[News] Checkpoints on Palestine in Academia

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 22 10:45:25 EDT 2016


  Checkpoints on Palestine in Academia

September 21, 2016 - Hatem Bazian

The “suspension” followed by the “reinstatement” of Ethnic Studies 198, 
Palestine, a settler colonial analysis course by University of 
California, Berkeley Administration is paradigmatic of Palestine’s 
treatment in academia. Narrating Palestine in academia is subject to a 
maze of official and not so official control levers which regulate how 
the subject is approached. To a large extent, academia is a microcosm of 
the larger society, which means the treatment of Palestine and 
Palestinians (communities of color as whole) parallels the existing 
framework present at the national level in the U.S.

More importantly, Israeli narrative, security concerns, emotional 
well-being, personhood and land claims are accepted at face value and is 
further given unquestionable support and the measure for expressing 
concern regarding development in the region. What is good for Israel 
must be good for everyone in America and for sure must be enforced upon 
the Palestinians. Furthermore, what is good for Israel must be what is 
good for academia as well.

Narrating Palestine in academia is an uphill trudge and is reflective of 
the broader American society. Take the broader society as an indication 
were the current presidential contenders went out of their way to 
express support for Israel at AIPAC’s annual convention in DC to the 
extent that one might thought they are running of the Israeli 
presidency. Adding more insult to injury was the Platform debate in the 
Democratic Party, which refused to include the word occupation in the 
final text adopted. The range of differences between the Democratic and 
Republican Party Platform on Israel is so narrow that they are 
practically interchangeable.

In academia, just like the national political parties, the acceptable 
range of engagement is set in accordance with the local AIPAC and 
Zionist operatives agenda. When it come to campus funded programs, 
institutional relationships, and academic worldview is agenda is set in 
relations to and reflective of Israel’s priorities and interests. At a 
certain level, one has to appreciate the connectedness of campuses far 
and near to Israel and Zionism. This is readily documentable in 
countless study abroad programs, visiting faculties and students, 
academic exchanges of all types and last but not least the ever constant 
visits and paid tours by administrators of American universities to 
Israeli campuses, military outposts, settlements, cities and towns. The 
connectedness extends to campus police departments which, likewise, are 
included in the fully paid junkets and the mandatory tours so as to 
develop awareness of Israel on campus needs and view the Palestinians 
through Israel’s lens.

Here, we have academia’s relations to Palestine becomes identical and 
reflective of the broader political landscape and the parameters are set 
on the same foundations. Israel’s interest, security and concerns are 
centered and Palestinians are included as the antagonist that constantly 
intrude to disrupt the peaceful and normal existence in Palestine and on 
college campuses. Palestinians are the “outsiders” to the dominant 
Israeli narrative on college campuses. Do we know Palestinians and how 
are they introduced into our collective consciousness? Do we account for 
Palestinians well-being on campus or are they only contacted in response 
to Zionist fears on campus?

Importantly, since the university administrators and leadership are 
politically and epistemically socialized with the Israeli worldview, it 
becomes seamless that any concern about Israel is a call to action to 
remedy it. Case in point is the ongoing campus administrators’ responses 
to the BDS student movement and various changes in rules and regulations 
to criminalize, at a university level, activism related to it. At even 
deeper level, the university administrators take the step to organize 
and coordinate their actions with representative of the Israeli 
government, a foreign country, against the interest and constitutional 
rights of their own students and faculty members.

The DeCal course, Palestine, a settler colonial analysis, met the 
institutional Israeli constituted checkpoints, which were rapidly 
mobilized to “correct” the boundaries of academic inquiry. Any academic 
inquiry, according to the constituted checkpoint boundaries, should 
center Israel and be located within the set of priorities identified and 
sanctioned by the local guardians of the Zionist narrative. 
Consequently, academic administrators function almost as if they are 
state department officers guarding and governing the boundaries of 
engagement of Palestine and anything outside the accepted framework must 
be immediately closed down.

On a national level, the number of courses and departments that are bold 
enough to deal with Palestine, as Palestine, and to center the 
experience of the Palestinians can possibly be counted on two hands if 
one adds all the courses that has a portion included. The dearth of 
treatment accorded Palestine and Palestinians is representative of the 
institutional road blocks and checkpoints set in place to cleanse the 
curriculum of Palestine, as a subject matter, and center Israel.

Precisely, the existence of institutional and administrative checkpoints 
on Palestine related content and courses made it possible for a Dean of 
a tier 1 research institution to “suspend” a student initiated De-Cal 
course dealing with Palestine. An external cluster of 43 ideologically 
driven and extreme pro-Israel groups mobilized to pressure a welling 
internal guard to move for the cancellation of the course. The claim of 
procedure was carried out by exception since no other course in the 
DeCal offering was subject to such a stealth administrative 
intervention. Palestine-related courses are subject to regulations by 
exceptions, administration and political intervention that run contrary 
to the principles of academic freedom and inquiry.   Academic 
administration construct intellectual and procedural checkpoints to 
restrict Palestinian narrative from being considered on its own terms.

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