DeCal’s cancellation transpired through unfair shortcuts

Nishali Naik/Staff

“It has been determined that the facilitator for the course in question did not comply with policies and procedures that govern the normal academic review and approval of proposed courses for the Decal program. As a result, the proposed course did not receive a sufficient degree of scrutiny to ensure that the syllabus met Berkeley’s academic standards before it was opened for enrollment to students.”

With these words the office of UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks communicated its decision to suspend the one-unit, student-taught and faculty-supervised DeCal course, “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis.” The chancellor’s department chose to first deliver their written decision not to the student instructor, nor to the faculty supervisor, nor to the department sponsoring the course, nor even to the Academic Senate Committee on Courses of Instruction (COCI) which had approved the course (and heard about the decision hours later), but to a group of 43 self-identified Jewish, civil rights and education-advocacy organizations. Led by the AMCHA Initiative, those organizations had sent a letter protesting the offering of the course. Their criticism of this Ethnic Studies’ DeCal extended beyond this particular course; they urged the chancellor to exercise administrative control over the faculty and the Academic Senate. Or in the letter’s own words, the signatories encouraged him to “direct the UCB Academic Senate to ensure that all future courses reviewed by COCI, whether taught by students or faculty, must be carefully evaluated for their compliance with the Regents Policy on Course Content.”

While the chancellor’s response did not directly address these general demands, the suspension decision (overriding the Academic Senate and the COCI) offered a glimpse into the formation of an administrative machinery. Operating on an ad hoc basis, this administrative machinery was activated by the complaints of people claiming injury, supported by external partisan interest groups, facilitated by university administrators and announced to faculty as faits accompli while short-circuiting their deliberations. This administrative abrogation of shared governance has repercussions beyond the then-suspension of this course on Palestine. At stake is the survival of spaces for students to study and debate difficult and politically complex issues facing our world today.

The chancellor’s letter also registers the concern of the College of Letters and Science’s executive dean about any course “which espouses a single political viewpoint and/or appears to offer a forum for political organization rather than an opportunity for the kind of open academic inquiry that Berkeley is known for.” Yet, the assumption that the course would have constituted a vehicle for political organization has no evidentiary grounds. It is a presumption. This explains why the letter stated that the course “appears to offer,” rather than “offers,” a forum for political mobilization. But one would still have to wonder why a course on Palestine, even if it is supervised by an instructor who himself is an activist, would “appear” to offer such a forum? Is it that a faculty activist on Palestine is incapable of separating her activist work from her academic work? Or is it that any speech on Palestine cannot but of necessity turn into organizational speech lacking scholarly meaning and relevance? And do we refrain from making that judgment about other fields of inquiry or does it only pertain to the question of Palestine?   

And what about the charge that the course offers “a single political viewpoint?” The Regents Policy on Course Content includes no such limitation. But the policy does state that the regents “are responsible to see that the University remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interest.” Some will certainly find this 1970 regents policy reminiscent of Cold War rhetoric of political neutrality. But if the administration insists on being guided by this policy, shouldn’t we first interpret what it means today? One need not equate institutions of higher education with politics to recognize that some dimensions and practices of higher education are deeply implicated in the field of power, if only by producing knowledge about it. The administrative decision to suspend the course foreclosed a possible debate over the Regents Policy, making other interpretations of it less consequential. And yet this debate is most pressing in our present moment when the public university is ever-more vulnerable to external political and economic forces, and when academics are called upon to confront these forces. Under these circumstances, what does it mean to insist on “aloofness” from politics? And might not the censorship itself be a partisan act that selects and constitutes a course with a “single political view” from a range of similar courses, while proceeding in a way that is far from ordinary (the suspension of an approved course) without discussion and debate or direct communication with faculty and students on campus?   


In what sense then are we to understand that the course on Palestine offers a single political viewpoint? There are multiple courses offered in the DeCal program, let alone in the university’s general course catalog that might be said to advance a single political viewpoint. Courses on feminism do not necessarily spend time rehearsing the defense of patriarchy, and discussions of Africa and international law do not necessarily entertain accounts contesting the colonial genocide in the Congo. Similarly, courses on American and Japanese imperialism do not inevitably explore defenses of imperialism. In none of these cases is the demand made that instructors offer a counterpoint. Palestine seems to be the singular exception.

