This week, San Diego State’s Campanile Walkway has been the site of both productive student activism and an unproductive and tense rivalry. SDSU’s Students for Justice in Palestine set up a mock apartheid wall in anticipation of Palestine Awareness Week, today through Tuesday. The purpose of the wall is to spread awareness of the human rights issues caused by Israel’s security fence surrounding Palestinian territory. Another student organization, Aztecs for Israel, has set up its own table and informational display within spitting distance. Social science senior and AFI Vice President of Logistics Jaclyn Singer said the group is not seeking to antagonize SJP, only to make its own voice heard and present the opposing viewpoint of the issue.
“Our main message is peace,” Singer said.
Despite the universal claims of innocence, the mood in the area has sometimes been negative and aggressive. Both groups can do more to prove their avowed desire for productive discussion and positive change.
SJP activists are careful to explain they are protesting the actions of Israel’s government, rather than expanding the issue to religion, race or nationality. One panel of the wall clearly states, “Zionism does not equal Judaism,” while other sections display quotes from prominent Jews denouncing human rights abuse against Palestinians. Yet members still claim to have been targeted with aggressive backlash. This is not the first Palestine Awareness Week SJP has put on, and members said this year has been tame compared to previous events.
Although the two groups may have radically different views about the nature of the Israeli / Palestinian conflict, they appear to have the same goal: a peaceful resolution. They also have the same explanation for why tension has been constant throughout the week – a lack of understanding. So why can’t the positive collegiate atmosphere of SDSU foster a more productive dialogue that does not attack or antagonize anyone? After all, university campuses are meant to be a colorful array of ideas and perspectives where all can safely express themselves.
Admittedly it’s revoltingly cliché, but a little communication could go a long way in solving this problem. It is completely reasonable for SJP to desire a safe and open forum to hold its event free from competition, tension or harassment. Nor is it outrageous for AFI to present another perspective and exercise free speech. However, setting up in such close proximity in direct opposition to another organization’s event without any prior communication or cooperation is not entirely constructive. When AFI moved its display to Campanile Walkway yesterday in order to clear space for the Education Abroad Fair, the environment at both locations was much more comfortable.
I would urge AFI to coordinate with SJP prior to events to avoid being perceived as ambushers. We should all be adults capable of conducting ourselves respectfully: It would be downright embarrassing if SDSU’s Student Life & Leadership had to become involved, playing mommy to prevent bickering and disruption.
Another issue has been the behavior of nonstudents coming to campus to harass student activists during events. In the past, these aggressive characters have intruded students’ personal space with cameras, taking video or making threatening comments such as calling students “anti-Semites” or “terrorists.” I don’t know how much of a relationship, if any, exists between these outsiders and any student organization, but all students should make an effort to prevent inappropriate behavior on campus. Especially if you endorse a similar perspective, it only makes you look bad when your allies conduct themselves in such an unacceptable fashion.
Both SJP and AFI appear interested in creating a healthier, more constructive relationship in the future. Aside from simple communication, perhaps the best way to achieve that ideal would be to conduct more partnered events, such as discussion forums and panels. As far as the rest of Palestine Awareness Week goes, I would hope this campus has the ability to continue a positive trend in building awareness and relationships with a tone of tolerance and respect.