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Friday, October 24, 2014

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The bottom line on Israeli Apartheid Week

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Israeli Apartheid Week is marking its 10-year anniversary this week across Canada, and as IAW organizers and supporters look back on their movement’s first decade, there’s no doubt it has fundamentally shifted the Israel conversation on campuses across this country and the world. (This year, IAW events are being held in 87 cities worldwide, and the “week” will last from Feb. 24 to March 28.) Tagging along, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) crusade has grown stronger than it ever was before Israeli Apartheid Week came on the scene. All told, in just 10 years, IAW has become a powerful force, in academia and beyond.

Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 actually kicked off a few days ahead of schedule in these parts, in Windsor, Ont. Vandals broke into the office of Jake De Jong, the vice-president of academic affairs for the University of Windsor Student Alliance, overnight last Wednesday. When he arrived at work Thursday morning, De Jong found the “Support Our Troops” flag hanging in his office had been spray-painted with a Star of David and the word “Zionist.” Two days later, University of Windsor undergraduates approved a BDS strategy in a referendum – a first for Canada. De Jong, by the way, had been critical of the referendum question ahead of the vote.

A day before the break-in, 3,700 kilometres away in sunny California, the University of California, Los Angeles’ student council debated whether to adopt a BDS-style resolution at a marathon nine-hour session during U.S. Israeli Apartheid Week. In the end, the council rejected divestment from Caterpillar, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Cemex and Cement Roadstone Holdings (companies that BDS proponents argue are employed by the IDF in its effort to flout Palestinian human rights) in a 7-5 vote. And one blubbering student became online fodder after her highly emotional reaction to the result was caught on camera (though in her defence, if I had just sat through a nine-hour Israel-vs.-Palestinian blow-up, I’d probably have been sobbing uncontrollably, too).

Two campuses, two very different outcomes for IAW/BDS. Makes you wonder what the next 10 years will hold for Israeli Apartheid Week: Will there be more “victories” and violence as in Windsor, or more setbacks and silliness like at UCLA?

Time will tell, but as IAW turns 10, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: pro-Israel students are getting better at fighting back. The #rethink2014 initiative, a social media strategy dreamed up by third-year King’s College London student Hannah Brady, 20, is a major breakthrough for opponents of IAW/BDS that has put Israeli Apartheid Week on the defensive. The clever campaign – which asks people to tweet an ending to the phrase “I oppose Israeli Apartheid Week because…” – is scoring points against IAW in a region where it has traditionally held sway: online.

For the record, here’s my contribution to #rethink2014: “I oppose Israeli Apartheid Week because if it’s not, at the core, really just about Jew-hatred, then it’s pretty damn close – and, either way, it’s an exercise in intellectual dishonesty.”

It doesn’t matter where you go to school, or what country or continent you live in/on – when it comes to Israeli Apartheid Week, that’s the bottom line.

 

 

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