The demand to offer a counterpoint is never naïve. It unleashes its own power operations. It signals an area of suspect knowledge requiring contrary inquiries to tame or restrain its potentials. The demand therefore announces particular knowledge as questionable, and works to prevent its unchecked dissemination to the student population. It determines what counts as valid knowledge and what does not — it introduces hierarchy among different modes of knowledge, inquiries and frameworks of analysis.   

There are many reasons that such a demand can be made of scholarship and teaching on Palestine while other areas of study are not subject to the same requirements. These include the extent of lobbying that pro-Israel and Zionist groups undertake to shape global public discourse on Palestine in the US and elsewhere. But there is more. Had this been a course titled “The Israeli-Arab conflict,” it probably would have passed the final administrative test, albeit with some student complaints (we occasionally hear about such courses in other universities) and despite a certain degree of targeting in the various media outlets that monitor the production of knowledge on Palestine in the U.S. What prompted the executive suspension in this case could be seen as the antipathy to the settler colonial framework the course explicitly invoked. The course title and description invited the students to analyze Palestine with the tools of settler colonial studies, a field which addresses sites including the U,S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The late Patrick Wolfe’s seminal comparative work on settler colonialism (also on the course syllabus) includes Palestine as a case study. This should come as no surprise. Anyone familiar with modern Hebrew knows that many towns are classified as settlements — singular: “hityashvut” (before 1948) and “hitnahlut” (after 1967) — signifying the practice of settling Palestinian land and claiming it by inheritance, divine or otherwise. Modern Hebrew is only one among many other sites in which the practice of settling and claiming land leaves its traces, something that should provoke reflection in an academic setting but is instead being policed and shut down.

If we recall that Palestine’s settler colonial history dates back into the late Ottoman period, prior to the establishment of Israel, a course adopting this framework could have raised the following perfectly valid (and important) academic questions: How and when was the question of Palestine conceived as an episode in a larger Arab-Israeli conflict? How does such a framing sidestep thorny questions about the process of colonization crucial to the founding of Israel? What legal issues, if any, does the settler colonial framework yield as compared to the language of “conflict,” “military occupation” or “hatred”? More generally, what relationships between past, present and future become visible from within the framework of colonization and decolonization that other frameworks obfuscate?

These are some of the questions that the administrative suspension of the DeCal course policed, shutting down all invocations of the terms “colonization” and “decolonization.” The result is nothing less than the rejection of critical inquiries into established orthodoxies. But censorship of academic pedagogy and administrative policing of intellectual inquiry not only announce what is questionable in the present — they also extend their power to the future. By declaring suspect those academic inquiries about Palestine that move beyond conventional frameworks of analysis to exploring its colonial history and present, censorship seeks to guard the present and immunize the future against these inquiries. In this regard Palestine is no exception. It only happens to be our present one.

Samera Esmeir is an associate professor in the Department of Rhetoric.

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  • freespeechlover

    Brilliant analysis.

  • SamXie

    The Arabs are the colonial invaders. The Jews have lived in the Holy Land for over 3500 years. Because this course is based on false assumptions, it is suspect.
    Whats next at Cal? A course on intelligent design?

    We should have a commitment to truth and accuracy here, even if its beyond the realm of what is considered politically correct.

  • Ellen Hanson

    If you are familiar with Orwell’s ‘1984’ you’ll know that it presents the control of the historical record as the heart of thought control. So, that suggests looking at control of the historical record in the world today.

    The question, at the extreme end, is ‘Is history determined by historians who study the past, or is it determined by the government and enforced in a court of law, with deviations prosecuted?’

