Israeli Apartheid Week will take place on March 1-8 on college campuses in 27 cities internationally, in what has become a growing phenomenon since the annual event was started in 2005.
Although the schedule for this year’s version has not yet been released, a message on its Web site makes clear what the focus will be: “This year, IAW occurs in the wake of Israel’s barbaric assault against the people of Gaza. Lectures, films and actions will make the point that these latest massacres further confirm the true nature of Israeli Apartheid.”
The event aims “to continue to build and strengthen the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at a global level,” according to the site.
An archive of past Israeli Apartheid Weeks on apartheidweek.org confirms the event’s growing popularity. In 2005, the event took place only in Toronto. The next year, it grew to include Montreal and Oxford. Five locations, including New York, were added in 2007, bringing it to the United States for the first time.
From 2007 to 2008, there was a huge jump as 19 locations were added for a total of 24 (certain others were discontinued). This year, with the addition of three new locations, Israeli Apartheid Week will be held in 27 cities.
In addition to existing programs in Canada, England and the US, the event will now reach South Africa, the West Bank, Mexico, Scotland and Norway. Locations include Abu Dis, Berkeley, Bir Zeit, Edinburgh, Edmonton, Johannesburg, Oxford, Kalkilya, San Francisco, Soweto, Tulkarm and Washington, DC.
In certain cities, the events will take place on more than one campus. In Toronto and Montreal, pro-Israel groups have confirmed that events for the week will be taking place on three campuses per city, as they have in the past.
The Web site, which is usually down for most of the year (except for a welcome message), was relaunched on Wednesday with new material for Israeli Apartheid Week 2009. Web surfers are invited to learn about the history of the week, the proposed academic boycott, and BDS calls.
Speakers have included Balad MK Jamal Zahalka in 2007 and former MK Azmi Bishara, also of Balad, who began Israeli Apartheid Week 2008 with a live broadcast from Soweto.
In his February 2007 Israeli Apartheid Week speech at the University of Toronto, Zahalka spoke of the “myth of Israeli democracy.”
“Democracy is Israel’s most important export,” he said. “This product [democracy] is so important that it gives Israel moral legitimacy, political legitimacy, influence and acceptance.”
Pro-Israel campus groups have been gearing up to respond to Israel Apartheid Week 2009.
The event’s organizers “are capitalizing on the fact that people are horrified by the experience of the black people in South Africa and by the experiences of Jews in the Holocaust. The anti-Israel movement hopes to inspire opposition to the State of Israel by applying the labels of Apartheid and Holocaust to the treatment of Palestinians by Israel,” Orna Hollander, head of the Canadian Center for Israel Activism, said this week.
An employee at the Israeli Embassy in Washington seemed put off by the mention of the week and said he had never heard of such a thing. The embassy in Ottawa declined to comment, but said it was well aware of the scheduled events.
Asked about the feelings of Jewish students at Oxford University, second-year student Jacob Turner explained Wednesday that “Jewish students on Oxford campus are mostly apolitical. The Oxford Israeli Cultural Society will keep making our points to the press, in order to ensure that there is a two-sided debate, but beyond that, there is nothing we can do.”
Josh Xiong, president of the pro-Israel group at the University of Toronto, Zionists @ U of T (ZUT), said his most pressing concern for the week was that “it crushes any true form of discussion. In blaming Israel for all the failures of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli Apartheid Week alienates anybody else who holds opposing viewpoints and misleads many others who simply want to learn more about the issue.”
In recognition of a newfound cooperation between Hillel and ZUT, Xiong said a possible response to the week would be “a collaboration between Hillel and ZUT on a ‘Just Facts’ event to educate students on campus in an impartial way and to debunk some of the one-sided rhetoric Israeli Apartheid Week produces.”
Dan Hadad, director of advocacy for Hillel Montreal, has been present for past Israeli Apartheid Weeks and said there would be a focus again this year, on Canadian campuses, on the “Canadian apartheid of aboriginals.”
In a YouTube video called “Israeli Apartheid Week 2008 Trailer,” Salim Valley of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign provided reasoning for this link between Canadian aboriginals and Palestinians.
“At the world conference against racism, what did they do when they saw overwhelmingly Dalits [South Asian untouchables], indigenous people from South Africa, African peasants, and people from Asia marching together under the banner ‘Zionism is racism’?” Valley asked. “When Palestinians took up the course of the Dalits, when some Palestinians stood with indigenous people in South America, when together in South Africa – the home once of Apartheid – they stood together, the ruling class, carriers of misery, racists throughout the world started trembling.”
In the same video, Rafeeh Ziadah of Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, dismissed the option of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Nobody would have asked a black South African to dialogue with a white South African. Nobody would have asked a black from the southern United States to dialogue with members of the KKK. Now, by that same logic, we Palestinians have nothing to dialogue about with Zionists,” she said.
The focus in past years’ weeks has included “Apartheid and the Current Context in Palestine,” “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israeli Apartheid: Lessons from South Africa,” “Nakba and the Right of Return,” and “Voices for Palestine: Resistance to Racism and Apartheid.”