UC Berkeley reinstates controversial course on history of Palestine

Source: Los Angeles Times

By Teresa Watanabe

UC Berkeley senior Paul Hadweh designed a course on the history of Palestine in order to spark discussion about his family’s homeland under Israeli occupation.

“I wanted to create a space where we can read, think and speak critically about the question of Palestine,” Hadweh said.

But the one-credit, student-led offering — which aimed to analyze Palestine through “the lens of settler colonialism” — was suspended last week after just one class following a storm of criticism that it fostered anti-Semitism and indoctrinated students against the Jewish state.

According to an Israeli TV station, the Assn. of University Heads in Israel had “covertly” tried to stop the course. Administrators said the reason for pulling the plug was procedural — that proper approval had not been obtained.

Then campus officials reversed gears Monday, reinstating the course after students, faculty, free-speech advocates and Palestinian rights groups issued letters and circulated petitions denouncing the suspension as a violation of academic freedom.

Among them, the 26 enrolled students — from diverse racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds — called it “an act of discrimination against students who wanted to debate and discuss this contentious issue in a spirit of genuine sincerity, mutual respect and open-minded curiosity.”

The university’s ethnic studies department has revised the original course description and syllabus,  according to a letter issued Monday by Carla Hesse, executive dean of the College of Letters and Sciences and dean of the social sciences division.

But a comparison of the curriculum plans showed only minor changes, most notably in the wording of the course description as questions to be explored rather than statements of what would be studied. Hadweh called the revisions he made in consultation with ethnic studies faculty members “cosmetic.”

“There were no substantive changes,” said Hadweh, 22, who is majoring in peace and conflict studies. “It was not the revisions that allowed the course to get approved, it was the pressure from people across the globe who were appalled that this public institution would so severely infringe upon the principles of academic freedom.”

Pro-Israel groups said Monday that they remained troubled about the course.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz professor and director of the Amcha Initiative, which fights anti-Semitism on campuses, said the reading list remained biased against Israel.

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