    In every case except one, it is determined by historians who research the past and publish their findings, subject to peer review. However, in one case, and one case only, history is determined by the government and enforced in a court of law, and deviations are aggressively prosecuted. The historical record that is government enforced is the history of the holocaust, If you publish research that differs from the court account, or make a public statement that differs from the court account, you can arrested and jailed in seventeen European countries for up to five years. For example, consulting wiki on the topic of Laws against holocaust denial, we see…

    “The Parliament of Hungary declared the denial or trivialization of the Holocaust a crime punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment on February 23, 2010”

    Many are prosecuted in Germany, Ursula Haverbeck, an 85 year old woman, was recently sentenced to ten months in jail. Quite a remarkable woman …

    The laws apply to personal travelling through the countries, not just citizens, by the way, so be careful in travelling in Europe. David Irving learned the hard way and was jailed for two years in Austria.

    Now, this raises a question, and that ‘What do academic historians in the countries where the history of the holocaust is determined by the court have to say about it?’ And the answer is absolutely nothing, they teach the government version.

    And more relevant to the situation in the US is a corollary question, ‘What do academic historians in the US have to say about the court ordered history of the holocaust?’ And the answer is that there is no criticism of it at all, and they teach it at Berkeley. You might as well be in Budapest.

    So, the one part of the historical record where the thought police have been successful in controlling what is said and what is written, almost worldwide, has been the holocaust.

    Is there a connection between the successful efforts of the thought control police to control the history of the holocaust, and the efforts of the AMCHA Initiative at Berkeley to control what can be taught and what cannot be taught regarding Palestine?

    You decide.

  • Val Halen

    How about a course titled “Terrorism: The Self-Destruction of the Palestinian State”. Give us a few courses on how Hamas/Fatah squander their financial and social resources perpetuating hatred of Jews and Israel.

  • Thomas Paine

    The Muslims had started an ethnic cleansing of the Jews in 1936 Palestine when my Uncle was there with the British and Gurkha troops.

    They beheaded 160 Muslim Brotherhood members and burned the heads. The uprising then ended.

    This sounds like what is needed in Burkaley.

    • Wabbit

      Here’s a call for a mass murder of Muslim Berkeley students. It’s good to see where Israeli propagandist are standing today. Also good to see what the daily cal considers a legitimate comment.

      (BTW, the Muslim brotherhood wasn’t active in Palestine in 1936. At least know who your uncle murdered.)

  • geist

    The only sense in which a discussion of settler colonialism is applicable to “Palestine” would be a discussion of the invasion and subjugation perpetrated by Arabs.

    • Arafat

      Don’t be silly. Just because wherever Muslims exist today is due to brute force jihad does not make them settlers.

      I mean just ask the Animists of Sudan if you can find any left standing after the blood-thirsty jihad of that country in the 1990s by Muslim jihadists.

      Or ask the Christians of northern Nigeria if you can find any left standing after the continuous and ruthless jihad of that region by bloodthirsty Muslim jihadists.

      Or take Pakistan. Before bloodthirsty colonialist Muslim jihadists invaded that region Pakistan was 100% Hindu and Buddhist, but today most of these people are dead or forcibly converted.

      I could go on but won’t. Suffice it to say – and as you do say – wherever Muslims exist today they are occupiers, apartheid practitioners and colonialists.

  • Bad As Can

    Long live the Nakba

    • Arafat

      What then is anti-Semitism? It is not a coherent set of beliefs but a set of contradictions. Before the Holocaust, Jews were hated because they were poor and because they were rich; because they were communists and because they were capitalists; because they kept to themselves and because they infiltrated everywhere; because they clung tenaciously to ancient religious beliefs and because they were rootless cosmopolitans who believed nothing.

      Anti-semitism is a virus that survives by mutating. In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the 19th and 20th centuries they were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, Israel. Anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism.

      The legitimization has also changed. Throughout history, when people have sought to justify anti-Semitism, they have done so by recourse to the highest source of authority available within the culture. In the Middle Ages, it was religion. In post-Enlightenment Europe it was science. Today it is human rights. It is why Israel—the only fully functioning democracy in the Middle East with a free press and independent judiciary—is regularly accused of the five crimes against human rights: racism, apartheid, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide. This is the blood libel of our time.

      • freespeechlover

        Oh stop your nonsense.

        • Arafat

          You first.

  • Val Halen

    Your opinion is full of drivel

    There is no room for hate speech on campus. Even when it is dosguised as a course.

    And do you actually believe the nonsense you posted?

