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Pitzer College President Rejects Anti-Israel Boycott to Ensure “Free Exchange of Ideas”

Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver strongly rejected on Thursday a pro-boycott vote to suspend the school’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa in Israel, and said the school would not enact the decision to protect a “free exchange of ideas.”

The private liberal arts college located in Claremont, California – with support from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) – voted Thursday to end its only study abroad program with the Jewish State. Earlier this week, the congresswoman was pictured on social media holding a folder labeled “#SuspendPitzerHaifa.”

The non-binding bill passed in the college council with a vote of 68 in favor, 25 against, and 8 abstaining.

In a statement, Oliver said he refuses “to permit Pitzer College to take a position that I believe will only harm the College.”

Explaining his decision, Oliver observed that, “Although some claim that this is not an academic boycott of Israel, I disagree.” Instead, he said, “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.”

Oliver continued: “I categorically oppose any form of academic boycott of any country. We cannot allow our objections to the policies of any nation’s government to become a blanket indictment of the nation itself and, by extension, its citizens.”

In December, a group of 75 civil rights, education, Jewish, and student groups praised Oliver for pushing back against the singling out of Israel by the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The Israel Project, which publishes The Tower, was one of the groups to sign the letter in support of the president.

Oliver said at the time that, “China currently has 1 million Muslims imprisoned in re-education camps. Why would we not suspend our program with China?”

“Or take our longest standing program in Nepal where the Pitzer in Nepal program has been run for over 40 years. During that time, they have had a bloody civil war that killed 19,000 people. Why Israel?” he asked.

Instead of singling out Israel, “Pitzer College must continue to be appreciated for its diversity of political and socio-economic views,” Oliver stressed.

The BDS campaign attempts to delegitimize and isolate Israel in an effort to advance Palestinian interests. Many leaders of the campaign have publicly affirmed that they seek Israel’s destruction, with co-founder Omar Barghouti saying in 2004, “We are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it … I, for one, support euthanasia.” He also said in 2014 that Palestinians have a right to “resistance by any means, including armed resistance.”

TIP CEO and President Josh Block issued the following statement:

“The Israel Project applauds President Melvin L. Oliver for his leadership in fighting this insidious form of anti-Semitic discrimination and for calling out BDS for what it is: a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Block added: “For years, Israel – and only Israel – has been targeted by this deceptive attempt to delegitimize its very right to exist. Hiding behind laudable rhetoric on human rights, BDS proponents do not seek a better life for the Palestinians, nor do they aim to create a political environment favorable to a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. Their true aim is Israel’s destruction.”

“In reality, this vote was designed to push a narrow anti-Israel agenda that harms students, violates academic freedom, and fuels more conflict and injustice in the Middle East,” said Max Samarov, Executive Director of Research & Strategy at StandWithUs, another one of the 75 groups to sign the letter. “By rejecting this discriminatory recommendation, President Oliver ensured that Pitzer will not fall on the wrong side of history.”

“Prioritizing politics over students is reprehensible, but sadly, the Pitzer College Council did just that. Academic boycotts violate the rights of students and faculty on U.S. campuses, and this precedent-setting vote is frightening,” Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder and director of Amcha Initiative, the group that sponsored the December letter, said. “Fortunately, the buck stops with Pitzer President Oliver who clearly understands this.”

Another organization that works to fight the demonization of Israel on campus, Academic Engagement Network (AEN) condemned the faculty-originated resolution. However, the AEN statement also praised “Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver’s forceful, courageous, and eloquent statement refusing to implement the Council’s recommendation, and offers him our full organizational support.”

[Photo: Pitzer College / YouTube ]