A Great Success: The Third Annual Israeli Apartheid Week

The week of February 12-17, 2007 saw various North American and British campuses take part in the third annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). This year’s week of events included a series of critical lectures, film screenings, a host of cultural events, and in some cities, demonstrations. A keynote speaker in several cities was Jamal Zahalka (MK), a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset who spoke on “Debunking the Myth of Israeli Democracy.” Attracting not only large crowds and significant media coverage, the content of the week and its spread to an even wider network of campuses indicated a growing understanding of Israel as an apartheid state.

Over the course of the last year and a half there has been a dramatic rise in activism and analysis around boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Individuals and organizations have begun to take steps in support of the declaration issued in July 2005 by Palestinian unions and other grassroots organizations calling for an international BDS movement until Israel meets its obligations under international law. The declaration demanded: full equality for Arab citizens of Israel; an end to the occupation and colonization of the West Bank and Gaza; and the implementation of the right of return and compensation for Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN resolution 194. Significantly, a number of important strides were made in support of these demands in 2006.

IAW initially grew out of the initiative of the Toronto based Arab Students’ Collective during the winter of 2005 as a response to these events. Since then, in a period of just over three years, participation in IAW has grown from that of an event of local importance to one that has proven to be international in scope. Underscoring this point was the fact that this years Israeli Apartheid Week was held concurrently with universities in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, New York, Oxford, Cambridge and London.

Toronto: Largest IAW Ever

This year, over 800 people attended Israeli apartheid week events in Toronto, making it the largest and most successful event to date. A central aim of this year’s IAW 2007, as with ones previous, was its introduction to students and a wider audience the analysis of Israel as an apartheid state, similar to that of South Africa and other settler-colonial states – Canada included. A series of lectures were held on the first day of the week which highlighted the differences and similarities between patterns of domination and displacement, and emphasized the shared struggles of those engaged in resistance – be they the experiences of apartheid South Africa, the still important indigenous struggles for land claims and decolonization in Turtle Island (North America), or occupied Palestine.

A major theme of the week was elaboration of the historical processses that led to the current situation in Palestine. Lectures and film screenings discussed topics ranging from the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, where around 800,000 Palestinians were expelled from their lands and denied their right of return; the consolidation of apartheid, including land expropriation and early legislation in Israel proper during the period of the military government from 1948-1966; and of the condition and political situation of Palestinian refugees in places such Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Intimately related to this history has been the idealogical pretensions of the Israeli state in general, which has attempted to present itself as the “only democracy in the Middle East,” despite the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land. Powerful examinations of the ideological underpinnings of the Zionist project were made by Walter Lehn, who co-authored with Israeli academic Uri Davis The Jewish National Fund; documenting the institution’s role in the ethnic cleansing and illegal acquisition of Palestinian land for Jewish only settlement as well as a presentation by photojournalist Jon Elmer, who recently returned from assignment in Gaza. Elmer documented the effects of Israel’s military campaigns “Operation Summer Rains” and “Operation Autumn Clouds” of this summer and fall, and of the devastating effect that the Western boycott of the Palestinian Authority has had on a general population under siege, something that has largely gone underreported by the mainstream media.

Further examination of Zionist ideology was presented by Gabi Piterberg, a leading scholar on the development of Zionism, and U.S.-based activist and scholar, Joel Kovel, author of the recently published Overcoming Zionism (Pluto 2007). Each tied Zionist thought and practice to similar settler-colonial movements such as the European colonization of North America.

The highlight of the week were lectures given by keynote speaker Jamal Zahalka (MK), a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset with the National Democratic Assembly. Zahalka noted that “Israel is implementing apartheid policies in Palestine by building the apartheid separation wall, bypass roads for Jews only in the West Bank, restrictions on movement of Palestinians, hundreds of checkpoints, in addition to the siege and daily violation of basic human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” His participation and comments during the week led to calls from Israeli Knesset members for his indictment for incitement, further underscoring the limited scope of democratic freedoms for Palestinians in Israel. Even former Liberal Party Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Colter weighed in, with his usual one-sided defence of Zionism, and said Zahalka had “gone too far in his actions against the country he is supposed to represent.”

Zahalk’s talk centered around “Debunking the myth of Israeli Democracy,” in which he spoke of the contradictions of Israel’s version of democracy. In order for it to be “democratic” he noted, it must in fact carry a Jewish majority if it is to retain its Jewish character. In order for there to be a demographic majority, however, Israel required population transfer, or the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. This conscious policy of ethnic cleansing as a prerequsite for democracy was the “original sin”, according to Zahalka, the foundation on which Israel’s so-called democracy was built upon. He also spoke of the second-class status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, their physical separation, their neglect at the hands of the state, and of the “real Palestinian tragedy” of not only Palestinians separation from their lands and properties, but of Palestinian separated from Palestinian in the occupied territories.

