As violence in the Middle East escalates, so do tensions on college campuses across the country. Like Vietnam before it, college students are bringing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the forefront of campus activist agendas this semester.
Tensions have surged so high at San Francisco State University the university imposed restrictions on the activities all student groups could conduct. One rally required police officers and SFSU Public Safety officers to separate the school”s Jewish student organization, Hillel, and a group of pro-Palestinian activists.
Dennis Dubinsky, a member of Hillel at SFSU, said the pro-Palestine movement concentrated on anti-Israeli themes and not the core of the conflict.
“The pro-Palestinian movement unfortunately took the stance of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish,” Dubinsky said. “The Jewish community at SFSU took it upon themselves to support what they believe in.”
The University of Wisconsin has seen a recent flux of anti-Israel and anti-Palestine movements within as well.
For the last nine years, a man wishing only to be identified as Robert has been quietly protesting “Israel”s unwanted occupation” in front of the Humanities building. Robert has a booth set up with the Palestinian flag draped over it. He says the current conflict in Israel is comparable to Vietnam and the plight of the American Indians.
“Recognize their nationality. Recognize their sovereignty, and leave them alone,” Robert said.
He continued, “Two people are making claim to the same piece of land, and you can”t do that. The whole idea of a Jewish state — it has its proponents. Good, bad, that”s a judgment call.”
He is an example of activism here, but only represents a portion of the spectrum of views on the middle east conflict.
Houssain Kettani, a Ph.D student at UW and last year”s president of the Moroccan Students Association, said the silent protests put on by his group are meant to shed light on the atrocities committed by Israel.
“We are against the ethnic cleansing Israel is doing,” Kettani said. “Our demonstration was to show we are against atrocities acted on under the name of Judaism and Israel. I don”t see how people can support the atrocities in the name of Israel.”
The line between anti-Israel and anti-Semitism is a concern many in academia feel is being crossed. At the University of California-Berkeley, the office of the student group Hillel”s windows were smashed, and anti-Semitic messages were scrawled on building”s side.
Last May at the University of Maryland at College Park, students representing the Muslim Students Association, and the Organization of Arab Students set up an all-day protest against Israel.
The two groups set up a mock checkpoint and labeled a courtyard “Occupied Territory.” At the checkpoint, signs were hanging from a table indicating one direction for Palestine supporters and another for Israel supporters. As the protest was going on, a student read a United Nations resolution the two groups said Israel had violated.
In June, the University of California faculty and students formed the “UC Faculty Divestment Campaign” with the intentions of encouraging the governments of the United States and Israel to respect the human rights of Palestinian people.
“The most peaceful place I”ve ever been to is a cemetery,” Robert said. “I”m not interested in that. Everybody is locked down and if we don”t do something different, there”s not going to be anything left.”