    • Nathan Smith

      So you’re unable to actually engage with the arguments of this piece?

      Instead you simply say “nonsense,” “drivel”…this is all the pro-Israel extremists have now? They can’t even wage an argument. Just insults, mob rule, and false claims of injury.

      • Val Halen

        where did I insult the author? And false claims of injury?

        You project way too much Sancho

        And lots of people avoid interacting or debating with bigots as I chose to do. Doing so does not automatically make one a pro-Israel extremist.

        • Nathan Smith

          Don’t get your panties in a wad. Telling the good professor that “your opinion is full of drivel” is a mild insult.

          More importantly, you have no argument. No substance. Nothing. As is the case with most Zionists. I’m pretty certain a professor of rhetoric would run circles around you. Oh right, she already did.

          • Val Halen

            Why is it so important for you to label me and call me names?

            You are projecting again.

            And stop worrying about my undergarments. It’s creepy.

          • Nathan Smith

            What name did I call you?

            You seem very sensitive. Maybe it’s because the professor runs circles around you and you can do nothing about it. Feeling inadequate?

          • Val Halen

            The professor is full of hate speech.

            I choose not to engage.

            Other than that, you are projecting all sorts of things.

            You use the word Zionist as if it were an epithet

            My guess is that you don’t know what the word means.

            Bye Felicia. You are weak and not really worth engaging either.

          • Nathan Smith

            You use the word Zionist as though it’s NOT an epithet. Your cultural nationalism is not special or interesting. Zionism is just another exclusivist ethno-nationalist movement, boring and predictable, that claimed exclusive rights to a far away land for one ethnic group when another group of people was already living there.

            No amount of lies, nonsense, historical fabrication, or victimhood justifies that ethno-nationalist extremism.

            If I’m not worth engaging, you’ve spent a good amount of time engaging me. And yes, the professor runs circles around you because clearly, you have nothing worth saying except to complain about how awfully you’re treated. Boo hoo. Get used to it, Zionist.

          • Val Halen

            Deal with it

            Zionism is not going to leave because you can’t come to terms with it.

            The only lies are the ones you are portraying.

            “Zionism is just another exclusivist ethno-nationalist movement”. Only that it isn’t.

            And as long as the Palestinians are unable to attract better supporters than you, they will remain in the wretched state they are in.

            And nowhere did I complain about being treated badly or anything else. You do an awful lot of projection.

            It is your dog whistle politics that are boring and over played. go to Breitbart where you will be welcomed. Well, except for your love of man-butt

          • Nathan Smith

            Man butt is totally hot. You don’t think so? I thought you Zionists loved the queers? I guess not! lol

            I love pissing off racist Zionists like yourself. You know what gives you guys away? You can never actually win an argument. You have nothing. Just your ethno-supremacy, your Joan Peters lies and fabrications, your fascist terrorist leaders, and your bad propaganda. Israel will end since the two state solution is over.

            When that happens, good luck bro!

            And I thought you said bye, loser?

          • Val Halen

            I’m not even arguing with you. You have no position. You just repeat a bunch of alt-right nonsense.

            I am not racist at all. Nor am I an ethno-supremacist.

            You are a confused, angry little man. My guess is that you can’t shove enough nappy-headed dikcs into your genetically fouled body.

            Oh, and your opinion means nothing.

          • lspanker

            I love pissing off racist Zionists like yourself. You know what gives you guys away? You can never actually win an argument.

            Have you won any argument here? All you have done is foam and flail like a hysterical little queer.

          • Arafat

            For something like 3,000 years people have been telling Jews where they can live. (Or, more accurately, where they cannot live.)

            The noble Brits wouldn’t let one Jew live in England – and this for over 200 years. Now, of course, the holier-than-thou Brits are at the forefront of anti-Semitic propaganda.

            The Germans didn’t tell the Jews much of anything other than take action to end their existence in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and elsewhere. Of course so many others helped in this effort with special mention going to the always holier-than-thou French.

            I guess Jews cannot live in Europe.

            The Romans wouldn’t let Jews live in the Jewish homeland.

            Russians would only let them live in ghettos, as did the Spaniards, Italians among others.

            And so it goes.

