Tufts offers ‘Colonizing Palestine’ course again, but look how it changed the description...

Tufts University is reoffering a pro-Palestinian course that was the subject of controversy in 2018, but has scrapped a section claiming that “the Israeli state, which illegally occupies Palestine.”

Tufts student Ben Shapiro told Campus Reform that the course description for “Colonizing Palestine” is “not as inflammatory, divisive, or controversial” as the 2018 version and that “if you read the course description and forgetting any context from [the course] being offered last year, the context is not saying anything out of the ordinary.”

“Colonizing Palestine” will teach students about “the histories and cultures of Palestine and Israel in relation to one another and through the lens of colonialism studies”, according to the 2019 course description, reported the Jewish News Syndicate.

The course will explore debates of decolonization and colonialism from the perspectives of Israelis, Palestinians and other voices from the Middle East. Students will read from the works of feminist scholars, activists, historians, and more, also examining issues through the lenses of race, class, gender, and sexuality.

Fall 2018’s rendition of the course from included that “students will address crucial questions relating to this embattled nation, the Israeli state, which illegally occupies Palestine.” Thomas Abowd, a professor who has advocated for the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement and “likes” Tufts’ Students for Justice in Palestine group on Facebook, is listed as the instructor for both courses.

[RELATED: Students condemn course on ‘Colonizing Palestine’ at Tufts]

In 2018, Tufts’ Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora -- which has since become a full department at the school -- released a letter in support of Abowd.

“In the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora, we know that teaching about colonialism and racism often produces backlash. We see, unfortunately, more and more that valid criticism of Israel is being portrayed as anti-Semitic as an attempt to shut down debate. We know there is an obvious difference between criticism of a state and racism against a group of people, as so many scholars, among them Judith Butler, who recently visited our campus, have addressed,” the letter stated.

The letter also stated that the now-department will not let the attacks “derail inquiry” at the school and that it pledged to start the 2018 school year committed to studying the issues surrounding “racism, colonization and decolonization in comparative context, and the creativity and cultures of colonized people.”

But some students are concerned about how Abowd has interacted with pro-Israel students on campus. 

“Tufts Friends of Israel respects Professor Abowd’s academic freedom to teach courses he is passionate about. We too acknowledge the need for nuanced and diverse Israel education,” Sofía Friedman, co-president of Friends of Israel, told Campus Reform

“However, we are concerned with the manner in which Abowd interacts and speaks with pro-Israel students on campus. We have found his attitude and language not only hurtful but detrimental to having a nuanced and civil discussion about such a complex topic and to fostering a positive, safe environment for all students at Tufts, regardless of their political beliefs.”

[RELATED: Profs’ attempt to shut down anti-BDS journal issue, make editors resign, FLOPS]

Friedman also stated that Friends for Israel hopes that Abowd and his students will engage in dialogue with the organization and bring civility and tolerance back into the discussion. 

Campus Reform reached out to Abowd for comment, but the professor merely questioned what Campus Reform meant by “pro-Israel” when referring to pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian factions.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @francesanne123