OTTAWA — As many anticipated, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) at Carleton University ran its course more quietly this year than in the past, and unlike its predecessors, this year’s edition wasn’t endorsed by the school’s undergraduate student union.
The Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) executive chose not to help anti-Israel activists campaign for IAW, unlike in previous years, according to CUSA president Alexander Golovko.
Golovko said he was bothered to see an IAW sign hanging in the window of CUSA’s office in the University Centre last year and wanted to make sure neither pro- nor anti-Israel activists had an “unequal advantage” this time around.
“CUSA spaces have been utilized to promote one side’s story, and I think that is very inadequate, seeing as how the student association represents 23,000 students,” said Golovko, who campaigned last year on “student issues, student unity” and “the spirit of democracy,” and was endorsed by Hillel Ottawa.
IAW ran March 4 to 8 at Carleton, as well as on other North American campuses, and was organized by Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), a Carleton club. It featured workshops, film screenings and panel discussions on what SAIA described as apartheid in both Israel and Canada, according to SAIA activist Rana Hamadeh.
It also included workshops on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and companies invested in Israel’s economy, she said.
Speaking before the week’s activities, Emile Scheffel, Israel advocacy co-ordinator at Hillel Ottawa, said he wasn’t expecting IAW to be as loud as it has been in the past on campus.
“We expect the attendance at events to be the smallest we’ve seen in a couple of years, and we don’t expect it to make as much of an impact on campus, frankly,” Scheffel said.
He attributed this prediction to poor publicity by IAW organizers and a lack of interest among the student body in participating in the “division and toxicity” seen in previous years at Carleton.
“It’s just the national trend,” Scheffel said.
“There’s just been minimal buzz and very little advertising of [SAIA’s] events… Most of them are evening events rather than daytime events, so we think that most of the people who do come out to them will be people who are already of that certain persuasion,” he said. “[They’re] basically preaching to the choir.”
SAIA and Ottawa’s Israel Awareness Committee (IAC) set up information tables alongside one another throughout the week in Carleton’s University Centre. The IAC booth included a poster outlining the similarities between Canadian and Israeli democracy.
But Hamadeh and SAIA contend that the two countries are also similar in that Canada’s treatment of its aboriginal peoples was a model for the apartheid system in South Africa, which Hamadeh claimed in turn inspired what she and her group calls “Israeli apartheid.”
Golovko said CUSA’s executive board reached out to both sides of the issue at the start of the year “in the hope to sit down and discuss the question [of] how a student association can ensure that while dialogue takes place, it takes place in a constructive manner and a respectful fashion.”
However, Golovko said CUSA still hasn’t been able to bring the IAC and SAIA together.
“The IAC has been very open to dialogue and discussion with our organization in the past year, and for that we are very grateful,” Golovko said, adding that SAIA never responded to CUSA’s requests.
“We’re still hoping for the activists of SAIA to be able to sit down in a similar fashion and discuss what are some of their needs and perhaps facilitate the dialogue.”
But Hamadeh said SAIA’s purpose isn’t to negotiate, which is why the group hasn’t responded to CUSA’s invitation.
“We have a stated mandate, which is to divest. We’re not here to discuss one-state or two-state solutions,” she said.
The primary goal of IAW is to support the BDS campaign, which seeks “to reach a place where we can have real peace negotiations,” Hamadeh said.
“Currently, Palestine is under occupation,” she said. “They do not have negotiating power. They are not at an equal level with Israel.”
Scheffel reiterated his belief that students are getting tired of this point of view.
“I think people are going to start really rejecting the toxic, divisive politics that IAW represents,” he said.