A Jewish group is calling for the cancellation of a UCR course, claiming that it meets the United States State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism and holds an “anti-Israel bias.” The R’Course, entitled “Palestinian Voices,” is one of 11 student-led courses being taught this spring.
AMCHA Initiative, which describes itself as dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism on college campuses, has alleged that the class syllabus contains “egregiously one-sided, anti-Israel readings and films that falsely paint Israel as a settler-colonial and apartheid state,” according to an open letter submitted on behalf of itself and 19 other organizations to Chancellor Kim Wilcox.
The syllabus describes the one-unit course as focusing on Palestinian history through contemporary literature and media prior to the creation of Israel to the present. Although the syllabus is entitled, “Palestine & Israel: Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid,” all UCR affiliates identify the course as “Palestinian Voices” as listed on the main R’Course website.
Tina Matar, a senior majoring in business and student facilitator of “Palestinian Voices,” argued that the class is aimed at trumping mainstream biases prevalent in the media and in schools. “I am presenting facts and realities that go/have gone on in Palestine and having (the public) choose for themselves what they want to think or believe,” Matar said.
Due to Matar’s affiliation with UCR Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a student organization that says it advocates for Palestinian independence, the Jewish group contends that she will likely “engage in activism to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state and work towards its elimination.”
Matar explained that though she was motivated to teach the class due to her ties with SJP, the organization’s goal is to bring to light the oppression of the Palestinian people. Matar also played a prominent role in the passing of a controversial resolution to divest from companies that conduct business in Israel last April.
David Lloyd, the faculty sponsor of “Palestinian Voices” and of SJP, added that the class was vetted in the same manner as all other R’Courses. In response to concerns over potential anti-Semitic teachings in the class, Lloyd said, “To suggest that criticism of Israel is identical with anti-Semitism is not only absurd, but in effect racist, since it pretends that all Jews must identify with that particular state.”
UC policy prevents the university from being used to advance the interests of partisan actors or to encourage the political indoctrination of students within a classroom. AMCHA Initiative believes that the class violates this policy, alleging that the course teachings may encourage students “to hate the Jewish state and take action against it.”
Lloyd said the allegations are “groundless” and that the extreme tendencies of the group are exhibited by the fact that they are calling for the elimination of the study of “Palestinian issues from a Palestinian perspective.”
“When Palestinian students seek to create spaces on campus where they may study their own issues in depth, they are accused of engaging in propaganda,” he said.
Other demands being made by the group include an investigation into the Office of Undergraduate Education and the R’Course Governing Board, which are both responsible for reviewing student-led courses on campus. “Regarding the approval of potentially controversial courses, the board balances UC and UCR policies with the need to support a free and robust exchange of ideas,” Jose Wudka furthered as chair of the Academic Senate, a faculty-led committee that participates on the board.
A’isha Saluh, a third-year film major and student in the R’Course, said that the course has only focused on Palestine and its political history since it was still the third day of class. “I think of all the countries in the Middle East, Palestine has the most … politically fired-up history,” she said, having enrolled out of initial curiosity. “(The class) is offering me with a lot more than I expected.”
Clarification: This post has been updated to clarify that AMCHA has sent the open letter on behalf of itself and 19 other organizations, and that they are accusing the course of violating the United States State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism.