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Oxford University is this week holding an "Israeli Apartheid week." Hosted by the Palestinian Society, and sanctioned by the university's student union, flyers state it is to commemorate the "30th anniversary of the international convention on the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid."
Fliers show a caricature of two Israeli soldiers beating a Palestinian man with maps of Israel, stated as Palestine, and South Africa. The conference's themes are apartheid and Zionism, divestment and resistance.
Ilan Pappe from Haifa University, an advocate of a one-state solution and boycott of Israeli institutions, will speak on "Resisting Apartheid: Divestment and Solidarity" on Friday. Chairing the meeting is Prof. Steven Rose, a major supporter of an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
Other speakers include Prof. Gabi Piterberg from University of California at Los Angeles, who spoke on Monday night on "Zionism and Apartheid." Piterberg, an Israeli anti-Zionist, added his signature to a petition in 2003 calling for divestment from Israel.
On Wednesday, Karma Nabulsi, a politics fellow at Oxford and former PLO representative, will talk about "Palestinian Resistance." In a recent article, Dr. Nabulsi's accused Britain and Europe of "funding Israel's occupation and expansion."
On Tuesday night participants saw a film about an Israeli activist who married a Palestinian and founded a theater group in Jenin, where she taught children to express anger, bitterness and fear through acting and art.
"Arna's Children" recounts the story of her son returning to Jenin, after Arna's death, to find out what happened to the children.
Jewish students voiced their concern by writing to the university's vice chancellor and are attending the talks to hand out literature and engage with other attendees.
Joshua Hantman, a second-year Oriental Studies student, said, "Last year we built a good relationship with the Palestinian Society and had an open platform for debate. This event is not only offending students but closes paths to dialogue and hope."
In a meeting on Tuesday morning with the proctor at the disciplinary office of the university, Jewish students were told that while their concerns were understood, there was insufficient evidence for them to intervene as "there needs to be a high level of provocation."
The proctor did promise to take action against the Palestinian Society as they are not officially registered with the university and were acting illegally in using the university's name.
Mitch Simmons, campaign director of the Union of Jewish Students, said, "We were pleased that the proctor took the time to meet with us and recognized our concerns. But how uncomfortable do Israeli and Jewish students have to feel before they take action?"
A spokesperson for the University of Oxford said in a statement, "A number of events are being held by an unofficial student society this week. The proctors have considered the complaints, from students and others, in the context of the University's Code of Practice on the Freedom of Speech, which allows the free expression of opinions within the law, and have seen no evidence that there has been a breach of the code."
The statement continues, "The situation will be kept under review. The proctors are also taking steps to promote dialogue between the student societies so as to encourage mutual understanding and forbearance."
Adrienne Rivlin, ex-president of the Oxford University Jewish Society and current Graduate Chair, said, "Given the current political climate, it's deeply concerning that the Palestinian Society should choose such an inflammatory title, designed to be provocative and reinforce preconceived prejudices, rather than trying to build bridges and foment dialogue. Israeli and Jewish students on campus unfortunately can only feel intimidated by their actions."
Abdel Razzaq Takriti, media spokesman for the Palestinian Society, said, "We are simply stating our belief and explaining that Israel is an apartheid state, to encourage people to take a stance and increase public pressure on Israel to change its apartheid policies."
Karen Bagan, co-president of the Jewish Society, said, "If it had been a Palestinian awareness week, people would have been excited, but this simply is a direct attack on Israel and says they don't want dialogue." Last month Oxford University Jewish Society held an "Israel awareness week" that included events such as the "Israeli-Palestinian bereaved families for peace" forum.
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