WINNIPEG — While Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) has been an annual source of campus acrimony in the past, a program put on by the University of Winnipeg shows it doesn’t have to be that way.
For the second year in a row, the administration at Winnipeg’s second-largest university has sought to defuse IAW with a program of its own held at the same time, but focused on the Middle East and the Arab world in general, rather than solely on Israel.
“Israeli Apartheid Week is organized by student groups independent of the university administration,” said Jeremy Read, senior executive officer and adviser to university president Lloyd Axworthy.
“Student groups have certain access rights. But we feel that it is important to provide some context and a greater understanding of the complexities of the Middle East as a whole.”
Thus, last year, the university organized a series of lectures on the Middle East, highlighted by a presentation by Arab-Jewish Dialogue, a group of Jewish leaders, businessmen and professionals originally from the Arab world.
Read said last year’s event was very well received.
“This year, we broadened our program,” he said. “We have a number of faculty members with expertise in areas related to the Middle East. Our president, Dr. Lloyd Axworthy [Canada’s Liberal foreign minister in the mid-1990s] also is knowledgeable about the region.”
The U of W program consisted of two weeks of lectures and dialogue, from Feb. 28 to March 9, on a range of issues with the aim of shedding light on the past and understanding the present “Arab Spring,” as well as conflicts occurring across the region.
The first week featured lectures on the current situation in Syria and Egypt, in addition to an overview of “the Responsibility to Protect” and the doctrine’s relevance to the Arab Spring, presented by Axworthy, and a tripartite dialogue with Jewish, Christian and Muslim representatives on the panel.
The highlight of the second week was a lecture by Yoram Peri, speaking on “Israel, Iran and the Arab Spring: a Coming Storm?” Peri is a former senior political adviser to the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and a former editor-in-chief of the Israeli daily newspaper Davar. He’s currently director of the University of Maryland’s Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies .
The second week also featured sessions on Iranian persecution of the Baha’i and a historical look at the Middle East in the early 20th century.
“We at this university are not interested in mere slogans and provoking partisan conflict,” Read said. “Rather, we want to get at what’s really going on in the region. There are complex issues. What are the points of contention? How can we help encourage peaceful relations between peoples in the region? This is what a university should be doing.”
Read said that since U of W introduced its program last year, other universities have contacted it for more information, with an eye to introducing a similar series on their own campuses.
While IAW organizers were scheduled to be holding programs at the University of Manitoba as well, school spokesperson John Danakas questioned whether there were even any U of M students involved.
“We rent space to different community groups,” he said. “That doesn’t mean the university endorses these groups’ positions.”
Danakas said the university and its Arthur Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice take a proactive approach to human rights and peace activism with programs and speakers throughout the year.