Fighting the apartheid libel

Many of the activists behind IAW and BDS are not interested in simply “reforming” Israel.

PRO-PALESTINIAN protesters hold a banner 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRO-PALESTINIAN protesters hold a banner 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In 2005, the first year college students organized to compare the situation in Judea and Samaria to South African apartheid, events were restricted to the University of Toronto.
By 2006, the hate-fest had spread to Montreal and Oxford. In 2007, it grew to eight cities; in 2008, to 24; in 2009, to 38; in 2010, to over 40; and last year to 55 cities.
This year, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) – from February 20 to March 11 – will be “celebrated” in even more cities worldwide, from Europe and South Africa to the Middle East and North America.
What is the best way of combating this worrying spread of the apartheid libel, which historian Robert Wistrich has noted in his book, A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad, has its intellectual roots in Soviet propaganda? One of the answers has been provided by the Public Diplomacy Ministry. Some 100 Israelis from diverse backgrounds – Ethiopian immigrants, Arabs, homosexuals, settlers, security experts and artists – will fan out on college campuses across the globe during IAW. Having undergone weeks of training by the ministry, the envoys – chosen to show that Israel has a multicultural society that values equality and human rights – will fight what Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein calls the “disease” of ignorance.
However, while we wish the envoys much success, experts at fighting anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses have learned that the best defense is a strong offense. The natural tendency when confronted with rabid Israel-bashing is to respond immediately, set the record straight, refute inaccuracies and confront boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) supporters.
But by allowing Israel’s detractors to frame the discussion, pro-Israel activists run the risk of losing their efficacy. Instead of trying to convince IAW participants of their errors, picketing their activities or clashing directly in any other way, the best tactic may be to be proactive.
Pro-Israel students at the University of Pennsylvania provided a good example of how to effectively combat Israel bashing. When anti-Israel activists on campus held a national BDS conference earlier this month, pro-Israel organizers chose not to confront the BDS supporters, but not to ignore them either.
A wide range of programs, activities and outreach efforts targeted groups both small and large within the campus community that were ready to listen. Israel Peace Week, which is in its third year, is another initiative that refrains from direct confrontation with Israel-bashers while putting forward its own agenda.
Still, pro-Israel activities on campus – such as Israel Peace Week or the University of Pennsylvania initiative – should be part of a year-round effort.
Burning Campus? Rethinking Israel Advocacy at America’s Universities and Colleges, a 48-page document recently published by The David Project, represents perhaps the first concerted effort to combat anti-Israel sentiment and activities on US campuses.
One of the central recommendations made in the document, also known as the “White Paper,” is an emphasis on the importance of reaching out to student groups of all kinds – including African-American, Latino and American- Indian – throughout the year.
It is too late to launch into action when IAW rolls around.
Rather, ties need to be nurtured throughout the year. When a BDS conference or some other anti-Israel activity hits a campus, pro-Israel activists should already be well-positioned to rally support.
Other tips mentioned in the White Paper include realizing the futility of reaching out to students and faculty in the humanities and social science departments – often a hotbed of extreme left-wing ideology inimical to Israel.
In contrast, students and faculty in the business and science departments tend to be more willing to listen. Also, special effort should be made to focus on “influencers” – the college newspaper editors, student government leaders and dominant fraternity and sorority members – who can help make a wider impact.
It is important never to forget that many of the activists behind IAW and BDS are not interested in simply “reforming” Israel. As Norman Finkelstein made clear recently at Imperial College, London, leaders of the BDS movement “think they are really clever” by covering up their real intentions when they call for a “three-tier” agenda of ending the occupation, demanding the right of return for all Palestinian refugees and equal rights for all Arabs in Israel. “You know and I know what the result is. There is no Israel!” he said.