Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a pro-Palestinian student group at Arizona State University, exhibited an anti-Israel "apartheid wall" on campus for the third consecutive year, on March 28 and 29.
The wall, meant to symbolize the wall dividing Israel and the West Bank, displays anti-Israel sentiments. It has sections comparing the Israeli government to South African apartheid and Nazi Germany, and contains the message "Zionism Judaism," with drops of blood-red paint on the word "Zionism."
The structure is actually two wooden walls, each about 13 feet high by 30 feet long, painted front and back with pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli propaganda. The previous two years, SJP borrowed its wall from University of California, Irvine; this year the ASU chapter created its own.
Oday Shahin, head of public relations for SJP, insisted that the group is not anti-Judaism, only anti-Zionism and pro-Palestinian.
"Our goal is to educate people, not to give them conclusions but to tell them facts," he said. "I dare anyone to question any fact on this wall. ... Give me a source that is credible (and contradicts the wall), and we will change it. Nobody has ever taken that challenge."
Hayley Magerman, president of Sun Devils for Israel (SDI), a pro-Israel student group, spent much of her free time on campus while the wall was up working with other members of SDI to counter SJP's message and promote Israel in a positive light.
"(SJP) is twisting the truth," she said. "I have friends from South Africa ... and it's insulting to them for Israel to be called (an apartheid state). There are terms such as 'the Holocaust' and 'apartheid' that are very personal to people and it's disrespectful to use (them) so lightly.
"They use the word 'apartheid' because it's kind of an unfamiliar word to Americans. ... We just know (apartheid) is bad, but we don't know what it is."
Also for the third year in a row, SJP had "mock Israel Defense Force soldiers" standing in front of the wall and offering their interpretations of how the IDF behaves at Palestinian checkpoints. Last year, the mock soldiers were dressed in camouflage green and had Stars of David taped to their T-shirts; they faced accusations of anti-Semitism because some passers-by felt the stars were intended to represent Judaism.
Shahin said the stars were intended only to represent the Israeli flag.
But this year, in an effort to clarify, although SJP again placed the stars on the back of the soldiers' shirts, they added "Israeli army" on the front.
"If anyone has a problem with that, they should contact Israel and tell them, 'You guys shouldn't put the Star of David on our flag,' " Shahin said.
In addition to the "apartheid wall," SJP announced on March 30 that it was launching a Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign to pressure the ASU community to boycott and divest from Israel.
Shahin said that his organization isn't calling for the boycott of all Israeli goods, just "anything related to Israeli occupation and military occupation." He said SJP has a list of 13 companies "that we want to blacklist," including Caterpillar, Boeing and Motorola.
SJP is also coordinating with other student groups to pressure the ASU community to boycott and divest from other areas of the world, such as Darfur, according to Shahin.
"BDS is important because it's how outsiders can help," he said. "Even if you're (thousands of miles) away, you can pressure your leaders to boycott Israeli occupation. ... Money speaks. (The BDS) model we're copying from a South African model. South African apartheid ended when the international community boycotted and stopped trade with (South Africa)."
"Palestinians are definitely living in a second-class environment," said Magerman of SDI. "I think that's terrible and I don't think it should be the case, but it's up to Palestinian leadership to change that, not the Israeli government. ... If (the Palestinians) and their government and their leadership denounce terrorism and spend their funds and their resources properly, then they will have a thriving economy and they will be welcome to integrate and work in Israel.
"SJP is not looking at (the situation) properly. If they really were pro-Palestinian, ... they would see that what should be done is not (to denounce) Israel, but (to work) to help the Palestinians and work to educate Palestinian children and denounce terrorism."
The office of ASU President Michael Crow did not return requests for comment.