Robert Fairbairn and BlackRock: Shifting the Conversation from Individuals to Systems

Pitzer’s “Free Wall” was recently painted with a message exposing Pitzer College Board of Trustees member Robert Fairbairn for profiting off of the concentration camps on the US-Mexico border. Fairbairn serves as the vice chairman of BlackRock Fund Advisors, the second-largest stockholder in the GEO Group, which owns an ICE processing and detainment center in California. In addition to its investments in ICE, BlackRock also invests in defense contractors who manufacture weapons of genocide and destruction in Palestine, Syria, and Yemen. While much of the conversation surrounding the recent painting (and repeated coverups) of the “Free Wall” have been centered on Robert Fairbairn himself, it is necessary to extend this critical lens not just to individual Board of Trustees members, but to the college as an institution. 

Fairbairn is not one bad apple out of an otherwise respectable group of wealthy Trustee members with undue influence over the college’s finances and decisions; he is representative of Pitzer College as a whole. As an institution, the college’s proclaimed core values are used solely for marketing purposes. When it comes down to tangible, material matters of social justice, the college will take the side of the oppressor every last time. This can easily be seen in last year’s campaign to conditionally suspend the Pitzer study abroad program at Haifa University until the university stopped barring entry on the basis of race/ethnicity and political speech. Passing College Council with 67 affirmations and 28 negations, the motion was a monumental win, marking the first college in the country to vote to suspend a study abroad program in Israel. However, less than four hours after the vote, President Melvin Oliver nullified the decision. 

Profiting off of injustice is nothing new for Pitzer; it is the college’s one true core value. Melvin Oliver and Robert Fairbairn, both individuals who protect and uphold the aparetheid state of Israel, are not the problem with Pitzer. Pitzer is the problem. 

Further reading on the topic:

President Melvin Oliver’s Visit to the University of Haifa

On May 28th, 2019, Pitzer President Melvin Oliver visited the Israeli University of Haifa, during which he addressed over 200 attendees at the Board of Governors meeting and affirmed his support not only for the University’s study abroad program with Pitzer College, but also for Israel’s deeply racist and violent policies towards the Palestinian people.

Oliver’s address at the University of Haifa comes almost three months after his authoritarian veto of the vote democratically reached by Pitzer’s College Council that demonstrated overwhelming support among the Pitzer community and beyond for the conditional suspension of its study abroad program with the University of Haifa. The vote and the resolution were historic in the realm of pro-Palestine activism in U.S. higher academia, which made the veto equally historic for the College as it was the second time in the College’s 56-year history that the Pitzer administration unilaterally rejected a democratic motion, both times being in response to resolutions in solidarity with the Palestinian people. President Oliver’s recent visit to the University of Haifa indicated his continued shameless and explicit bias against Palestinians and his complete disregard for democratic shared governance at Pitzer College.

Oliver’s defiance of the vote make his political stance clear, which completely contradicts his repeated attempts to claim Pitzer College is an apolitical institution. Political boycotts are not foreign to Pitzer — in 1986, Pitzer set a precedent in California by voting to divest from companies engaging in business with Apartheid South Africa. Oliver’s statement also erased the long history of student activism and wide support among the Pitzer community in favor of answering Palestinian civil society’s call to promote justice internationally.

Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine immediately took action following the veto. We released a petition calling upon President Oliver to rescind the veto and garnered over 1200 signatures, which included 411 students, faculty, parents, alumni, and incoming students at Pitzer College; 566 students at the other six Claremont Colleges; and hundreds more academics, activists, non-profits, and political officials across the country and internationally. We received endorsements from scholars whose works we had read in Pitzer classes, notably including Cornel West, Judith Butler, Ilan Pappé, Robin D. G. Kelley, and Richard A. Falk, former U.N Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council. Thus, we reject Oliver’s dismissive comment that the vote came out of a “one-man media operation”; rather, we recognize the instrumental participation of students, faculty, alumni, parents, and allies in making the vote genuinely well-informed and democratic.

