Identifying Apartheid. By Lama Shoufani

Via: The Dominion.

Egypt, controlling the Rafah crossing — Gaza’s only crossing not controlled by Israel — has largely been complicit in the siege on Gaza and the preventing of people and goods to enter or exit Gaza. Photo: Eva Bartlett

Canadian students respond to Israel’s rights abuses

In the first week of March, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) will take place in 13 cities across Canada and more than 40 cities internationally.

“When we first organized Israeli Apartheid Week in 2005, I don’t think we comprehended this kind of growth,” says longtime Palestine solidarity activist Rafeef Ziadah.

IAW began as a project initiated by the Arab Students Collective at the University of Toronto in 2005. The IAW annual lecture series provides a space for discussion and education surrounding Israeli apartheid policies and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In its sixth year, IAW has become an international movement, facing opposition as it gains momentum. Discussion themes this year include: BDS successes; “fighting racism, fighting apartheid;” the structural planning—environmental and architectureal—of apartheid; queer and feminist solidarity activism in the anti-apartheid movement; and national liberation movements, with particular focus on North America’s First Nations, Palestine and Venezuela.

In “Eroding Israel’s Legitimacy in the International Arena,” the Reut Institute describes the BDS campaign and IAW on campuses.

“The risk posed is that such campaigns will create an equivalency between Israel and Apartheid-era South Africa that penetrates the mainstream of public and political consciousness.” Apartheid Week organizers and BDS activists in Canada not only stress the similarities of these two systems, but also emphasize the importance of linking apartheid to other forms of systematic discrimination, such as the Canadian state’s treatment of Indigenous communities.

Families of Palestinians in Israeli prisons demonstrate outside the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, calling for the right to visit or speak with their loved one. Photo: Eva Bartlett

Palestinian civil society issued a call for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, endorsed by over 170 Palestinian parties, organizations and trade unions representing Palestinians in Israel, the Occupied Territories and the global diaspora. Through the application of economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Israel, the BDS movement seeks Israel’s compliance with international law and its recognition of the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination, and demands an end to Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and the dismantling of the Wall, the recognition of the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and the protection and promotion of the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands.

Last year, Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff delivered a statement accusing Israeli Apartheid Week of going “beyond reasonable criticism into demonization.” The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition Combating Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) has also gone as far as accusing IAW of anti-Semitism. However, in his statement at the coalition’s fourth hearing, Assistant Vice President of Strategic Communications at the University of Toronto Robert Steiner asserted that “there is no evidence of generalized anti-Semitism on our U of T campuses, there is no evidence of Jewish students being systemically harassed and intimidated on our campuses.”

The opposition faced by the BDS movement, whether in the form of verbal harassment at events or bureaucratic hold-ups, is considered a byproduct of the growing international success of the campaign. In 2006, delegates at the CUPE Ontario convention voted almost unanimously on a resolution to support the international campaign against Israel until the right to Palestinian self-determination is recognized.

This support was further solidified in 2009 as the university sector of CUPE passed a motion in support of academic boycott. Over 80 professors and employees at colleges and universities in Quebec have signed a petition calling for a comprehensive campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions, including a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Most recently, Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) launched a divestment campaign at Carleton University following the lead of students at Hampshire College in the US, whose work led to the Board of Trustees divesting from six Israeli companies directly involved in human rights violations on February 7, 2009. SAIA’s report exposes Carleton University’s Pension Fund investments in five companies linked to Israeli’s military. Inspired by this example, SAIA groups on Toronto campuses have initiated research with the aim of formulating a divestment plan for York University and the University of Toronto.

IAW organizers say it’s no surprise the movement started in Canada, pointing to Ottawa’s blatant support for Israel’s apartheid system. On January 12, 2009, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Canada was the sole nation to vote against demanding “urgent international action” to halt Israel’s “massive violations” of human rights in Gaza. A recent report by Ottawa’s Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) exposes Canadian complicity in equipping American warplanes and attack helicopters used by Israel.

Beyond its allegations of demonization and hatred, the Reut Institute document presented at the 10th Herzliya Conference also admits the growing success of the BDS movement. “Given Israel’s dependence on vigorous trade, as well as scientific, academic, and technological engagement with other countries, this movement towards isolating the country may pose a strategic threat.”

Organizers hope this threat will pressure Israel into ending its apartheid policies and practices, as it did in South Africa 16 years ago.

A complete schedule of Israeli Apartheid Week with speaker biographies is available on the website.

Lama Shoufani is an undergraduate student in the Anthropology and Life Sciences departments at the University of Toronto. She is also a volunteer with the Ontario Public Interest Research Group.

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