While Israel Apartheid Week may still be alive and well on many North American campuses, in Winnipeg, the anti-Israel program has barely had a pulse for several years now, thanks to proactive efforts by the University of Winnipeg and Winnipeg Hillel.
For the past three years, U of W and Hillel at both U of W and the University of Manitoba have been countering Israel Apartheid Week with Middle East Week at U of W – Feb. 22 to 26 this year – and Jewish Awareness Week at U of M.
In addition, at both U of W and U of M, Israel Week on Campus in early February featured Israeli prizes, interesting facts about Israel, information about study and volunteer opportunities in Israel and Birthright trips, as well as a fundraiser for Save A Child’s Heart, which raised over $750 for the Israel-based charity. Half the students attending were not Jewish.
Hillel also held an interfaith Shabbat program, with invitations extended to a variety of student groups to strengthen relationships between Jews, Christians and Muslims on campus.
At U of W, the turning point came six years ago when then-president and vice-chancellor Lloyd Axworthy originated Middle East Week to bring people together for respectful discussion of Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Muslim issues.
“With Middle East Week, we try to focus on the Middle East in general rather than just Israel and the Palestinians,” said Dean Peachey, executive director of U of W’s Global College and co-ordinator of its human rights and global studies program. “This year, we are focusing on Syria and Iraq as well as Israel and Palestine.”
Middle East Week 2016 kicked off Feb. 22 with a talk by W. Rory Dickson from U of W’s department of religion and culture, speaking about ISIS and its relationship to Islam. Later in the day, journalist Gwynne Dyer spoke on “Don’t Panic: Islamic State, Terrorism and the Middle East.”
On Feb. 24, Adam Muller, a genocide researcher at U of M, and Winnipeg Yazidi activist Nafiya Naso spoke about the genocide of the Yazidi people.
The last two programs were Israel-Palestine centred. On Feb. 25, Israeli-Arab author and journalist Sayed Kashua spoke on “The Arabs in Israel: The Inaudible Cry for Full Citizenship,” about the challenges of being an Arab in Israel. Kashua, who recently immigrated to the United States, is a humourist who created and wrote the hit Israeli TV show Arab Labor.
The final event was scheduled to be the controversial play My Name is Rachel Corrie, staged on Feb. 26, followed by a panel with playwright and U of W theatre professor Hope McIntyre, film producer Saira Rahman and lawyer Corey Shefman, who is also associated with the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties.
Rachel Corrie was a young American volunteer for the anti-Israel International Student Movement who went to Gaza in 2003 and lay down in front of a bulldozer to try to prevent an Arab house from being demolished. She was run over and killed, and became a martyr to the anti-Israel cause.
Peachey said the play is “something a lot of students can identify with: an idealistic young woman who wants to make the world a better place and ends up in Gaza not knowing much about the situation and in over her head.” He said the panel would focus on “using drama and art to address social and political issues.”