We strongly condemn the vindictive and personal attacks that President Oliver made against Pitzer Professor Daniel Segal, which includes his claims that Professor Segal coerced the faculty into voting a specific way and thus “faculty were primed to vote positively and promptly”. His singling out of Segal is as unpresidential as it is malicious and dangerous. Impugning the judgment of the College’s own faculty members has served only to damage the credibility of the institution itself. Surely the brilliant and competent scholars, the leading educators of generations of students at Pitzer, are well aware of how to think critically and voted thoughtfully and with compassion extended to the human rights of Palestinians.

There is a long history of students and faculty being doxxed, blacklisted, and threatened for their courageous pro-Palestinian activism, and President Oliver’s actions have given a platform to these malicious attacks. President Oliver’s personal attacks on Segal not only erases the collective historical and ongoing efforts that a large community of students at the Claremont Colleges have undertaken to fight for Palestinian justice, such as the Student Senate BDS bill in 2017 that was voted in but overturned by the Board of Trustees, but also completely disregards Palestinian civil society’s calls (specifically the Palestinian community at the University of Haifa) to promote justice internationally and suspend the program.

At his address in Israel, Oliver stated, “It is a credit to your institution [University of Haifa] that in this debate, no one can point to any policies or actions by the University of Haifa that would even be remotely linked to a rationale of suspending our program.” The letter of support we received from Palestinian students at Israeli universities show how very out of touch President Oliver is with the way that these universities operate. In their letter, the students from the Roots Unity Bloc at Haifa University, the Edward Said Forum at Tel-Aviv University, and the Galilee Bloc from Tel Hai College cite the universities’ policies antithetical to academic freedom. Whether it’s the militarized campus policing, the restriction of academic content, and the censorship of Palestinian voices, the experiences of these Palestinian students are by no means unique. A study conducted by Haaretz (July 2017) showed that half of all Palestinian students at Israeli universities suffered from the racist policies and racist attitudes from faculty themselves. These are institutions where Ramadan is not observed, where Arabic is not a language of instruction, and where armed Israeli soldiers attend classes and live in the dorms.

These discriminatory policies also extend to Jewish students who express pro-Palestinian sentiments. Renowned Israeli professor Dr. Ilan Pappé was forced to leave the university due to his research and teaching on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In a letter penned in support of Pitzer suspending their direct-enroll program with Haifa, Pappé expresses how material and central these discriminatory policies are to the University of Haifa: “As for myself, I was forced to leave the university due to my insistence of researching and teaching about the 1948 catastrophe as an ethnic cleansing and a crime against humanity. My case was one of the reasons the academic boycott targeted Haifa in particular as a site that violates freedom of expression and supports the denial of the 1948 Nakba.” As summed in Pappé’s account, “These are not marginal actions, but integral part of the university policy.”

In addition to Oliver’s targeted vilification, what we find even more unacceptable is his egregious comparison of the suspension of the study abroad program to the Muslim Ban enacted by the Trump administration in 2017: “To boycott a country on the basis of their policies is, by definition, a blanket indictment of the nation itself, and by extension, its citizens. This is whether we are talking about Israel and its immigration policies or the United States and its [partial] Muslim ban.” By invoking this comparison, Oliver is callously weaponizing institutionalized Islamophobia that is embedded in the domestic and foreign policy of the United States, and manipulating its language and purpose for the intent of his pro-Israel agenda. The suspension of the Haifa program is one that is based on protesting against the anti-Arab/anti-Palestinian policies of not only the institution of the University of Haifa, but also the settler-colonial nation state of Israel, the Occupied Territories, and beyond.

The Muslim Ban, however, is an imperialist, Islamophobic, and white supremacist act of banning people from Muslim countries from entering the United States. Both the Muslim Ban and the discriminatory policies at the University of Haifa fall within the same growing global racist and imperialist logic logic of Muslims and Arabs being “terrorists.” President Oliver and his deeply racist support for the University of Haifa is predicated on untrue statements. If Melvin Oliver truly cared about combating Islamophobia and racism, he would have taken action when students of color and Muslim students were being targeted with posters by pro-Israel groups that suggested that students in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement were terrorists. If Melvin Oliver truly cared about combating Islamophobia and racism, he would be in complete support of conditionally suspending the direct-enrollment study abroad program with the University of Haifa.

