Middle East studies in the News
U.C. Berkeley Reinstates Palestine Course That Angered Jewish Groups
by Drew Himmelstein
U.C. Berkeley has reinstated a student-led course about the history of Palestine that was suspended last week after an outcry from dozens of Jewish organizations.
The course, originally called "Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis" (and now retitled "Palestine: A Settler Colonial Inquiry"), drew criticism from Hillel International, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a wide range of other Jewish agencies for promoting what Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific regional director Seth Brysk called a "one-sided, biased narrative consistent with the current movement to delegitimize Israel."
Carla Hesse, executive dean of the university's College of Letters & Science, cited procedural missteps in the course's original approval when she suspended the course on Sept. 13, shortly after objections made the news. The course proposal, she found, had not been submitted to the department chair nor to the dean's office for approval, as required for student-led courses, according to Dan Mogulof, the school's assistant vice chancellor.
In a Sept. 19 letter to department chairs in the division of social sciences and the divisional council of the academic senate, Hesse announced that she had rescinded her suspension.
Hesse and the chair of the department of ethnic studies have reviewed the course materials, resolving the procedural issues, she said. Additionally, the student facilitator, Paul Hadweh, working with the department chair and executive committee, made minor revisions to the description and syllabus in response to questions Hesse raised about whether the course was promoting a political agenda.
"I fully support and defend the principles and policies of our campus that protect the academic freedom of all members of our community, whether students, faculty staff or visitors, as well as the shared governance of our campus by the administration and faculty Senate," Hesse wrote. "It is in this spirit that I write in response to the understandable concerns that have been raised regarding the suspension of 'Ethnic Studies 198: Palestine: A Colonial Settler Analysis.'"
Jewish groups quickly issued statements protesting the reinstatment, among them Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs: "Our understanding is that the revisions to this disturbingly biased course are not substantive, and we reaffirm our belief that it violates University of California policy prohibiting political indoctrination in the classroom. Furthermore, we believe that denying the history, identity, and rights of any people in their homeland is a destructive act of racism which deserves condemnation - not acceptance into mainstream discourse. We hope that this incident will be used as a lesson going forward, and once again urge the UC Berkeley take these steps outlined in the letter sent by AMCHA, StandWithUs and dozens of other campus partners:
- Publicly affirm their commitment to enforcing the Regents Policy on Course content in the vetting of all courses taught by students and faculty at UCB.
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