California college president vetoes Israel boycott

Students and faculty at Pitzer College vote to suspend partnership with University of Haifa, but college president vetoes the move.

Elad Benari ,

Boycott Israel sign in Bethlehem
Boycott Israel sign in Bethlehem
Miriam Alster/Flash 90

Students and faculty at California's Pitzer College voted on Thursday to suspend the study abroad partnership with the University of Haifa, but college president Melvin Oliver vetoed the move.

Oliver described the motion as an "academic boycott of Israel", reported the Washington Free Beacon.

The anti-Israel proposal, backed by radical leftist groups and Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, won the support of the Pitzer College Council in a Thursday vote taken by both students and faculty. Oliver, however, said the vote amounts only to a recommendation to the president and that he is declining to take it.

Oliver made numerous arguments against the proposal in message to the academic community, including that it was "prejudiced" against Israel, would "curtail academic freedom," and that it is not the school's role to take political positions.

"Although some claim that this is not an academic boycott of Israel, I disagree," Oliver wrote, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

"The recommendation puts in place a form of academic boycott of Israel and, in the process, sets us on a path away from the free exchange of ideas, a direction which ultimately destroys the academy’s ability to fulfill our educational mission. I categorically oppose any form of academic boycott of any country," he added.

Oliver said the "prejudiced" action against Israel would cause irreparable harm to Pitzer's reputation.

"By singling out Israel, the recommendation itself is prejudiced," he wrote. "The reputational harm to the College would be irreparable and as president of this institution, I cannot permit that to happen."

Oliver argued suspending the program would be "directly counter to Pitzer's core value of intercultural understanding."

"The recommendation curtails the academic freedom of those students who wish to study at the University of Haifa," he added, according to the Free Beacon. "Among Pitzer’s core values is the promotion of intercultural understanding, much of that achieved through our vibrant study abroad program that enables our students to reach their own conclusions about some of the world’s most vexing challenges through on-the-ground, face-to-face, people-to-people experience. The recommendation runs directly counter to Pitzer’s core value of intercultural understanding."

Over the past several years there have been several attempts in the United States, some of them successful, to impose an academic boycott of Israel.

In 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to boycott Israeli institutions. The head of the ASA later admitted to the New York Times that many nations, including many of Israel’s neighbors, have human rights records that are worse than Israel’s but said that “one has to start somewhere.”

The ASA's boycott decision was controversial even among its members. No universities actually came out in support of the boycott and at least four universities subsequently quit the organization in protest of the boycott.

In 2015, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) endorsed an academic boycott of Israel.

In 2016, however, the American Historical Association (AHA) rejected a resolution condemning Israel’s alleged “restriction of Palestinians right to education”.

There have also been attempts to boycott Israel by individual educational institutions.

Last week, the student government at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania voted to approve a resolution calling on the school to divest from companies that do business with Israel related to Judea and Samaria.

In December of 2018, the Student Government Assembly (SGA) at New York University (NYU) voted in favor of a BDS-type resolution calling for the divestment of companies that do business with the IDF.