As is common in the realm of student organizing, Oliver strategically chose to plan his visit during the summer time, as college administrators count on student dispersal to allow them to undertake acts of suppression without pushback. Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine is in this for the long fight, however, as we know that justice does not come easy. We will continue to organize, advocate, and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people amidst racist settler-colonial occupation and apartheid, no matter how much administrative suppression is put upon us. The overwhelming vote in favor of suspending the study abroad program indicates that Oliver and his Zionist ideologies stands in the minority within the Pitzer community, and he is able to wield his disproportionate amount of power in order to impose them. We promise to keep fighting the power.

In solidarity,

Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine

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Pitzer College Council Approves Resolution Suspending Study Abroad Program with the University of Haifa

[March 14th, 2019]

On Monday March 14th, 2019, Pitzer College Council voted to conditionally suspend Pitzer College’s exchange program with the University of Haifa. This is a historic vote, as it makes Pitzer College the first college in the country to suspend a study abroad program in Israel based on its gravely discriminatory policies towards Palestinians and in a settler-colonial state that continues its egregious violations of human rights.


We hope that this vote encourages institutions around the world to follow Pitzer’s lead and cut complicity with the Israeli occupation. It is important we recognize the hard work and support that goes into this win. Thank you to all the students, comrades, faculty, and organizations that have put their time and energy to make this a reality. We hope that President Oliver will uphold the democratic decision reached at the College Council and implement the suspension.


Although today we celebrate this historic win, we must fight the injustices that continue here on Pitzer College’s campus, and globally. This is one step towards the liberation of Palestine, and we are endlessly honored to take it with you all.


There can be no academic freedom under occupation!


In solidarity,


Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine


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Pitzer Faculty Pass Motion To Boycott Study Abroad in Israel

UPDATE: Sign our petition in support of the motions!

Thursday November 8th, the Pitzer College faculty voted on and passed the following two motions;

Motion 1. The Pitzer Faculty dissents from the decision of Pitzer’s president and trustees to nullify the Student Senate resolution 53-B-20  of April 30, 2017. Independent of agreeing or disagreeing with that resolution, we the Faculty object to the president and trustees singling out this one issue as a basis for not accepting the Senate’s longstanding autonomy in controlling its funds, in the context of Pitzer’s governance system.

Motion 2. The Pitzer Faculty calls for the suspension of the College’s exchange with Haifa University, until (a) the Israeli state ends its restrictions on entry to Israel based on ancestry and/or political speech and (b) the Israeli state adopts policies granting visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities on a fully equal basis as it does to Israeli universities.

Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine receives the news with great joy as Pitzer College faculty have moved to boycott a study abroad program with an Israeli university, the University of Haifa. The University of Haifa program is deeply problematic and it is imperative that the colleges withdraw this program from their study abroad curriculums. Primarily, as the motion suggests, Israeli policies bar students from receiving visas to study at Palestinian universities, meaning that students are denied the opportunity to learn about Palestinian culture, narratives, and history. Additionally, Israel has passed increasingly draconian policies banning political speech and barring activists for Palestinian human rights from entering the country. On top of this, Israel has a systemic practice of racial discrimination at the border, meaning that this program is largely inaccessible to students from Middle Eastern descent. By encouraging other Pitzer students to embark on this program, the college has been consciously supporting these discriminatory practices.

Moreover, Motion 1 addresses last year’s unjust decision by the Pitzer Board of Trustees’ to ‘rescind’ the Pitzer Student Senate resolution. The senate resolution, which was democratically passed by senate multiple times, prohibits use of student activity funds for good and services associated with the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. These two motions not only support the autonomy and democratic process of the Pitzer Student Senate but also assert that faculty stand in solidarity with student voices. Pitzer’s past support of Israeli policies have a profoundly negative impact on their students. Palestinian students and those in solidarity with them are hurting as they watch their college blatantly support oppression.

We note that the faculty of the college passed their two Motions following a multi-year process in which Pitzer students were actively brought into, and widely participated in, an inclusive and democratic conversation on the College’s relationship to Palestine-Israel. Claims to the contrary are misleading not factual. Critics attack this important resolution from a decidedly partisan perspective, one hostile to support for the human rights of Palestinians. On November 8th, the faculty of the college decided to listen to student voices – to support the call for justice, respect and dignified life through the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement.

