By: Jonathan Levin  | 

Demystifying Israeli Apartheid Week

Shortly before Pesach, as we were all dealing with Sarachek and those dreaded midterms, Jewish students on other college campuses were dealing with Israeli Apartheid Week.

For those of you not familiar with Israeli Apartheid Week because we live on a campus with an Israeli flag fluttering alongside the American, Israeli Apartheid Week is an annual campaign that delegitimizes Israel and whose purpose, according to the Boycott Divest Sanction campaign, is to “mobilize support for strategic BDS campaigns.” 

But what is Israeli Apartheid Week? Is Israel an apartheid state? What kinds of events are held on campuses during the week and what kind of claims are made? Are any of these claims true?

Israeli Apartheid Week is heavily promoted and interconnected with the BDS movement, a movement that opposes Israel’s existence as a Jewish State. If you doubt that, you can ask Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of BDS, who has made clear on multiple occasions that he and his group oppose Israel's existence as a Jewish state. Consequently, and due to other practices of BDS, the group has been labeled as antisemitic and condemned by many world leaders and governments, including the United States Federal Government, Congress, Germany, Austria and 35 U.S. states. 

In regards to the claim that Israel is an apartheid state, it is important to first define what apartheid is — and according to the 1973 U.N. sponsored International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, apartheid is a system of segregation and discrimination based on race, as practiced in 20th-century South Africa.

However, Israel is a democratic country that affords equal rights to all its citizens, regardless of race. The facts speak for themselves: There is no system of racial segregation discrimination in Israel, as I previously discussed.

However, these claims against Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, are propagated by seemingly-respectable groups like Amnesty International and the United Nations, whose prestige lends credence to the claim. However, despite the respect these institutions command, their reports are full of glaring distortions of international law and fact, leading to their condemnation by multiple governments and organizations, including the U.S. Department of State.

Additionally, besides criticism of their reports, the leadership in both organizations have garnered condemnation from civil rights groups and world governments, including for comments from a member of the supposedly impartial three-person Commission of Inquiry on Palestine, who questioned Israel’s right to exist and began ranting about how the “Jewish lobby” controls social media.

As for Israeli Apartheid Week, most events are usually held by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), but can also be held by university departments and other groups.

Some of these events are perfectly fine. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), some events last year “included celebrations of Palestinian heritage and criticism of Israel’s policies that, while contentious, were not problematic.”

However, some events veer into the antisemitic territory, including events that feature speakers like Mohammed El Kurd, who has a history of antisemitic comments, including tweeting that Zionists have an “unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood.”

One fixture of Israeli Apartheid Weeks across the country is a mock “apartheid wall,” often decorated with “facts” about Israeli apartheid and staffed by students who act out mock Israeli checkpoints, dramatizing them and depicting Israeli troops as oppressive tormentors of Palestinians.

The origin of this “wall” dates back to the Second Intifada, when in response to waves of Palestinian terrorism, Israel took measures to safeguard its citizens. 

In the years since, the barriers have been extremely successful, preventing thousands of terrorist attacks and saving thousands of lives.

From September 2000 through the end of 2006, before the wall was complete, over 3,000 terrorist attacks in Israel originated from beyond the Green Line, killing 1622 people. From 2007, when the barrier was mostly complete, through this July, only 141 attacks occurred, resulting in the deaths of approximately 100 people.

As for the “facts” on these mock apartheid walls erected on campuses, many of them are false and are meant to delegitimize Israel.

One common “fact” is depicted through infographics describing the “loss of Palestinian land” due to Israel. However, in truth, these maps are misleading, and instead depict state-owned British or Ottoman land prior to the existence of the state of Israel, proposed U.N. partition maps of British mandatory Palestine land (rejected by Palestinian Arabs and Arab States) and land controlled by Jordan or Egypt prior to the Six Day War as entirely Palestinian. By distorting historical realities, the maps create the image of Israel devouring land supposedly controlled by a Palestinian state that never existed.

Another common “fact” depicted on these walls claims that Israel sterilized Ethiopian Jewish women who immigrated to Israel, which is false and only makes Israelis look like racists, sterilizing other Jews due to their skin color.

Yet another common “fact” is that Israel has Jewish-only roads, which is also false. In reality, there are no such roads, although there are a few kilometers of roads restricted to Israeli citizens (Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze, Bahai, etc.), just as there are roads restricted to Palestinians under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Again, as with the separation barriers, these were made for security reasons, and with the recent attack last month on German tourists who accidentally wandered into Shechem in a car with an Israeli license plate, it is easy to understand why.

Finally, there are two more claims made against Israel — pinkwashing and greenwashing. Proponents of these claim that Israel’s liberal approach to LGBTQ rights — the only state in the Middle East that gives constitutional protections to LGBTQ individuals — and the environment are really just campaigns by Israel to “cynically exploit” these issues to allow Israel to continue its “oppression and ethnic cleansing,” shifting the world's attention away from its “regime of occupation and apartheid.”

Needless to say, such claims not only sound ridiculous but are deeply rooted in centuries-old antisemitic rhetoric. 

Additionally, one often wonders whether people stating those “facts” care that LGBTQ Palestinians often need to flee to Israel to avoid getting murdered, or that Hamas, which governs Gaza, has even waged environmental warfare against Israel.

Yes, midterms were difficult, as is the approaching finals season. But next time we are on Wilf Campus and see the Israeli flag flying near the Belfer wind tunnel, we should be thankful that on our campuses, no one throws eggs at an Israeli flag or at a Yom Hashoah event, and being pro-Israel is so ingrained at our university that next week, classes will be canceled for Yom Ha’atzmaut. 

The writer is a fellow at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle Eastern Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).

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Photo Caption: Israeli flag in the Old City

Photo Credit: Tayler Brandon / Unsplash