UC Berkeley reinstates controversial Palestine history class after outcry

Administrators at University of California, Berkeley reinstated a Palestinian history class Monday amid an outcry over its suspension last week.

The school’s social science dean announced in a letter to faculty that the ethnic studies class was reinstated after the teacher revised the course description.

The “Palestine: A Colonial Settler Analysis” course was suspended by social science dean Carla Hesse after receiving a complaint from Jewish and civil rights groups that the course syllabus appeared to describe a politically motivated, anti-Semitic class. Hesse temporarily suspended the class, saying it wasn’t properly vetted to ensure it wasn’t espousing a single political viewpoint.

The suspension sparked protests from critics who said the action threatened academic freedom. Hesse said the class was reinstated after the syllabus was changed. The dean said she didn’t ask for changes of the course’s content.

The one-unit class is taught by student Paul Hadweh, who said the class was suspended without consulting him.

"The university threw me under the bus, and publicly blamed me, without ever even contacting me," Hadweh said in a prepared statement. "To defend the course, we had to mobilize an international outcry of scholars and students to stand up for academic freedom. This never should have happened."

Hadweh is represented by attorney Liz Jackson of the organization Palestinian Legal. Jackson said the changes to the syllabus were "cosmetic" and that Hadweh and Palestinian Legal is "considering all of its options," including a possible lawsuit.

The dean said she suspended the class for review after discovering that neither she nor the chair of the ethnic department had seen or approved the course syllabus.

Jackson said the class meets on Tuesday nights and had met for the first and only time on Sept. 6 before the class was suspended. She said she expects it will convene Tuesday.

Forty-three Jewish and civil rights groups signed a letter last week saying the course description, speaker lineup and Hadweh’s affiliation with pro-Palestinian groups show a politically motivated class.

"A review of the syllabus of 'Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis' reveals that the course's objectives, reading materials and guest speakers are politically motivated, meet our government's criteria for antisemitism, and are intended to indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state and take action to eliminate it," the letter stated.

The revised class syllabus says the "course will examine key historical developments that have taken place in Palestine from the 1880s to the present, through the lens of settler colonialism."

Hadweh is a senior who says his family is from Bethlehem, six miles south of Jerusalem.

"I hope we can now focus on the challenging intellectual and political questions that this course seeks to address," Hadweh said.

Pro-Israel groups were still troubled by the decision.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz professor and the director of the anti-Semitism group Amcha Initiative, told the Los Angeles Times that the reading list was still biased against Israel.

“The readings, without exception, present a very negative view of Israel,” she said. “That really should raise eyebrows in scholarly circles.”

Hadweh said that the Palestinian experience would be more comparable to the colonization of indigenous people in the U.S. and Australia. The class would seek to crate “justice and equality” for all.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.