Friends, foes set for showdown at Israeli Apartheid Week
Series of events equating treatment of Palestinians with Apartheid South Africa set to begin on university campuses around the world.
By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
Supporters of Israel will battle with supporters of the Palestinians over public opinion on campuses around the world when Israeli Apartheid Week – a series of talks, film screenings, parties and protests equating Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and Arabs with white minority rule in South Africa – kicks off on Tuesday.The annual event organized by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Solidarity) movement and other pro- Palestinian and anti-Zionist groups, has gathered steam since it first began in 2005, and will take place in 55 cities and several countries this year.Israel supporters are planning a series of counter-protests aimed at highlighting Israel’s democratic and egalitarian values while undermining claims it is intentionally and inherently discriminatory against its Arab citizens and against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.StandWithUs, one of a coalition of Israel advocacy groups organizing pro-Israel rallies this month, said it had adopted a nuanced approach toward debunking the analogy between Israel and Apartheid-era South Africa.“Each campus climate is different,” said StandWithUs co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein in a press release.“A hard-hitting, aggressive response might work at one school but alienate students at another school,” she explained. “At some schools, students feel that materials highlighting Israel’s democracy and remarkable achievements would most influence the student body. Our philosophy is that the students usually know best about their campus climate, and they have many great ideas.”Rothstein said her group’s mission on campuses was to “empower students to educate their campus communities.”AdvertisementWe help them develop strategies, programs and slogans for flyers and signs that we then produce, and we help with funding for speakers and other events,” she said. “If they request a certain custom flyer or booklet, our graphics team designs and produces it.”StandWithUs has helped students organize numerous events across the US. It assisted in arranging a lecture by an Israeli soldier at Boston University the day before famed linguist and leftist activist Noam Chomsky was set to speak.This week, students in Austin, Texas, will throw a block party where they will pass out information on Israeli democracy while Ivry Lider, a gay Israeli pop singer, will appear at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, in a bid to emphasize Israeli society’s liberal attitude on gay rights.Organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week seek to isolate Israel in order to obtain their stated goal of “full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, an end to the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands – including the Golan Heights, the Occupied West Bank with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – and dismantling the Wall, and the protection of Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”While the title of the campaign suggests it lasts for seven days, Israeli Apartheid Week activities are planned for the entire month of March. The first official day of events, according to its Website, is on Tuesday.The opening salvo in the jostle between the opposing camps was fired last week when gay columnist and porn producer Michael Lucas claimed victory in his bid to cancel an Israeli Apartheid Week event from taking place at a gay center in New York. Lucas issued a press release threatening to boycott the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Center if it hosted an event called Party to End Apartheid, saying its organizers were “anti-Semites” and noting that Israel was the only country in the Middle-East that respected gay rights.The center responded by canceling the event and banning the organization that planned it from meeting on its premises.Sherry Wolf, an anti-Zionist author who helped organize the event, launched a petition aimed at reversing the center’s decision, slamming Lucas and calling him a “liar.”This year the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs is directly involved in efforts to counter pro-Palestinian groups on campuses in the US. Last week it sent a delegation of black Israeli Jews, gay rights activists and Israeli Arabs to speak from their own experience as members of minorities in Israeli society.
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