            Today Jews are not allowed to live in most Muslim nations and those where Jews are allowed to live we find Jews living in fear of their Muslim masters and their crippling taxes and animus.

            Now the world is telling the Jews once again where they can and cannot live. They cannot live in the West Bank some tell us. Gaza? No way. Israel? It depends on who you ask.

            Nobody tells Muslims they cannot commit genocide and “occupy” Sudan or Somalia, or Nigeria because, I guess they are Muslims and not Jews and not subject to the same rules. But let’s not dwell on the hypocrisy, the double-standards and the obscenity of it all, for they, the Jews that is, are just Jews: Victims of hatred from the weak, the stupid and the maladjusted for thousands of years.

          • Arafat

            Given that you support the Palestinians who openly advocate Jewish genocide (see their duly elected leaders clear-cut party covenants), you correspondingly do as well. It’s hard to believe in this day and age that anyone would openly advocate the liquidation of Jews, but you clearly do and it doesn’t seem to bother you a whit.
            Moreover, it would be hard to believe that anyone would support second class status for women, the honor murder of teenage girls, the brutalization of gays and the suppression of dissenters. But you, as supporters of the Palestinians who regularly practice all of the above, are therefore complicit in these sexist, racist and fascist beliefs as well.
            Why are you so bigoted, misogynist, anti-gay and such hater of Jews? Please tell us pray tell.
            And if to be opposed to such garbage practiced by so many Muslims world-wide makes one an Islamophobe, count me and all who believe in freedom and hate sexism and bigotry vs Jews as a proud Islamophobe.

          • Nathan Smith

            Ooooh, the anti-semite card! You guys are so predictable!

          • Arafat

            The only way we can change this insane Islamic dynamic is by
            educating all people about Islam.

            Sadly our academicians, political leaders,
            main-stream-media, and the leftists all feed us lies and half-truths about
            Islam because it is not PC to speak the truth.

            And the truth is (and this comes from Muslim holy books, not
            from me) is that Mohammed was a sexual predator. He pillaged his way to great
            wealth. He murdered, or had his followers murder for him, he enslaved, his
            thirst for power was never satiated.

            If we quit pretending he is a prophet like Buddha, the Hindu
            Gods, Moses or Jesus then we are moving in the right direction. If we inform
            instead of misinform then we are moving in the right direction. AND if we
            insist Muslims also hear the truth AND create an environment where they can
            feel safe, instead of threatened, by leaving their supremacist religion then we
            are making progress.

            It is long past time we quit pretending Islam is like
            atheism, Christianity or any other ism other than Stalinism, Nazism and the
            like. As awful as it sounds – in today’s PC world – to write this it is
            nevertheless true. Islam has spread through brute force and it is doing the
            same thing today. Sudan’s been
            devastated, Mali is being devastated, Somalia is a violent anarchist state,
            Nigeria is succumbing to Islamic terrorism.

            For all our good – Muslims too – it is long past time we
            started being honest about Islam, learn about its prophet, and then we can
            begin to have an intelligent discussion about what to do.

          • Arafat

            Fortunately millions of non-Muslims are being forced by
            world events to wake up to how truly dangerous Islam is. We ex-Muslims know
            that Mohammedanism must go the way of the dinosaur or the planet will drown in
            the blood of sharia as Muslims enforce the laws of Islam.

          • Bad As Can


            You are very funny Tinkerbell.

            Every pole smoker in the middle east, from Iran, Egypt to the Palestinian Territories is doing anything they can to get into Israel so they can live and thrive.

            But you? You would rather have the only place that would take your weak, sorry a$h in be destroyed.

            What is your problem Tinkerbell?

          • Nathan Smith

            You wish you could have this Tinkerbell!

          • Bad As Can

            You seem to have a fantasy of seducing straight men.
            As they say, it only happens in the movies.

            Now stop being bigoted.

          • Nathan Smith

            Can you prove you are straight?

          • Bad As Can

            Send over one of your SJW fg-hags and I will teach her pssy a lesson it’ll never forget.

          • Nathan Smith

            No woman would be caught dead near you. You reek.

          • Bad As Can

            Lol. I love that you have to insult me to make yourself seem better. What a piece of work you are.

