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U.C. Berkeley bows to pressure, reinstates Palestinian course
UC Berkeley Campus. Photo: Charlie Nguyen
UC Berkeley Campus. Photo: Charlie Nguyen

Following outcry from students, faculty members and free speech and academic freedom advocates, U.C. Berkeley has reinstated a student-led course on Palestinian history.

The administration had suspended the course, part of the DeCal Program of student-facilitated classes, on Sept. 13, due to pressure from Israel advocacy groups.

The pro-Israel groups claimed that the course, “Palestine: A Settler-Colonial Analysis,” is politically one-sided and promotes indoctrination.

“The justification for the suspension, that the course was one-sided, is untenable,” said Liz Jackson, a staff attorney with Palestine Legal, which is representing the class’ facilitator, Paul Hadweh. “The [reasoning that the] course must be balanced is anti-academic freedom.”

Palestine Legal, an independent organization that protects the rights of people to speak out for Palestinian freedom, sent a legal demand letter to Berkeley’s chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, on Friday, Sept. 16. The letter warned the administration that the suspension of the course violates students’ First Amendment rights as well as their academic freedom. It also demanded that an apology be made to Hadweh and that the course be reinstated.

A crowd holds a Palestinian flag in front of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco on July 7, 2014. Photo: El Tecolote Archives/Ramsey El-Qare
A crowd holds a Palestinian flag in front of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco on July 7, 2014. Photo: El Tecolote Archives/Ramsey El-Qare

Special treatment

The fact that no other DeCal course was met with the similar scrutiny by the administration raises the question about the singular treatment towards Palestinian perspectives.

“[The] university gave special scrutiny to the course content on Palestine,” said Jackson.

The letter mentions other DeCal courses offered this semester including “Marxism and its Discontents” and “Helping the Navajo Rebuild with Project Pueblo States” among others which haven’t been given special scrutiny.

“A course on human trafficking prevention education does not appear to offer a pro-trafficking viewpoint,” the letter reads.

University can’t walk back from the damage

Neither Dirks nor the executive dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, Carla Hesse contacted Hadweh and the 26 enrolled students before making the decision to suspend the class.

“We, the students, weren’t contacted by the dean’s office or by the administrator,” said KR Nava, 25, a political science major who enrolled in the class to learn more about Palestine.

According to the letter issued by Palestine Legal, Hadweh learned about the criticisms from the Israeli media, and only several hours before the university suspended it.

Although the statement issued by Hesse didn’t mention Hadweh’s name, his information was “widely available and under international scrutiny.”

“[The] university had an obligation to protect Hadweh’s identity from international scrutiny,” said Jackson, before adding,  “We are still waiting for that [apology]. We need to do more work to make them understand the damage they did to Paul.”

Story by: Shajia Abidi