In the spring of 2017, I traveled to Israel to study abroad at the University of Haifa.
As a young conservative attending an overwhelmingly leftist women's college at home in the U.S., I was eager to experience one semester of sanity, finally surrounded by peers that could agree with me on at least one topic that shouldn’t be (but is) controversial: Israel has the right to exist.
When I sat down in one of first my politics classes at the University of Haifa and heard my American-Egyptian professor sympathize with the terrorist group Hamas, I realized how foolish my expectation was. As outsiders, we can sometimes instinctively look at different groups of people and just assume that there is a consensus on certain contentious topics. This is far from true in Israel.
Instead, Israel is a country that allows for academic freedom, debate, and, most importantly, freedom of speech.
So I was surprised to read that Pitzer College’s faculty voted to suspend the college’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa, in the name of the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement that aims to harm the Israeli economy in political protest. It makes little sense for "educators" to deprive their students of the freedom to choose where they study abroad. And to prevent their students from studying in a city known for its diversity and coexistence — well, that’s just counterproductive and divisive.
The University of Haifa's student body is 35% Israeli-Arab, and the study abroad programs there not only offer a diverse classroom setting, but also feature language courses, trips around the country, and internships in the Haifa community.
One of the best parts of my study abroad experience in Israel was the tense debates that often broke out during class. It wasn’t uncommon to hear the leftist German girl wearing a belly shirt debate the religious Jewish boy in Army ROTC about permissible military tactics to use during wartime.
It was typical to see students in their Israeli Defense Forces uniforms to my left and both Jewish and Arab students distributing "Nakba" leaflets about the "Palestinian exodus" to my right, just while walking to the next class. Shortly after, I’d come home to my small dorm apartment and say hello to my three Israeli-Arab roommates.
It was a diverse campus in ideology and background, which exposed me to the world in a way that my American college never could have. And that’s exactly what even liberal professors like the ones at Pitzer College should want for their students.
But the learning didn’t stop on campus. When it was time to go grocery shopping, students would flock to the hilly Druze towns to find the best deals and interact with the locals. International students planned trips to different parts of Israel and neighboring countries during their vacations, while some students volunteered at women’s shelters and nursing homes instead. All in all, it was an amazing experience that I’d want any student to have.
Luckily, Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver rejected the faculty’s vote to boycott the University of Haifa, claiming it will only do harm. And Oliver is exactly right: It is an educator’s duty to give students the information to come to their own conclusions, not shut doors and close off opportunities. It is truly shameful that professors have allowed their ideology to become so radical that they would contradict their one mission as educators: To educate.