            Well, I know of no other way to prove it to you. So don’t ask again.

      • Silvio Dante

        No offense, but I think you may be gay

        • Nathan Smith

          Yep, I am. No offense taken.

          No offense, but you’re an idiot. No doubt about it.

          • Silvio Dante

            I see.
            So, I guessed correctly and for some reason I am an idiot?
            Wow, you have a temper.

          • Nathan Smith

            You are denying that you are an idiot?
            It’s obvious bro.

          • Silvio Dante


      • Val Halen

        Hi Vaggot!

        How are you today?

        Are you still blaming the Jews for all of your problems?

  • garyfouse

    This course is not an academic inquiry. It is more like a kangaroo court that will declare Israel guilty. The course (now reinstated) is clearly biased and has a political agenda.. It will be taught by a student member of SJP, which coincidentally was co-founded by UC Berkeley professor Hatem Bazian, a Palestinian and fervent opponent of Israel. In short, it is a joke.

    Congratulations, UCB. Once again you have embarrassed yourselves in front of the nation.

    Why any Jewish student would want to go to this university is beyond me.

    • Shay Pshifter

      So you are a conservative, pro-Israel, retired from law enforcement (DEA Agent) who is pro-Trump, thinks of Ann Coulter as a “hero”, is anti-refugee, and, teaches part-time at UC Irvine Extension (EngIish as a second language !! I mean that’s a pretty vulnerable audience for someone who is so rightwing and anti-immigrant). You also spend what seems to be all of your free time promoting Zionist and rightwing causes on endless articles here and elsewhere. Doesn’t that mean that you are also clearly biased? How do you measure the difference?

      Also what is a part-time teacher? You mean an exploited adjunct?

      • garyfouse

        That’s easy, Shifty. First of all, I do not bring my biases, politics and personal views into the classroom. I teach English-nothing else. My students are free to express their views at any time. They are hardly vulnerable. Secondly, I don’t consider myself pro-Trump. I am anti-Clinton, thus I plan at this time to vote for Trump as the lesser of two evils. I have criticized Trump in the past and will do so in the future.

        As far as Israel is concerned, I am pro-Israel. I believe Israel has a right to exist and to defend itself from terrorism and efforts to destroy it. If that makes me a Zionist in your eyes, so be it.

        And I am not anti-immigrant as I am married to an immigrant from Mexico no less. I am against illegal immigration though I understand the reasons why most poor Mexicans come to this country. I am also against immigration by some folks who will not assimilate, do not respect this country and its traditions, and/or wish to do us harm. As for refugees, I am not against all refugees. I don’t understand why we are ignoring Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq who are truly running for their lives in the face of a genocide. As for the ones we are admitting, it is clear we cannot fully vet them and some of them will strike against us once they are here as has already been evidenced in Europe.

        As for my role as a part-time teacher, it is one I chose after my retirement from the government. I have never even wanted to be a full time teacher since I don’t need the money, benefits or extra hours. I teach two hours a day and get paid for it by the hour. I am perfectly happy with that and do not consider myself exploited. I am no “victim”.

        • lspanker

          Secondly, I don’t consider myself pro-Trump. I am anti-Clinton, thus I
          plan at this time to vote for Trump as the lesser of two evils.

          Seems there are quite a few people in that camp, and the Clintonistas are apparently freaking out that the rest of the country may not be of the opinion that somehow she is entitled to be our next POTUS.

          And I am not anti-immigrant as I am married to an immigrant from Mexico no less. I am against illegal immigration though I understand the reasons why most poor Mexicans come to this country. I am also against immigration by some folks who will not assimilate, do not respect this country and its traditions, and/or wish to do us harm.

          Hmm, you seem to hold views that are quite mainstream in the rest of the country. Only in pockets of rabid hyper-lefties such as Berkeley would you be labeled as “right-wing” or “anti-immigrant”.

      • Val Halen

        He ripped you to shreds

        Next time, think before you spout off your nonsense.

      • lspanker

        Wow, thanks for letting the world know that you’re completely incapable of coming up with a reasoned, logical rebuttal to a point of view you don’t agree with.

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