Middle East studies in the News
Campus Watchdogs: UC Berkeley's Decision to Reinstate Anti-Zionism Course Is Capitulation to Israel-Demonizers
by Lea Speyer
The University of California, Berkeley's decision to reinstate a controversial anti-Zionism course constitutes pure capitulation to the extremist anti-Israel movement, major campus groups and a student activist told The Algemeiner.
Referring to UC Berkeley's decision on Monday to rescind the suspension of the course "Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis," after its syllabus was purportedly changed — though The Algemeiner, revealed that the same anti-Israel literature will be studied — Aviva Slomich, international campus director of CAMERA on Campus, said the move shows "the university can only be viewed as cowing to radical students, professors and their supporters."
The school's about-face, she told The Algemeiner, has already led to increased antisemitic and anti-Zionist sentiment on campus.
"Right now, at UC Berkeley, there is a narrative being pushed that the rich, powerful Jews are trying to silence the Palestinian students. There are fliers being passed around decrying the influence of 'advocates for a foreign state,'" Slomich said. "By condoning a class that is so explicit in undermining the Jews' historical ties to the land of Israel and Israel's right to continue to exist, the school is perpetuating an antisemitic atmosphere on campus."
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, head of the campus watchdog group the AMCHA Initiative — which spearheaded a letter signed by a coalition of 43 Jewish, civil rights and educational organizations condemning the course — told The Algemeiner that the "heart of the problem" is the "complete lack of oversight from faculty who determine if such courses get taught."
"For the Ethnic Studies Department to say the course in question is compliant with UC Regents policy and does not cross the line between political advocacy and education is an outrageous sham," she said. "The fact that so little was changed on the syllabus indicates the department only demanded minimal changes in order to say, with a straight face, 'The course meets academic and policy standards.'"
The controversy over "Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis," Rossman-Benjamin said, is "not an isolated problem" and highlights the "breakdown over the vetting process."
"The UC Regents are very adamant about not using the classroom for political indoctrination. UC Berkeley, a top-tier public university, is now the laughingstock of the academic community, because there was clearly minimal oversight," she told The Algemeiner.
Aron Hier, director of Campus Outreach for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Algemeiner he was "not surprised" to learn UC Berkeley had reinstated the course, stating, "Notwithstanding First Amendment protections, the university has a right and moral duty to decry antisemitic instances of anti-Israelism."
David Brog, director of the Maccabee Task Force, told The Algemeinerthat UC Berkeley's decision is "a blow to understanding and dialogue."
"This class will be an exercise in the demonization and delegitimization of Israel. Under both its prior and updated curriculum, the course does not seek an objective conversation about the country, and crosses the line into antisemitism," he said.
Jessica Marzucco, the director of CUFI on Campus, told The Algemeiner that the reinstatement of the course "constitutes the complete abandonment of objectivity."
"Israel's detractors have long since realized that when both sides of the discussion are allowed, the anti-Israel side loses. As a result, they seek to banish the pro-Israel perspective from the discussion. Reinstating the course is the university's capitulation to that approach," she said.
StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said in a statement 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."
Morton A. Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, said in a statement, "Taking back our universities from the far Left, Marxists and other absurdly biased, nakedly radical anti-Israel activist 'scholars' is a task vital to the future health of America and Israel."
UC Berkeley student and pro-Israel campus activist David Shelton told The Algemeiner he was surprised the university took even minimal steps to suspend the course. "The bias against Israel from UC Berkeley faculty is palpable, with little comments here and there delegitimizing Israel and casting it in a negative and inaccurate light," he said.
The move to rescind the suspension "saddened more than shocked me," Shelton said. "This is ultimately an admission that not only is there political bias in the classroom, but that members of the administration chose to go forward with the course, because it aligns with what they consider to be the right side."
"I believe that being publicly pro-Israel on UC Berkeley's campus has always put a target on my back, in the sense that some seek to ostracize me from the academic community. That certainly hasn't changed since the course was reinstated," he told The Algemeiner.
The decision to overturn the suspension of "Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis" — which was decried by a leading campus watchdog group as "a classic example of antisemitic anti-Zionism" — was announced by UC Berkeley's dean of social sciences Carla Hesse following a recommendation by the Department of Ethnic Studies after a "revised version of the course description and syllabus" was approved.
A close examination of the new syllabus by The Algemeiner revealed only minor changes.
In addition, the language of the course description was modified to remove the admission that the course would be "exploring the possibility of decolonization," as originally stated. It now says that the program will involve researching "a range of political alternatives" to "achieve justice for all."
Paul Hadweh — the course facilitator, who is a member of UC Berkeley's Students for Justice in Palestine — admitted to anti-Israel website Electronic Intifada that revisions to the syllabus were mere "cosmetic changes" and that no adjustments were made to the course material.
"The changes are just clarifications to the course description, its objectives and the final project," he said.
Responding to an Algemeiner query, a spokesman from UC Berkeley said, "As the chancellor stated from the outset, courses do not represent the views of the institution or the administration, and we will continue to do everything necessary to ensure this campus remains safe, welcoming and respectful for every single student."
Hadweh did not respond to The Algemeiner's request for comment by press time.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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