Israeli Apartheid Week
Posted: April 6, 2011
The fifth annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) took place in eight U.S. cities and more than 30 cities around the world from March 1-8, 2009. In the U.S., the week-long series of events took place mostly on college campuses.
Events included rallies held to oppose Israel, displays that featured mock "apartheid walls" and checkpoints, and panel discussions and lectures rife with accusations that Israel discriminates against and segregates Palestinians in a manner akin to South African apartheid. Some featured speakers also likened Zionism to racism, expressed support for "resistance" against Israel, and advocated for the dismantling of the Jewish state.
In light of the fact that several college campuses around the country saw a revival of efforts to divest from Israel and Israeli institutions in 2009, IAW served as another vehicle for invigorating boycott and divestment initiatives targeting Israel and Israeli institutions.
IAW saw an increase in events organized in 2009, due in part to Israel's winter military action against Hamas in Gaza. Events were held in Atlanta, Berkeley, Boston, Chicago, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
§ Berkeley and San Francisco: The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter at UC Berkeley organized events that focused on alleging that Israel's legal system is set up to discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. SJP also advocated for a BDS campaign.
On March 6, SJP set up three tents in Sproul Plaza that were said to represent a different city that has lived under a system of apartheid – Montgomery, Alabama; Soweto, South Africa; and Hebron, Israel – in an attempt to link American racism and South African apartheid with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, a mock "apartheid wall" was erected that featured signs comparing South African apartheid to Israel and accusing Zionism of racism.
The SJP organizers also set up mock checkpoints, with students dressed up in Israeli army uniforms holding fake guns who gave demonstrations of what allegedly occurs at checkpoints in Israel, including pointing their guns at individuals they were "checking."
Elsewhere in the Bay Area, an event to commemorate the launch of a Bay Area Campaign to Boycott Israeli Apartheid was held as part of IAW on March 6 in San Francisco.
§ New York: An IAW New York Organizing Coalition organized several events over the week at local churches and at an Arab cultural center while student groups at New York University (NYU) and Columbia University organized events on campus.
At NYU, the SJP has launched a campaign to sever NYU's relationship with Tel Aviv University and organized a panel discussion on March 3 about this so-called "partnership in occupation." Panelists included NYU professor Andrew Ross, Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury and a member of Anarchists Against the Wall, an Israeli left-wing group that demonstrates against the security fence. Ross also advocated for a BDS campaign against Israel.
At Columbia University (CU), a recently formed group called the Columbia Palestine Forum (CPF) hosted a teach-in on March 4 that featured CU professors and students that are members of CPF, a group advocating for the university to divest from Israel. Speakers compared the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to apartheid in South Africa and one professor, Gil Anidjar, an Assistant Professor in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) department, advocated for a boycott as an "exercise of freedom."
On March 5, a small crowd of individuals staged a protest in Brooklyn outside the performance of the Israeli dance company Batsheva as part of a nationwide campaign to boycott the dance group's U.S. tour.
§ Atlanta: At Emory University, a student group called Emory Advocates for Justice in Palestine (EAJP), organized presentations about apartheid and methods of "resistance," a rally that drew approximately a dozen protesters holding signs that read "End Apartheid" and advocated for a "Democratic Secular Palestine," and a closing speech by former DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein. In advance of IAW, an EAJP student organizer wrote an article for Emory's student newspaper that promoted the events and argued that the tactics used against segregation and apartheid in the past, including BDS, is an effective way to counter Israeli "apartheid."
One of Emory's IAW events was a presentation by Ziad Abbas, a Palestinian activist who works for the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA), a Berkeley, CA-based anti-Israel organization. Abbas accused Jews of using the Holocaust as an "excuse" to perpetrate a "catastrophe" against Palestinians. He compared life for Palestinians to a prison and concentration camps and alleged that "Jews created their own way of torturing Palestinians" based on their experiences during the Holocaust and that the "victims have become the victimizers." Abbas also described Hamas as a "resistance" group, arguing that Palestinians in Gaza voted for Hamas in 2006 as a show of support for "resistance" against Israel. He also advocated for a dismantling of the Jewish state of Israel in favor of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Finkelstein, in a lecture on March 5 that drew a sizable crowd, described Israel's recent offensive against Hamas as a "massacre" and accused Israel of unjustified attacks on Palestinian civilians.
§ Chicago: The SJP chapter at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) organized several lectures by local professors about apartheid, a discussion and strategy session on BDS led by an International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist and a film screening of Jerusalem: Eastside Story. This film purports to be a documentary that describes a "journey exposing Israel's policy to gain supremacy and hegemony over the city and its inhabitants" and Israel's attempts to a "Judaize" Jerusalem, according to the film's Web site.
The film screening took place on March 4 and was followed by a discussion with David Stovall, an Associate Professor of African-American Studies and Educational Policy Studies at UIC. Stovall spoke about "Gentrification: From Chicago to Jerusalem" and compared Israel's "occupation" of Palestinians in the territories to the silencing of African-Americans through the gentrification of Chicago neighborhoods. He criticized Israeli policy and alleged that Israel intentionally targeted Palestinian children during the recent Gaza offensive in an attempt to "remove the future adults who will fight for justice."
On March 5, a talk about a BDS campaign against Israel was held at UIC. Kevin Clark, an ISM volunteer who led the discussion, insisted that BDS would be effective in changing Israeli policy just like it worked to end South African apartheid. He also promoted several boycott and divestment initiatives currently underway, including two companies that the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation have targeted (Caterpillar and Motorola), and the recent attempt by the SJP chapter at Hampshire College to get that college to divest from Israel. (Hampshire later clarified that its decision to change some of its financial investments was not an attempt to divest from Israeli companies and was not motivated by an anti-Israel agenda.)