Listening to a classmate yell at another student about Queer Studies was the most boisterous experience of my academic career. Looking back, I’m a little surprised it remains the single most emotional exchange of my Ivory Tower.
As I made my way through classes titled, “The Literature of Palestine,” “The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Film” and “Post-Colonial Literature of the Middle East,” I always expected some discussion to eclipse that sophomoric moment. Often the only not anti-Israel peer (or professor) in those classes, I spoke with constant expectation of a rhetorical explosion. Or a bad grade. Or at least a stern look.
Which is not to say that Portland State University’s Mideast Studies classes offer anything near a balanced, unbiased view of the Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict. One time I received a list of helpful links meant to augment our studies of the Conflict.
Conspiracy websites about Muhammad al-Durrah. Check.
Multiple Electronic Intifada blog posts. Check.
A single resource from Haaretz, JPost, an Israeli government website, CAMERA, AIPAC, J Street, Tikun, or anything remotely illuminating of a pro-Israel position.
Nope. There was a link to an Arutz Sheva article—the right-wing, ultra nationalist pro-Settler publication published in Israel.
And that’s the real story of anti-Israel bias at my university. While fake checkpoints go up at Cal and diplomats get shouted down at Irvine, Portland State remains a non-battleground of anti-Israel bias.
There are never any counter-protests to protest counter-protests. Israeli Apartheid Week was non-existent on our campus.
I recognize that PSU flies under the radar of those larger schools—about as important to our body politic as Wossamotta U. Nevertheless, the ease at which tainted discourse goes unchallenged at PSU is emblematic of the atmosphere.
Responding to a prompt about pro-Israel bias in the media (not whether it existed, but how it affects the Conflict), a fellow student posted this entry in the online portion of our class:
Based on what we have studied thus far in this class, I have noticed a definite bias in American media coverage on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Before this class I honestly knew close to nothing about this situation and after the documentaries and readings I have learned a lot already. All that I knew was there was a country called Israel and that it was a place where there was much conflict going on, but I always thought Israel was the “underdog” so to say. After learning more about the topic in a general sense, I came to realize that was not at all the case and it is actually the opposite. The only way I would have formed that opinion is from what I see and hear in the media.
She went from knowing “close to nothing about the situation” to realizing that the media caused her to be misinformed in thinking that “Israel was the underdog.”
The class was two weeks in. The machine marches along. One more week into the discussion, a classmate decided “the Jews who settled in Palestine in decided to form their own government independent of the ruling Palestinian State in existence since the early 1900s.” Jean-Luc Picard face-palm time.
I remember hearing in Arab Literature class–as a classmate read her paper–that the Jews perpetuate the myth of Muslim racism to legitimize the Zionist occupation of Palestinian lands.
It was one of those moments where you seize up because of the sheer number of glaring errors, all begging equal attention. It’s a weird phenomenon and I wonder if other students experience it; I froze up and remained silent while we rewrote history. I left the class feeling ashamed.
But that’s the silver lining, too. I don’t know if this works when a SJP student is pointing a fake M-16 at your head as you cross the quad, but speaking up and staying civil can go a long way in the discourse. It won’t change the fact that our curriculum caters to Saudi students–they represent the largest international population at Portland State.
But most people don’t really seem to care—at least not enough to yell, stomp their feet or throw around any Zionist Pig-related epithets. We aren’t Berkeley; the battle at Portland State is mostly a civil but uninformed discourse.
It’s time to match their civility and throw in some facts, too.