Today it is important to rally in support of the faculty’s decision to do the right thing. We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people living under occupied territories or in exile, and we will continue to fight for their rights. The faculty motions are two important and crucial milestones in the path towards justice for Palestinians, and we hope that the Claremont student populace supports them with the utmost enthusiasm.


Muslim Ban Decision and the Corrosion of the First Amendment

One week ago today, on Tuesday, June 26th 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled to uphold President Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries. As an organization in solidarity with Palestinians, and in opposition to Israeli occupation and domination, Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine stands with the victims of state-sanctioned repression around the world. The Supreme Court’s decision amplifies the need for such action and solidarity against injustice. When multiple branches of our government are actively allowing for the oppression of Muslims, people of color, and asylum seekers, we must fight back.


Aptly dubbed “The Muslim Ban”, this piece of legislation that the high court ruled on was fueled by Trump’s blatant islamophobia. During his campaign, Donald Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. Just months later, he proclaimed in an interview: “I think Islam hates us… there’s a tremendous hatred there… we can’t allow people coming in to the country with that hatred”. This past Tuesday, the Supreme Court condoned these discriminatory statements by the sitting President in deciding that his logic in banning Muslim-majority countries, for no evidence-based security threat, was reasonable. Unfortunately, by deeming this policy constitutional, the highest court has promoted the criminalization of Muslim communities in the U.S.


The decision sets a dangerous precedent in that entire categories of persons can be discriminated against on account of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or other protected classes under a thinly veiled agenda of racial and ethnic exclusion. This decision reinforces the world order that Mr. Trump seeks to protect: one with strict borders and further corrosion of democracy. A world fueled by misinformed prejudice, one that channels military prowess towards imperialist aims, with abject disregard for human life.


The Muslim ban is completely in line with the brutal trends of this administration as we’ve seen the denial of basic humanity and dignity to families at the southern border, refugees, transgender people, and other historically marginalized communities. The First Amendment in the United States’ Constitution has been, and continues to be, a fallacy for repressed communities. When students are questioned by the FBI for supporting Palestine, we have no freedom of speech, assembly, and press. When Congress introduces a bill which criminalizes BDS, we have no freedom of speech and petition. When Muslims are barred from entering the country, we have no freedom of religion.


We must stand together in the face of this affront to our lives.


Nakba Day: A Statement for Reminder & Resistance

70 years ago, Israeli paramilitary groups were in the process of ethnically cleansing Palestinians from the land of Palestine. From the winter of 1947 through the fall of 1948, nearly 800,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes. The Nakba, or the “catastrophe”, was the beginning of decades of human rights violations committed by Israel against Palestinians. During this cleansing, many villagers within UN mandated Palestinian land (such as Deir Yassin) were massacred, and their villages wiped off the map. These massacres were used to send a message to Palestinians who remained: they must flee their homes, or face the same fate. Most Palestinians left their belongings and savings in their houses, assuming they would be able to return when the terror subsided. For 70 years, Nakba survivors have lived in exile as refugees.

For Palestinians, the Nakba is a living history. It is ongoing through the current destruction of Palestinian lands, and the abject disregard for Palestinian life. The continued desecration can be felt by the constant encroachment of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a violation of international law. It can be seen as the US opens a new Israeli embassy in Jerusalem while Israel illegally occupies its eastern neighborhoods: a move that encourages Israel’s attempts to clear the city of its Palestinian inhabitants. The loss can be heard as shots pummel peaceful protesters in Gaza in a deadly reign of fire – just yesterday snipers murdered 60 Palestinians. On Nakba day we urge you to consider that the annihilation of Palestine is a reality, and that Americans are complicit in this demise.

70 years after the Nakba, Palestinians still lack fundamental rights and dignities. In Israel proper they are treated like second class citizens under 65 discriminatory laws. In the West Bank they are subjected to foreign military occupation, without sovereignty. Homes are demolished on a regular basis, and movement is difficult due to checkpoints within and around Palestine. In Gaza, Palestinians are simply treated like cattle. All of this is to say that Israel violates international laws and essential respect for humanity, and Palestinians, like all people, deserve better.

