Middle East conflict also sparks conflict amongst opposing activists locally
// Leah Sheitel

“It is always important to confront injustice wherever it is,” says Charlotte Kates, co-organizer of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), an event occurring from Mar. 5-9 across Canada.

“In Palestine, the struggle to end that injustice has become a symbol and a flashpoint around the world, standing for confrontation of oppression and colonialism,” Kates continues.

The conflict over the Israeli and Palestinian territories is one with a complex history that goes back centuries, in part due to Israel being the “promised land” for several world religions.

The Israeli Apartheid Week is a movement that sprung up among university and college campuses across North America in response to the ongoing Middle East conflict. It started in 2005 at McGill University in Montreal, and has since gained momentum within various student bodies. According to Ed Lavalle, a political science teacher at Capilano University, this issue appeals to students for a number of reasons.

“The whole Israeli Apartheid Week phenomenon is about eight years old, and over those eight years there have been some very strong campus actions, calling on the board of governors of various universities to withdraw their endowment and other investments from companies that have cooperated with the state of Israel or have done something in particular to show that they are opposed to the rights of the Palestinians,” he summarizes.

He continues, “Students have gravitated towards the Israeli Apartheid week because they like the issues and because of the scope of what it does. The scope is BDS; Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. It’s neatly packaged, and put in a way that students can access and relate to it.”

Although the IAW has been gaining momentum since its commencement, there have also been many critics. A commentary from the McGill Daily student newspaper condemns IAW and the BDS movement: “Though the IAW’s stated intent is to advocate for Palestinian human rights, their actions end up serving to demonize and de-legitimize Israel,” says the article, which was signed “the McGill students for Israel.”

Lavalle says that the quality of life of Palestinians is very different to their Jewish counterparts in Israel: “Basically Palestinians are discriminated against,” he says. “For example, they can’t use certain highways that connect settlements as they’re banned from using them. Their minimum wage levels are lower than for Israelis, or the Jewish population. And there is price discrimination. It was established a couple of years ago that the Palestinians had to pay four times as much as Israelis do for water.”

Charlotte Kates says that the main objective of the IAW is to raise awareness about the issues surrounding the conflict: “IAW is an educational week that raises the level of awareness about the apartheid nature and policies of Israel against Palestinians, as well as the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, and the substance of the Palestinian movement,” she explains.

Kates believes that students have many questions about the issues, and what Canada’s role is in the debate: “What is the occupation of the West Bank? What is the siege of Gaza? How can people support 7 million Palestinian refugees struggling to return home? Why are Palestinian citizens of Israel subjected to mass discrimination? IAW events cover all of these topics and more. Here in Canada (the birthplace of IAW), it's particularly important to draw attention to both the official Canada/Israel relationship.”

Canadian politicians have been vocal about the debate. In 2011, ex-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff
stated that the IAW was “a dangerous cocktail of ignorance and intolerance, and threatens the mutual respect of Canadian society.”

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has publicly criticized the IAW, saying, “In reality, this week is nothing more than an unbalanced attempt to paint Israel and her supporters.”

Professor Lavalle believes that speaking out against Israeli Apartheid is particular to the current government: “Canadian governments have been careful and followed the UN line, which says that there should be two states in the region, one for Israel and one for Palestine,” Lavalle explains. “Our previous governments have always been very supportive of a diplomatic and negotiated settlement to produce a two-state solution in which both people could live in peace. The current government has changed that, and had been much more vocal in support of the State of Israel and much more blameworthy towards the Palestinians.”

According to Lavalle, current attitudes toward Israel may be informed in part by historical events involving the Jewish population: “There is a huge amount of guilt in the West over two very real things: the historical role of anti-Semitism in the Western Christian society, and secondly, the facts of the Holocaust, in which very few states played a positive role in the defense of the Jewish population against the genocide that was planned and then substantially executed by the Germans.”

Because of the polarizing nature of the issue, tension is often high between the opposing groups, along with sharp criticism that they have for each other.

“There is opposition to IAW from defenders and promoters of the Israeli apartheid system. They don't like the discussion of Israel as an apartheid state,” Kates says.

“IAW and the BDS movement are an impediment to peace,” writes the McGill Daily. “Their fight to delegitimize Israel precludes discussion, serving only to further divide the two states. IAW efforts are not progressive and are based on a dangerously distorted reality.”

As Lavalle says, “There are very few people who are interested in the issue that don’t have an opinion on it. It’s hard to fall in the middle on this one.”

//Leah Scheitel, writer
//Graphics by Jillian Aquino

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: