Press Release: UC Berkeley Suspends 'Palestine' Course

Violates First Amendment and Academic Freedom

September 16, 2016

Liz Jackson, Palestine Legal | 510-206-6800

September 16 - Palestine Legal wrote the University of California Berkeley today to challenge the school’s suspension of a student-led course, Ethnic Studies 198: Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis, after dozens of Israel advocacy groups and Israeli government officials complained. The course’s student-facilitator, Paul Hadweh, a senior Peace and Conflict Studies major, learned from media reports that his class was cancelled a week after the course started.

“I felt like I was being censored because I’m a Palestinian teaching about the history of Palestine,” said Paul Hadweh, whose family is originally from Bethlehem. “I felt humiliated, Berkeley didn’t even have the courtesy to contact me before publicly condemning me and suspending my course.”

Palestine Legal’s letter explains that UC Berkeley’s censorship based on complaints from Israel advocacy groups violated the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom. The course was approved through all the required academic channels, and was summarily suspended by a dean who lacked the expertise to make determinations about the academic value of a course. In a statement, Chancellor Dirks' office expressed concern that Hadweh’s course “espoused a single political viewpoint and appeared to offer a forum for political organizing.”

“It goes without saying that a Marxism course does not include readings by Milton Friedman, and ‘Human Trafficking’ doesn’t have pro-trafficking perspectives -- nor should they be obligated to,” said Palestine Legal staff attorney Liz Jackson. “In singling out a course on Palestinian history for censorship, UC Berkeley is violating principles of academic freedom to which it is legally obligated to adhere.”

The letter notes other student-led courses at UC Berkeley that have not received similar scrutiny, including Copwatch: Community -Based Police Accountability, The Invisible Forces of Mass Incarceration, Film Making for Activists, Human Trafficking Prevention Education, Helping the Navajo Rebuild with Project Pueblo, and Marxism and its Discontents.

This incident comes at a time of a well-documented and widespread suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy across the country. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights documented hundreds of such incidents in a report released in 2015, "The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the U.S."

In a similar incident in spring 2015, many of the same Israel advocacy organizations urged UC Riverside to cancel a student-led course titled “Palestinian Voices.” That same semester, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) threatened Columbia University with legal action if it allowed a teacher’s workshop by Professor Katherine Franke titled “Citizenship and Nationality in Israel/Palestine” to go forward.

More recently, in New York, the state senate voted to cut $485 million dollars in funding to the City University of New York after the ZOA falsely accused Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) of anti-Semitism -- claims that were rebuked last week after a 6-month independent investigation conducted by a former federal judge and prosecutor.

Palestine Legal responded to nearly 600 such incidents since January 2014, 85% of which targeted students and scholars. “These tactics set a dangerous precedent and have a detrimental effect on higher education by censoring and punishing open debate and free speech,” said Liz Jackson.

Palestine Legal is an independent organization dedicated to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of people in the US who speak out for Palestinian freedom.