The faculty of Pitzer College, a small elite California school, has turned a critical eye toward the college’s study abroad programs. That makes sense. After all, they’ve got one in China where, according to the State Department, the government restricts “political and social discourse at colleges, universities, and research institutes.” Academic subjects “deemed politically sensitive,” such as civil rights, are “off limits.” I mean, Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to turn the academy into a “stronghold that adheres to party leadership.” That doesn’t sound very Pitzer at all!
College campuses are sensitive to anti-Muslim prejudice. It’s no surprise, then, that Pitzer’s faculty might want to reexamine the school’s relationship with a country that, according to Sigal Samuel of The Atlantic, keeps an estimated one million Muslims in internment camps. In the camps, they are compelled to renounce Islam and “recite Communist Party propaganda songs for hours each day.”
It also makes sense that they’d want to get out in front of the situation in Brazil. There, campuses were recently “stormed by military police” and staff were “arrested for their political views in the wake of the presidential election.” Pitzer has a study abroad program there, too.
In Rwanda, according to Freedom House, scholars and students can be suspended for “divisionism.” Freedom House rates Rwanda “not free.” Among many other conditions, “space for free private discussion is limited in part by indications that the government monitors personal communications. Social media are widely believed to be monitored, and the law allows for government hacking of telecommunications networks.” That doesn’t sound very Pitzer either! But Pitzer has a study abroad program there.
So what study abroad program has so riled Pitzer’s faculty? The one at the University of Haifa in Israel.
Reportedly, the faculty recently called for the suspension of the program until Israel ends “restrictions on entry to Israel based on ancestry and/or political speech” and adopts a policy “granting visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities” on the same basis it grants them for Israel universities.
Even staunch defenders of Israel have a bone to pick with some aspects of the country’s visa policy. It’s just odd that, like a little U.N., Pitzer’s faculty has surveyed the field of countries it involves itself with and found only Israel worthy of its attention. Two Pitzer student senators have introduced a resolution supporting the study abroad program at the University of Haifa. That program, they say, “was called into question without the same standards of review being applied to any other study abroad program.” They accuse the faculty of promoting a “political agenda” at the expense of students interested in learning about the Middle East. They’re right, of course.
And it’s even a little worse than that. While it has become the norm to apply a double standard to Israel, an obsessive and exclusive focus on the deficiencies of the Jewish state can be anti-Semitic. Because the double standard is the norm, there is no reason to accuse anyone on Pitzer’s faculty of anti-Semitism. But there is good reason to accuse those who voted against study abroad in Israel of permitting themselves to be swept up in an anti-Semitic current. That’s plenty to be ashamed of.