We are writing as a group of concerned Carleton students and alumni greatly troubled by President Steven Poskanzer's upcoming trip to Israel under the American Jewish Committee's Project Interchange program. While we may come from different social and economic backgrounds, belong to different faith communities and hold diverging political beliefs, we are all of one mind that President Poskanzer's involvement in Project Interchange would be a great mistake. Simply put, as members of the Carleton community we are convinced that this visit uses Carleton College's praiseworthy mission values as an institution of higher learning and a liberal arts college to validate the increasingly illiberal policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinian people.
While Project Interchange has attempted to present itself as a "nonpartisan and apolitical" program dedicated to pleasant conflict-free buzzwords such as "complexity" and "dialogue," numerous accounts attest to the program in reality centering Israeli state perspectives of the ongoing conflict in the Holy Land and legitimizing the brutal and discriminatory status quo of Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory.  The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is not an objective voice on Palestine/Israel nor can it claim to actually represent the politics of American Jewry as a whole. It is zealous in its campaign against Palestinian civil society's call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israeli institutions and devoid of nuance in equating support for this nonviolent movement to anti-Semitism - a position that a critical mass of American Jewish voices do not find convincing.  In recent months the AJC has devoted itself to polemicizing against our nation's first two Muslim congresswomen, using language on Twitter and other social media that can be reasonably said to have crossed the line from pro-Israel support into Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian sentiment.  The decision of President Poskanzer and Carleton's administration to associate the College's name with such an emphatically partisan group without the consultation of faculty or the student body seems to us neglectful of both transparency and reasonable differences of opinion on this matter.
It is not only the surface-level political agenda of AJC that disturbs us about this trip, but what "educational" material might be offered in the program itself. Project Interchange is eager to present Israel as a "Startup Nation" powered by the technological innovations produced within the country's numerous universities and research institutes, although it will probably be less forthcoming about the use of this innovation and the collaboration of Israeli academic institutions in the widespread violation of Palestinian human and civil rights under illegal military occupation. The Israeli government recruits university geographers and architects to design and build separation walls and barriers between Israeli settlements and Palestinian cities and villages;  public health researchers to quantify the minimum number of calories civilians in Gaza are to consume each day under a 12-year blockade;  STEM whiz kids to surveil Palestinians online and identify which individuals are most vulnerable to blackmail.  US weapons manufacturers such as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin – well aware that their arms can be marketed worldwide as "battle-tested" on densely-populated neighborhoods in Gaza City and Khan Yunis - have opened headquarters near Israeli research hubs.  There is no academic research, no technological innovation or scientific discovery impressive or groundbreaking enough that should allow Carleton to countenance ethnic segregation, contravention of international law, and needless and cruel collective punishment imposed upon a civilian population. Carleton's reputation as a premier liberal arts college must not be sullied by the perversion of academic knowledge transformed into a destructive weapon imposed upon a subject population of millions.
As a final thought we would like President Poskanzer to consider Carleton College's identification as a secular institution that does not discriminate against students be they Israeli or Palestinian, Muslim, Jewish or Christian. Some Carleton students and alumni can attest to freely traveling through the gates of Ben-Gurion Airport or the Allenby Bridge simply on the basis of having Jewish family, however attached or detached they might happen to be from Judaism as an ethno-religious identity. There are then those Carleton students and alumni who are very well aware that as their Palestinian parents and grandparents were born beyond the gates of Ben-Gurion and Allenby they will never themselves be let through under the current political status quo. We look forward to a time when an official representative of Carleton College can visit Haifa and Jerusalem and Hebron without effectively compromising on this illiberal and inhumane inequality, and we hope it comes soon enough. But this isn't going to be that time, and Project Interchange certainly isn't going to be the trip. We ask President Poskanzer to have the intellectual courage and moral imagination to stand with our Palestinian siblings on the side of justice and human dignity.
1. Michael Batia, "Sins of Omission: The AJC's Project Interchange and the Creation of American Opinion," Middle East Policy Council, https://www.mepc.org/journal/sins-omission-ajcs-project-interchange-and-creation-american-opinion.
2. "JVP Supports the BDS Movement," Jewish Voice for Peace, https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/jvp-supports-the-bds-movement/
3. Alyssa Fisher, "AJC 'Outrage' Over Tlaib's 'Dual Loyalty' Tweet Sparks Own Controversy," https://forward.com/fast-forward/417196/outrage-from-ajc-over-tlaibs-dual-loyalty-tweet-sparks-own-controversy/
4. Lily Galili, "A Jewish Demographic State," Haaretz, https://www.haaretz.com/1.5182148; Eyal Weizman, "The Vertical Apartheid," openDemocracy, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/north-africa-west-asia/vertical-apartheid/
5. AP, "Israel used 'calorie count' to limit food during blockade, critics claim," The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/oct/17/israeli-military-calorie-limit-gaza
6. Jodi Rudoren, "Veterans of Elite Israeli Unit Refuse Reserve Duty, Citing Treatment of Palestinians," New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/13/world/middleeast/elite-israeli-officers-decry-treatment-of-palestinians.html
7. "US corporations complicit in military attacks on Gaza," American Friends Service Committee, https://www.afsc.org/resource/us-corporations-complicit-military-attacks-gaza; Meron Rapaport, "Thanks to Gaza protests, Israel has a new crop of 'battle tested' weapons for sale," +972 Magazine, https://972mag.com/thanks-to-gaza-protests-israel-has-a-new-crop-of-battle-tested-weapons-for-sale/136523/