This fall, the Tufts University in Massachusetts, United States, added a new course on the docket. However, it has caused disagreements even before the first class.
Titled “Colonizing Palestine,” the course is cross listed with Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies, and is offered through the liberal arts school’s Colonialism Studies program
The pro-Israeli students at the university described it as one-sided. They say that the course demonizes Israel, and violates the policies of the university on taking political stances.
A course description says that it will “explore the history and culture of modern Palestine and the centrality of colonialism in the making of this contested and symbolically potent territory.” Also, the students “will address crucial questions relating to this embattled nation, the Israeli state which illegally occupies Palestine, and the broader global forces that impinge on Palestinians and Israelis.”
The Hillel chapter at Tufts said, while it supports academic freedom, it characterized the course description as “prejudicial and unnecessarily provocative.”
In a statement to Anthony Monaco, the university’s president, a student group, Tufts Friends of Israel wrote that the course prejudges the Israeli-Palestinian debate.
They wrote, “A course must aid a student’s pursuit of knowledge and provide … the information and tools to arrive at their own conclusions.”
Ben Shapiro, the co-president of Tufts Friends of Israel, said, “Our main issue [is that the course] denies Jewish indigeneity to Israel and presents a one-sided narrative as truth.”
He says that the group is still waiting for a response from the authorities.
Tufts Friends of Israel also highlighted that the new course breaches a statement of 2017 by the Office of the President, “While members of our community vigorously debate international politics, Tufts University does not adopt institutional positions with respect to specific geo-political issues.”
According to a statement from Patrick Collins, the school’s executive director of public relations, the university considers the course one of the many options that provide an opportunity to the students, to “become familiar with a variety of perspectives on important and complex issues facing our global society.”
Robert Trestan, the executive director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Boston office, said the controversy raises an important question about the way the college promotes and advertises its classes.
He said, “No one is saying that this is a forbidden topic or restricting a professor’s ability to teach about the subject matter.” But the course description “states as fact that Israel is committing illegal acts,” and draws judgments and conclusions “before the first class is in session.”
He also added, “It’s important to insure that when [Tufts] does advertise a class, it’s inviting for all students and sends a message that all views and perspectives are welcome for discussion. This course seems to do the opposite.”