SMU community responds to op-ed

An April 20 opinion editorial signed by 22 faculty members calling an organization biased for the way it markets a student trip to Israel has elicited strong responses from the SMU community.

Passages, sponsored by the Philos Project and the Museum of the Bible Foundation is an organization that “offers Christian college students with leadership potential a fresh and innovative approach to experiencing the Holy Land where participants will encounter the roots of their Biblical faith first-hand and come face to face with the modern-day miracle that is Israel.”

The concerns outlined in the faculty letter stem from the way Passages and SMU have promoted the trip to students. Faculty found “the biased way Passages approaches complicated historical questions, policy issues, social problems, and life situations” troubling.

Here are some responses to their letter, in emails to The Daily Campus and in-person interviews. Responses have been shortened for clarity:

“I understand that issues surrounding Israel raise a lot of contentious political questions and that people have very divergent perceptions of Israeli policy and the Israeli domestic political issues. I do think that a lot of the implications in that piece are misguided and unfounded.”

“Both the Passages program as well as all of us on campus that have been working with them have been very open from the outset of the pro-Israel orientation of Passages. That’s not a secret thing or hidden agenda, they are very open about that so any student who would seriously consider going on this trip would know that is a core objective of the trip to promote understanding for and sympathy for the state of Israel.”

“This trip enables students to connect with biblical faith and that is the majority of the places visited tie into that theme. The central purpose of the trip is to strengthen the connections that students have with sights of the bible and biblical faith.”

Matthew Wilson, director of SMU Center for Faith and Learning, interview

“SMU’s is a diverse campus, and that diversity includes students on both the left and the right politically, as well as students from a rich variety of religious traditions, including Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and theologically conservative Roman Catholics and Orthodox. I’d be equally happy to support Palestinian advocacy organizations were they to offer similar trips to our students, in an effort to raise awareness of their perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Arab-Israeli conflict has no easy solutions, but one step toward crafting a solution is to let the voices on all sides be heard, by allowing all sides to advocate freely and openly for their views.”

John Lamoreaux, associate professor of religious studies, an email to The Daily Campus

“This trip has the potential to open up a dialogue among students and faculty members alike. However, the op-ed that was released last week, and the way the authors of the op-ed chose to characterize and address their issues with the trip, makes a dialogue very difficult. If the authors of that op-ed had been fair and balanced in their analysis, instead of promoting their personal ideological agendas, then I do believe this Passages trip would be promoting a dialogue among students and faculty members that the campus would benefit from immensely.”

“Unfortunately, the way I (and others) read the op-ed, the writing, tone and content of the authors’ op-ed comes across as though it contains heavy anti-Semitic, anti-Israel undertones. I recognize that some of these faculty who signed the letter are in fact Jewish. My intention is not to call any of the authors of that op-ed anti-Semetic but rather state that I have had a handful of individuals say that they felt the op-ed came off that way.”

Drew Wicker, vice president of Young Americans for Freedom, an email to the Daily Campus

“When I signed up I had the intent of going as a Muslim student so that I could promote dialogue within that group because I felt that that conversation piece Is missing. I wanted to go because it will be more diverse because I’m not a Christian.”

“I don’t think this is coming from SMU but I think that SMU could definitely have more information for students but I don’t think the intention of the SMU faculty and staff is necessarily bad.”

“I didn’t know the history of passages before I signed up, once I got more info I was on a moral fence. On one hand I don’t want to support this organization however, if this continues then I feel like I should go in order to make sure that the dialogue is somewhat unbiased because I have my own vices.”

Neha Husein, sophomore majoring in human rights, interview

“I agree with the faculty that wrote the Daily Campus article published 20 April 2017. As a student in a reading group sponsored by the Center for Faith and Learning, I was initially very excited that this opportunity was given to students wishing to explore their Christian faith in the Holy Land. However, after learning more about the trip I realized that its sponsors, MOTB and the Philos Project, were aiming to essentially indoctrinate students for the Israeli cause while presenting the trip as a fun and exciting summer opportunity for college students.”

“As a student I cannot agree with the methods Passages uses to impose its beliefs on others, regardless of whether I am pro-Israel or pro-Palestine or neither. I am deeply uncomfortable that the school I attend indirectly supports Passages and their methods through the advertisement and endorsement of the trip. Students need to know this is not a purely academic trip. Passages is strongly biased towards Israeli power in the Middle East. They provide no objective understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict to help students think about it for themselves.”

“I simply think the SMU administration has been irresponsible in its presentation of the trip to students, and the lack of transparency has caused faculty and students alike to question the entanglement of our school’s academic reputation and political beliefs.”

Amanda Oh, SMU first- year student majoring in history and political science, an email to The Daily Campus

“I thought the op-ed was a bit ridiculous. One would think that college professors would encourage further learning on subjects that interest students, but apparently, they are opposed to higher education with which they disagree. The professors criticize Passages for having an agenda when they push their own political agendas in their classrooms daily. It seems that the professors who wrote and/or signed the op-ed are afraid that their students may not share their same exact viewpoint after attending the Passages trip.”

“The program is very clear about the ideology around which it is built. Any student who has some interest in attending the trip should know that the trip is pro-Christianity and pro-Israel considering how clearly the trip is presented. The professors that wrote this op-ed clearly did not do much research of their own before attacking the Passages trip.”

– John Bookas, SMU first-year student majoring in music and mathematics, an email to The Daily Campus

“We tried to be very precise in what we were saying and in what we weren’t saying. This is not anti-Israel advocacy; we are writing from our expertise as scholars. There is nothing wrong with students getting involved with advocacy groups, and I hope that students do that in living out and working for their values, and that holds true across the spectrum. In this case the problem is not with advocacy groups per say the question here is clarity of purpose and institutional affiliation—those are the big issues.”

“It’s okay to dive in and explore complex issues from academic perspectives. This trip has a very specific desired political outcome and it does not portray all of the different perspectives, although it says that it does.”

Mark Chancey, professor of religious studies, interview

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