Palestinians are not silent throughout their oppression. Just this year, they have constantly demonstrated peacefully calling for their right to return, in continuation of 70 years of resistance to this catastrophe. Collectively, Palestinians demand 3 fundamental steps be taken:

  1. End Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantle the Apartheid Wall;
  2. Recognize the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  3. Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.​


As an individual, you have the power to resist the colonization of Palestine and support Palestinians to work towards these goals. Americans can contact their representatives (at any level of government) and insist that they publically decry the ongoing massacres in Gaza. You can join your local Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, or another Palestinian solidarity organization. As a consumer, you can leverage your purchasing power and boycott Israeli goods, particularly those directly complicit in the colonization, massacres, and occupation.

Today we remember the Nakba to signal to the powers that be that we will not forget.

Today we remember the Nakba in hopes that Palestine will be free in our lifetime

Today we can decide to push for change.


On Pitzer’s Giant Israeli Flag: Israeli Apartheid Week

At 2:30 am this morning SJP members keeping watch of the mock Apartheid Wall were awoken to the sound of a few anonymous individuals hanging a massive Israeli flag from the roof of Pitzer’s McConnell.

We will not be taking it down. We don’t need to.

Rather than address the concerns of Israeli state violence that IAW brings attention to, these people seek to gloss over those crimes and assert their unconditional support for Israel and its ongoing oppression of Palestinians. When we speak truth to power with workshops, art installations, informative events and actions, they a flag.

The supporters of this action only stand to prove the point of Israeli Apartheid Week #IAW. This flag shows the ideological underpinnings of Zionism, a settler-colonial project to lay claim to Palestinian indigenous land without acknowledging the human rights abuses, the violence, the massacres, the apartheid, and the walls that are necessary to sustain this project.

We brought an artistic rendition of the Apartheid Wall to show students in Claremont a small sampling of the horrors faced by Palestinians under occupation. They did not attempt to address these crimes against humanity, instead they dropped a flag. We hope that throughout the rest of IAW this year you attend our events, listen to our message, and think critically about this 20 foot flag that was hung in an attempt to cover up the horrors of Zionist violence .

The state of Israel’s criminal actions will not be blindly tolerated on our campus anymore. We will reject the unconditional support that this flag asks us to give. We hope to develop a critical understanding of Israel and Palestine in order to build a movement in solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian liberation and the liberation of all oppressed peoples around the world.

wall and flag#freepalestine #iaw2017 #5csjp

Statement Regarding Mural on Walker Wall

From: December 12th, 2016

Recently Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine painted a mural on Walker Wall in honor of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The mural presents the following aspects: The Arabic text means the word “Palestine.” “Right 2 Resist” signifies that we support the right of Palestinians to resist Zionist colonization and ongoing ethnic cleansing, as well as the right of oppressed peoples around the world to resist colonialism and imperialism. Palestinians have the right to resist all forms of Zionist violence, including mass incarceration, systemic torture, apartheid laws, home demolitions, and violent displacement, as according to the 1978 United Nations General Assembly Resolution which “[r]eaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means”. (UN Resolution A/RES/33/24)

When designing the mural, we overlaid the Palestinian flag onto an outline of historic Palestine to recognize the connection Palestinians, as indigenous people, have to their land. We uphold the inextricable connections between the land, culture, heritage, and general well-being of the Palestinian people and we fully support the right of return to their homes and land.

We stand for justice and liberation for all oppressed peoples in Palestine and worldwide. In order to work towards these goals we encourage all students at the Claremont Colleges to be critically aware of, and actively work against US support of Israel. The over 3.15 billion dollars in military aid that Israel receives from the US every year is crucial in perpetuating Zionist violence and it is our duty to collectively oppose this aid. Our projects such as the mural, film screenings, and other events on campus are aimed to begin the work of deconstructing our complacency with, and reducing our material complicity in, the oppression of Palestinians. As such, narratives that portray the conflict as ‘balanced,’ or suggest that ‘peace’ can exist within the context of ongoing war crimes, colonial occupation, and literal genocide, fail to acknowledge existing oppressive power structures. Only through standing in solidarity with the fight for Palestinian liberation can we be part of the struggle for genuine justice and peace.

Moving forward, we will be putting on events and actions and initiating campaigns aimed at fostering critical conversation and putting pressure on Israel and the US to end the violence against the Palestinian people. We invite you all to support and join SJP and participate in this global struggle – if you are interested, or have any questions, please contact us on Facebook or email us at!

In solidarity,
Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine