UC Berkeley
Sather Tower rises above the University of California at Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California, US in this May 12, 2014 (file photo) REUTERS/Noah Berger

The University of California, Berkeley, has suspended a course that is dedicated to studying Palestine. The move by the university has now caused a debate over academic freedom.

The course titled Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis, a one-credit class taught on Tuesday evenings by an undergraduate student. Its syllabus explores the history of Palestine "from the 1880s to the present, through the lens of settler colonialism," according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Settler colonialism is generally implies the takeover of a region by outsiders.

Over the last week, civil rights groups and pro-Israel organisations have hit out at the university and said that the course was clearly "anti-Semitic, anti-Israel" and "intended to indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state".

A group of 43 civil rights groups sent a letter to the Chancellor of the University, Nicholas Dirks, saying: A review of the syllabus of the course 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.

Just hours after receiving the letter, Dirks told the group that the course "did not receive a sufficient degree of scrutiny to ensure that the syllabus met Berkeley's academic standards."

A campus statement said that the course has been suspended "pending completion of the mandated review and approval process." It has also said that the course "espoused a single political viewpoint and appeared to offer a forum for political organizing."

The facilitator of the course, Paul Hadweh in a statement said "I complied with all policies and procedures required for creating the course. The course was vetted and fully supported by the faculty advisor, the department chair, and the Academic Senate's Committee on Courses of Instruction (COCI).

The university suspended the course without consulting me, the faculty sponsor, the chair of the department, or the Academic Senate's COCI, which is responsible for approving all UC Berkeley Courses. The university did not contact us to discuss concerns prior to suspending our course."

Pro-Israel activists and anti-Semitism watchdog groups have welcomed the decision. However, pro-Palestine organisations and some faculty members at UC Berkeley have criticised the suspension saying that administrators were muffling different viewpoints and giving priority to public relations instead to academic freedom.