An upcoming "anti-Zionism" course at the University of California, Berkeley will contribute to greater hostility toward Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus, the head of a watchdog group and an Israel advocate told The Algemeiner on Thursday.
According to Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder of the AMCHA Initiative — which combats, monitors and documents antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America — the course in question, titled "Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis," is a "classic example of antisemitic anti-Zionism."
"Based upon the syllabus, the class treats Israel as a settler colonial state and Zionism and Israel as illegitimate," Rossman-Benjamin told The Algemeiner, adding that "a goal of the class appears to be talking about ways to decolonize Palestine, which essentially means to eliminate the Jewish state."
"This is clear eliminationist anti-Zionism, which is not just criticism of Israel, but opposition to the existence of the Jewish state with efforts to eliminate that state," she said.
Lily Greenberg Call, a Jewish UC Berkeley student who serves as the co-vice president of the campus group Bears for Israel, told The Algemeiner that she became "very upset" after seeing posters advertising the class.
"It's one thing to have a political group like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on campus, but teaching material that is so biased and factually inaccurate in a classroom setting violates academic integrity," she said.
"Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis" is being offered as a "DeCal" course, which is part of a program of student-run classes that falls under the jurisdiction of UC Berkeley's Academic Senate. According to a description of the course — which acknowledges "contentious" material will be taught — the class will:
...[E]xamine key historical developments that have taken place in Palestine, from the 1880s to the present, through the lens of settler colonialism...we will explore the connection between Zionism and settler colonialism, and the ways in which it has manifested, and continues to manifest, in Palestine. Lastly, drawing upon literature on decolonization, we will explore the possibilities of a decolonized Palestine, one in which justice is realized for all its peoples and equality is not only espoused, but practiced.
Students are also required to attend at least one event, on or off campus, "relating to Palestine."
The faculty sponsor of the course, Dr. Hatem Bazian, is the co-founder of SJP and a major supporter of the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). Bazian is a former fundraising speaker for the anti-Israel organization KindHearts, which was shut down by the US government in 2006 for its alleged ties to Hamas.
The course facilitator, Paul Hadweh, is a Palestinian student instructor who hails from Bethlehem and is an active member of UC Berkeley's SJP chapter, which, among other things, calls for an end to the "Israeli system of apartheid and discrimination" and "Israeli military occupation of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem."
In November 2015, Hadweh helped organize an event featuring anti-Zionist poet Remi Kanazi, a supporter of USACBI. In a 2012 Facebook post, Kanazi wrote, "Dear Zionists: You have never 'defended yourselves.' You came in, stole land that wasn't yours & maintained a racist state through massacres and brute force."
In his promotion of the course on Facebook, Hadweh wrote he will take students on an "in-depth" exploration of "the history and present of Zionist settler colonialism in Palestine." The post was accompanied by an image featuring infamous anti-Israel maps that have been decried as distorting history.
According to Rossman-Benjamin, "You just need to take a look at the instructor, facilitator, authors of the reading materials and listed guest speakers to see that the course is biased and presents an egregious framework against Israel." Furthermore, she noted, "Not one reading or guest lecturer isn't a virulent anti-Zionist, absolutely opposed to the existence of the state of Israel and supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement."
Reading material includes selections from works by anti-Zionist Israeli historian Ilan Pappe; the late Edward Said, a fierce Israel critic; and Saree Makdisi, an advocate of the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. Also, there are testimonies from the controversial and widely debunked Israeli group Breaking the Silence.
"As seen from the syllabus, the class doesn't look at Israel and ask if it is a settler colonial state or if Zionism is a legitimate ideology," Rossman-Benjamin said. "The starting point is that it is illegitimate. This is completely one-sided and has a clear anti-Zionist bent, to the extent that it opposes the existence of the Jewish state."
Greenberg Call said that the course framework is "insulting and ignores the indigenous nature of the Jewish people to the land of Judea/Palestine. Any historian will tell you that there is endless proof of this."
She also told The Algemeiner that she finds it "concerning" that the course has "a strict no-technology policy — no phones, voice recordings or photographs — which makes me worried that some of the content will be inherently anti-Israel and as such, the facilitators don't want to make it public in any way."
While the course is ultimately protected by academic freedom, Rossman-Benjamin said, "a deeper problem must be addressed."
Citing the UC Board of Regents Policy on Course Content — which prohibits "misuse of the classroom by...allowing it to be used for political indoctrination" — she said the course "very clearly is being used for such purposes. And on those grounds, I call on UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to take a close look at it to determine whether it is in violation of Regents policy."
According to a recent AMCHA report, which studied antisemitism across US college campuses, the presence of three specific factors — anti-Zionist student groups; faculty who support boycotts of Israel; and pro-BDS activity — are strong predictors of anti-Jewish hostility.
Rossman-Benjamin told The Algemeiner that "with a course like 'Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis,' even though the expression takes place in a classroom, it creates an overall hostile climate for Jewish students" that she believes can lead to violent anti-Jewish activity, including assault, suppression of rights and discrimination.
"Just because the classroom door closes, it doesn't mean that students are not influenced," she said.
In response to the above concerns, UC Berkeley Assistant Vice Chancellor Dan Mogulof, from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, told The Algemeiner:
I want to state without reservation or equivocation that this university is committed to fostering and sustaining a campus climate where every individual feels safe, welcome and respected.
In a recent survey, 75 percent of our Jewish students reported feeling comfortable on this campus — a number that is identical to the campus average and two points higher than comfort levels reported by students with a Christian affiliation.
However, we believe we can do better still, not just for Jewish students, but for all of our students. That is but one of the reasons we recently took the unprecedented step of forming Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Jewish Student Life and Campus Climate, a group that includes students, faculty, staff and leading members of the Bay Area's Jewish community who are joining us in this important effort.
Berkeley also takes great pride in our our new kosher dining facility; vibrant Hillel chapter; the broad range of other Jewish student groups; the Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Law at the Berkeley law school our library's Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life; and our world class Center for Jewish Studies.
Suffice it to say that we will continue to confront intolerance, bias, and we are in full support of the Regents recently issued Principles Against Intolerance.
Hadweh did not respond to The Algemeiner's request for comment by press time.