A new class offered at UCR this quarter, entitled “Palestinian Voices,” has caused tensions to flare up after a pro-Israel group alleged that the course is anti-Semitic. AMCHA Initiative, a group opposed to anti-Semitism in colleges, has argued that the class, which describes the conflict in Palestine from primarily Palestinian viewpoints, portrays Israel extremely negatively, to the point of being anti-Semitic.
AMCHA Initiative, by accusing the course of teaching anti-Semitic material, is making a claim that is too extreme to be supported. It is possible to oppose a government that is perceived as unfair without being anti-Semitic; even in the case of Israel, a primarily Jewish state, it is not automatically anti-Semitic to object to how the government operates. Thus, unless the class and its teacher explicitly make anti-Semitic comments about Jewish people in general, and not just remarks about Israel’s government — negative or otherwise — then it is not anti-Semitic. There should be no specifically anti-Semitic material taught in the course, considering that the university had to review it before putting it on the course guide.
Furthermore, one of the main purposes of this or any university is encouraging diversity of viewpoints and opinions, whether or not they are popular. Of the two states, the Palestinian angle is less well understood than its Israeli counterpart from within the United States, giving reason for the class to exist. To promote discussion about this issue, it seems to be completely appropriate to have this course.
That said, while the course is valid in theory, in practice there are some glaring flaws. The most important of these is that the material is extremely biased. By presenting only the Palestinian view of the conflict, it is inevitable that Israel will be painted in too negative a light. Such a level of negativity risks leaving the realm of bringing in new viewpoints and instead using the class to make political statements, which would be unacceptable in this university, which has policies stating that a course cannot be used to forward any partisan effort. It is therefore necessary to counter said bias to make the class fully legitimate.
Another aspect that must be considered is that, regardless of the intent behind the course, the material has managed to offend a subset of students on campus, and this necessitates an effort by the university to rectify the offense. If attention is not paid to such students’ concerns, that inaction could be construed as bias against that group — also an unacceptable possibility in as diverse a campus as UCR. Considering that there would be an equal outcry if the situation were reversed — if, say, some class called “Israeli Voices” created dissent among pro-Palestine students and groups — no one involved can afford to ignore how others will react to their views.
The solution for overcoming both of these issues is actually quite simple: In future quarters — because it is far too late to change things at this point in the quarter — the class needs to be altered so that it illustrates the views of both Israelis and Palestinians. If this course were taught in a comparative context, then no one could claim bias or any kind of discrimination. Not only that, but the possibility opens up for a more valuable educational experience; there can be scholarly debate and overall, people would probably learn more than is possible in a one-sided version of the course.
I do feel that this solution fails in one regard — this class was conceived of and run by students, but I am unsure of how well a student could conduct the class in the expanded form described above.
It may be necessary for a professor to take over any future offering of the course, unfortunately taking control out of students’ hands. The result, however — a class that has the potential to help people fully understand one of the world’s most dire political situations — merits more interest and commitment by the university.