Abroad and in Israel, ‘Apartheid Week’ politics hit campuses

With varying degrees of success, pro-Israel activists fight annual demonstrations that portray the Jewish state as a hotbed of racism

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Students at the University of Toronto during 'Israeli Apartheid Week,' 2012 (photo credit: CC-BY monad68/flickr)
Students at the University of Toronto during 'Israeli Apartheid Week,' 2012 (photo credit: CC-BY monad68/flickr)

From Australia to the US, university students launched pro-Israel campaigns to counter the pro-Palestinian “Israeli Apartheid Week” initiatives on campuses around the world during the month of March.

Down under, the Australian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) on Sunday launched the “My Israel” campaign. The week-long initiative is meant “to portray a true and personal image of Israel that contradicts the often biased and uninformed anti-Israel rhetoric on campuses — quite in contrast with hateful weeks such as the so-called ‘Israeli Apartheid Week.'”

One of the 'My Israel' campaign posters (photo credit: courtesy of AUJS)
One of the ‘My Israel’ campaign posters (photo credit: courtesy of AUJS)

“Our aim with this campaign is to educate students with a positive message about the real spirit of Israel that is so evident to anyone who has actually visited the country,” Dean Sherr, who is coordinating the campaign, told The Times of Israel.

The “My Israel” campaign “will show Israel for what it truly is — a unique nation of diversity and multiculturalism, and the best way to show that is from the mouths of real Israelis with typically Israeli stories,” he said.

Israeli Apartheid Week, according to its organizers, aims “to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns.”

Organizers outlined the IAW goals in 2005, stating that they wanted “full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, an end to the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands.” Many have claimed the week-long initiative — now entering its ninth year and being held in over 200 cities — aims to hurt Israel more than to help the Palestinian cause.

Last week pro-Palestinian activists at Montreal’s McGill University featured a panel about how academics make “the study, analysis and discussion of Palestine invisible,” while pro-Israel students demonstrated outside the building.

In San Francisco State University, members of the General Union of Palestinian Students staged a mock checkpoint en route to the university’s center square. Students were yelled at and required to show student ID cards before being allowed through.

Opposite them stood students active in the I-Team, the pro-Israel body on campus. “I’m pro-peace and pro-human rights,” Ally Poret told the university newspaper. “I think what they are dong is a scary way to prove a point,” she said, while acknowledging the other side has “a point to prove.”

“It’s pretty sad. In my opinion this is very offensive toward my side,” Samuel Boikaner said of the fake checkpoint.

Activists raised and debated the issue inside Israel as well. Last week a rally held in Nazareth condemned Israel’s racial discrimination against Arabs. It featured Dr. Yousef Jabareen, a lecturer at Haifa University, as well as local activists who support the BDS initiative.

An 'Israel Apartheid Week' poster (photo credit: screen capture IAW/Youtube)
An ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ poster (photo credit: screen capture IAW/Youtube)

“If someone from the US or Europe chooses to boycott Haifa University because it discriminates Arabs, or TAU because it has more than 50 projects with the army, I definitely understand him,” Raja Zaatra, former head of the National Union of Arab Students, told Maariv at the rally.

At Tel Aviv University, MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) met on Sunday with students, as part of the right-wing Im Tirzu organization’s campaign against what it calls the “week of lies.”

Shaked urged the students present to join existing organizations — or form new ones — that disseminate “sane, Zionist messages” to the rest of the world. Elsewhere on campus, pro-Palestinian students handed out pamphlets about segregation on bus lines beyond the Green Line.

“It’s a heated topic, one that takes center stage all over the world,” Yaron Cohen, a student of political science at TAU, told The Times of Israel. “I’m not sure where I stand, but I’m happy both sides can say what they feel.”

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