The Conspiracy

What happened to IAW at Portland State? [Israeli Apartheid Week]

A regular fixture in the student union stairwells until recently.

The level of anti-Israel discourse at Portland State University is a “5.” What I mean to say is that pro-Israel students needn’t avoid the random keffiyah, but at the same time, a campus-wide Am Yisroel Chai party isn’t in the works either.

The stairways of the student union are usually peppered with the latest BDS effort but the posters haven’t made their way unto the “official” student billboards, yet. That’s why I was surprised to see absolutely nothing around campus for Israel Apartheid Week.

Just like any West Coast state school, Portland State has a healthy mix of Arab and Muslim student clubs (MSA included) as well as a sometimes-boisterous but mostly civil pro-Palestinian student group, Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER).

And yet, a quick run through campus last week produced not one of the famous posters comparing Israeli with the South African apartheid state. Even more mysterious was the series of emails unreturned to this reporter querying Israel Apartheid Week, sent to SUPER last week.

In fact, SUPER is having an event next week, but it’s not about Israel Apartheid Week – or even the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Next week SUPER is hosting a panel titled “Arab Spring: A Year that Changed the World.” Not exactly a reason to rally the counter-protestors, unlike at many universities that feature disruptions, mock checkpoints and assaults.

Contrast this back-and-forth (between IAW and its counterpart, Israel Peace Week) with the atmosphere at Portland State and it’s clear the there is something “different” going on at the university.

It seems the answer to the question of IAW’s absence at PSU is couched in the nature of discourse between Palestinian, Arab and Muslim groups and the Jewish student groups on campus. Last year, several Muslim and Arab student groups joined with the JSU and PDXHillel to bring StandUp for Peace – a comedy duo featuring a Palestinian and Jewish American – to campus.

Max Werner, a Portland State student and JSU officer said, “The relationships that were built during the planning and production of the event, I believe, were more meaningful than the event itself.”

Even more so, politics seem to take a decisive back-stage to more common celebrations of ethnic or religious culture. Identity is even an important difference in the officers’ core of several PSU student groups.

JSU officer Mehdi Sianaki is neither interested in Israel Apartheid Week – nor Jewish. Nevertheless, Sianaki is an integral part of the JSU at the university.

His views on cooperation between Arab, Palestinan, Muslim and Jewish campus groups seem to sum up the culture at the school: “the officers of both groups (JSU and the Arab-Persian Student Organization) are very close and have strong bond. APSO and JSU both agree that one cannot be judged on what takes place politically.”

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