This year’s Israeli Apartheid Week proved to be the most successful yet. It picked up on the national and international momentum that had been gained during 2006, and spread to an increasing number of campuses across Canada, Britain and the United States. It also again proved to serve as an important outlet for the dissemination of material and analysis of Israel as an apartheid state, increasingly accepted internationally, and as a vehicle in the push for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the apartheid state of Israel. The week garnered significant interest amongst the world’s press and public, as well as students, many of whom will no doubt contribute to the week’s further growth and success in 2008.

For more information about IAW, please see: Students Against Israeli Apartheid – www.endisraeliapartheid.net

Zac Smith is active in the Palestine Solidarity Committee, York University, and Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid.

Holds Day of Action

The Boycott of Israeli Apartheid Continues

Chanting “Fight the power, turn the page: Heather, Jerry, hear our rage!”, one hundred and fifty protesters marched from the Israeli consulate to a nearby Indigo Books and Music store in Toronto on Saturday afternoon February 17. They were protesting Indigo’s majority shareholders’ support for Israeli Apartheid. The day of action was organized by the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) as the culmination of the third annual Israeli Apartheid Week.

Israeli Apartheid Week was a series of lectures held on campuses in Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa), the UK (Oxford, Cambridge), and the U.S. (New York) to highlight Israel’s apartheid policies. On Friday in Toronto, the keynote address was given by Dr. Jamal Zahalka, a member of the Israeli Knesset. Dr. Zahalka faces investigation in Israel for incitement for his lecture, “Debunking the Myth of Israeli Democracy”. This infringement on the free speech rights of an elected politician underscores the lack of democracy for Palestinians living under Israeli Apartheid. A law that would revoke the citizenship of those who express disloyalty to the idea of “a Jewish and democratic state” has already passed its first reading in the Knesset, Zahalka explained to the audience of 350 people who gathered at a University of Toronto auditorium on Friday. The law clearly targets the Palestinian minority inside Israel, who Zahalka represents, for statelessness.

Israeli Apartheid Week and the Day of Action were held to highlight Canadian support for Israeli Apartheid, and specifically the support of the majority shareholders of Indigo Books and Music Inc., Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz, who founded Heseg : Foundation for Lone Soldiers. At its peak, the foundation will distribute up to $3M a year to provide scholarships and other support to former ‘Lone Soldiers’ in the Israeli military. ‘Lone Soldiers’ are individuals who have no family in Israel but decide to join the Israeli military. As Israeli soldiers, they participate in a military that enforces apartheid by operating checkpoints restricting Palestinian freedom of movement, enforces the occupation of Palestinian land, and has a documented history of human rights violations.

“We’re here to put pressure on the majority owners of Indigo Books and Music Inc. to stop supporting the Israeli military through Heseg: Founcation for Lone Soldiers,” explained Andrew Hugill, a spokesperson of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid.

Naomi Binder Wall of the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation, and a CAIA spokesperson, explained: “This store [Indigo Books and Music] presents itself as a benign cultural institution. But its majority shareholders have used the considerable wealth they have derived from it to support the Israeli military, which has been accused of war crimes in Lebanon and Palestine, and has broken international laws regarding the treatment of prisoners.”
Binder Wall continued, “As a Jew, I’m outraged that Reisman and Schwartz are supporting the Israeli military through Heseg: Foundation for Lone Soldiers.”

“Israel is an apartheid state, founded on racism and discrimination,” said Hugill. “This boycott is part of a worldwide campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to isolate Israel until it ends the occupation of all Arab lands, release all Palestinian and Arab political prisoners, give the right of return to Palestinian refugees according to UN resolution 194, and grant equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel,” said Hugill.

The call for boycott, divestment and sanctions came from 170 Palestinian organizations. Reena Katz of the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation explained the importance of this call for the possibility of a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict: “Our understanding of restorative justice and true democracy comes from the thousands of Palestinian led progressive, grassroots groups and coalitions world wide.”

The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) was formed in January 2006 as part of a growing, global movement against Israeli apartheid. We believe Israel is an apartheid state that resembles South African Apartheid.
We are a network of concerned Palestinian, Jewish and other individuals and organizations working to end this system. We believe that justice will not be achieved without equal rights for everyone in the region, regardless of religion, ethnicity or nationality.

Zac Smith is an activist with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA).

The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid was formed in January 2006 as part of a growing, global movement against Israeli apartheid. We believe Israel is an apartheid state that resembles South African Apartheid.