Suspension of controversial Palestine class at UC Berkeley sparks debate

Source: The Guardian


The University of California, Berkeley has suspended a course dedicated to studying Palestine “through the lens of settler colonialism”, sparking international debate about academic freedom.

The course at UC Berkeley – entitled Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis – faced intense backlash this week from Jewish organizations, which argued that the class was “anti-Israel and antisemitic” and “intended to indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state”.

After a stream of negative news stories and editorials, the northern California school, considered the top public university in the US, announced that it was suspending the class because it “did not receive a sufficient degree of scrutiny to ensure that the syllabus met Berkeley’s academic standards”.

Israel advocates and antisemitism watchdog groups applauded the decision and called for an overview of the course review process. But pro-Palestine organizations, along with some faculty members at UC Berkeley, have criticized the suspension, arguing that administrators were silencing viewpoints and prioritizing public relations over academic discourse.

The dispute comes at a time of increasing tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine university activists, with Jewish donors and organizations launchingcoordinated campaigns to counter a growing Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) movement across the US.

The “colonialism” course, which already had its first class this fall, was part of an acclaimed UC Berkeley program called DeCal, which allows students to propose and teach courses to their peers with guidance from a faculty member.

Hatem Bazian, the faculty sponsor of the course, proposed by undergraduate Paul Hadweh, said the class went through standard review procedures and was approved on multiple occasions before it was abruptly suspended this week without warning or discussion.

“This was disheartening and insulting and shameful of the university,” said Bazian, a lecturer in Middle Eastern studies and ethnic studies. “They are essentially throwing the student under the bus and responding to political pressure.”

Bazian said the course was designed to offer a “comparative approach” and that respected scholars have used the “colonialism” lens to study the region.

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1 reply

  1. Teaching about Palestine remains an obstacle course — but at least now there ARE courses in the USA. I’d like to note another (if momentary) improvement: A shift in how news media is covering the explosions/bombings in NY and NJ over the past few days. Suspects are described by height and weight, presence of facial hair, US citizenship and national origin. No “traditional Islamic beard.” No “Muslim suspect sought.” Although I can almost hear the heavy breathing in newsrooms as each reporter aches to be the first to add the prefix “Muslim” to the term “terrorist,” thus far we’ve seen extreme restrain. Which, in the world of my training, is simply responsible reporting. It is amazing and worth lauding loudly.

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