Student Body Poised to Embrace BDS at Portland State University
On June 6, the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) will vote on a resolution recommending that the university rescind all connections with Israeli companies that ASPSU says “have been found to profit from human rights violations against Palestinian civilians by the Israeli government.”
The resolution singles out four companies that help “deny Palestinians basic civil rights;” they are G4S PLC, HP, Motorola Solutions, and Caterpillar. A preliminary debate took place on May 23, which led some students to believe that the measure has the support to pass. Although this will be Portland State University (PSU)’s first time voting on BDS, the students seem to be well acquainted with the claim that Israel is an apartheid state and human rights violator.
In a recent video, Ami Horowitz visited PSU to see how many students would give money to Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel and uses its own people as human shields.
Horowitz introduces himself as raising money for a terrorist organization “hoping to wipe Israel off the map,” and tells the students that their money will go to funding attacks against soft targets of civilian populations like “cafes and schools, hospitals, shopping malls, and places of worship.” The students nod their heads, shake his hand, wish him luck, and several donate. One boy says that he’s been learning about “what’s going on over there” during the school year, and “likes the sound” of what Horowitz is doing.
While the video reveals a lack of awareness in the student population that some might find humorous, it exposes the appalling environment that some Jewish students at PSU find upsetting and even scary.
Shir Cohen, who works for StandWithUs, says that at the May 23 debate, “there was a lot of hate. They clearly didn’t want to hear the other side. They came with signs with very antisemitic remarks that read ‘Only one state, a Palestinian State.’ They even said that terrorist attacks are understandable because it’s a form of resistance.” Cohen was told by Jewish students at PSU that they “have been exposed to antisemitism activity in the university, and that it’s nothing new.”
Cohen, along with Shiran Halfon, the Interim Director of the Portland Hillel, is working to oppose the resolution — as is StandWithUs, a pro-Israel organization with a Pacific Northwest office directed by Rob Jacobs.
Jacobs recently met with Israel’s former Consul General to the Pacific Northwest, who declared Seattle and Portland as the two most difficult cities for pro-Israel activists, even over Berkley, a notoriously anti-Israel city. Jacobs said, “The Pacific Northwest is like Berkley, except it doesn’t have a counterbalancing large Jewish community like San Francisco or a large Israeli community like Silicon Valley. What we have in the Pacific Northwest is a Center for many anti-Israel organizations […] Even throughout the public high schools … speakers are coming to tell students atrocious things — for example, that the IDF had officially authorized the use of rape as a weapon against the Palestinians.”
But why is the Pacific Northwest such a breeding ground for anti-Israel activity? With anti-Israel rhetoric couched in human rights language, people who care about justice think boycotting Israel is the right thing to do. “The Pacific Northwest is full of people who have a desire to do something positive, but they perceive the situation in the Middle East as black and white, with Israel as the total oppressor,” explains Jacobs.
Although the BDS vote is looking bleak for those who hope it will fail, Bob Horenstein, the Director of Community Relations for Portland’s Jewish Federation, thinks it will have no impact. “The BDS movement has had no tangible victories. If the BDS resolution passes on June 6, as we expect, it will have no impact on the university. No university across the country has divested its endowment funds from companies doing business in Israel. These are all symbolic, but their message is seeping into the mainstream, whether in churches, college campuses, even in the public education system. And we need to understand how dangerous that is.”
Eliana Rudee is the Jerusalem fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.