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News You Can Use: Anti-Israel Class Allowed at UC Berkeley

Sep 27, 2016
By: Yael Steinberg, Associate Director of Education, Hasbara Fellowships

 

The News: Students at University of California Berkeley were shocked to see a DeCal course (student led classes that receive one unit of credit,) being offered on "Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis." The class's faculty sponsor Dr. Hatem Bazian, is the founder of “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) and a vocal BDS activist. The intentions of the course were made clear: to teach a demonizing one-sided history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Students and Pro-Israel organizations brought the course to the attention of campus administration. They expressed how it was anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, and would promote hatred at UC Berkeley. Administration responded saying that they had been unaware of the content of the course because the DeCal had not gone through the necessary channels of approval. UC Berkeley suspended the course. In response, anti-Israel groups fought back, saying that this suspension was in violation of their academic freedom.

On Monday 19th, the course was reinstated after UC Berkeley’s ethnic studies division had made small revisions the course description. The head of the ethnic studies department stated that she expressed her concerns to the student teaching the class that it might be "crossing over the line from teaching to political advocacy." However, UC Berkeley did not require any actual changes to the course content.

The Bigger Picture: Campus administration prioritized free speech and academic freedom over anti-Semitism. Free speech at a public university is a legal right, whereas the responsibility to stop anti-semitism is not. Campus commitments against prejudice are entirely theoretical. While the administration should address discrimination and hateful biases, they are not required to put a stop to it unless speech becomes threats or physical harm. In this case, "whether or not the course would violate university rules about political indoctrination and partisanship" was shown to be a concern, but not concerning enough to mandate any real changes.

When campus administration canceled “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis,” they successfully placated Pro-Israel organizations without apologizing for the course’s content. The pro-Israel community won based upon a technicality: the course had not gone through necessary approval channels. The strategy of getting SJP on their procedural failures is not unique to this case. For example, branches of SJP have gotten in trouble for violating flyering policies instead of the content on the flyer. BDS results have been deemed unconstitutional based upon improper voting practices, not the content of the resolution being voted on. The class being reinstated shows how flimsy this strategy is for defeating anti-Israel propaganda. The pro-Israel community can no longer afford to bank on SJP’s internal failures to ensure our successes.

The events at UC Berkeley highlight the difficulty of combating anti-Israel academia. Even when college curriculum must be approved in advance, what professors say is up to them. There may not be anything that can be done to stop anti-Israel or anti-Semitic educational content from being taught. While this may be frustrating, it is important to note that free speech and academic freedom are crucial values of our society. They should not be compromised. The same values that make it legal to spread lies about Israel also make it legal to spread truth.  However, there are things that pro-Israel students can do to prevent the miseducation of their unsuspecting peers.

Steps Students Can Take To Address Situations Of Anti-Israel Academia:

  1. Contact Hasbara Fellowships Regional Advisors to help formulate a strategy!

  1. After a lecture, address the professor privately. Don't assume the worst. Sometimes bringing biases to a professor’s attention can encourage adding another perspective to the discussion. If nothing else, it might make a professor watch what they say.

  1. Ask good questions and participate in discussions. Asking thought provoking questions in front of peers can bring attention to the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Show yourself as an expert resource. You might even be approached with questions to encourage earnest discussion.

  1. If a professor is being relentlessly biased or racist, alert a department head. If that proves fruitless, alert campus administration.

  1. Hasbara Fellowships Advisors can put you in contact with further resources to help address and if necessary take legal action against anti-Israel academia.

For more information on this topic see:

http://www.algemeiner.com/2016/09/13/antisemitic-anti-zionist-course-at-uc-berkeley-suspended-following-expose-outcry/

https://www.algemeiner.com/2016/09/20/uc-berkeley-rescinds-suspension-of-controversial-antisemitic-anti-israel-course-without-any-change-to-syllabus/

For further questions relating to handling anti-Israel propaganda in academia, or elsewhere, contact your Hasbara Fellowships regional advisor, or me at ysteinberg@hasbarafellowships.org

 
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