study-abroad program with the University of Haifa is a despicable effort by the faculty to impose their hateful anti-Semitic, anti-Israel political agenda on students,” said Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

“Pitzer College has demonstrated that the true mission of any college…  has been eclipsed by the current in vogue wave of anti-Semitism that has been thinly cloaked in anti-Zionism,” said Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth.

Syracuse University professor Miriam F. Elman expressed exasperation at the blacklist.

“They’re punishing faculty and students at Haifa (and their own students at Pitzer) for Israeli policies that they don’t much like… Pitzer faculty are insisting that Haifa University should be put on a blacklist until Israeli policy changes to their satisfaction,” she said.

“And they’re doing that even though the University of Haifa is widely regarded as a model of Arab-Jewish coexistence, with a 25% Arab student body, which exceeds the 20% Arab population in Israel,” she added.

Professor Elman — who also blogs on BDS for Legal Insurrection — worries about how academic blacklists are increasingly common.

“If this kind of censorship becomes a trend,” said Elman, “it will have an impact financially on the Israeli universities that get targeted for boycott and so it will negatively affect hundreds of their Palestinian faculty and students.”

“Do the Pitzer faculty really want to cause this kind of downstream harm? It doesn’t seem like they’ve thought this through, probably because they don’t know a whole lot about Israeli academia, or its student and faculty makeup.”

School officials declined to clarify if the vote was binding. The University of Haifa did not immediately respond to our request for comment, though it’s likely that the school didn’t learn about the BDS vote until reporters began asking about it.

This story will be updated if and when the school replies with more information.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.