The annual series of university lectures and rallies known as “Israel Apartheid Week” is emotive in every sense of the word. Sadly, it has become a landmark on the University calendar.
Disappointingly, the organisations behind the ‘week’ have been allowed to hijack and maliciously appropriate the word Apartheid.
The word was created to describe the system of legally enforced segregation which existed in South Africa, a society that to name but a few injustices did not give equal rights to all citizens, nor did it have black members of the judiciary or comprehensive education acts.
While there is much that can be debated about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the comparison to South Africa during the apartheid era is false, misleading and deviously manipulative.
It is grotesquely untrue and the use of it represents a dangerous barrier to peace.
Furthermore, it is demeaning to South Africans who suffered through the Apartheid period to compare their struggle with the territorial dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
If those who campaign for Palestinian rights had called their campaign “Israel Occupation Week” or “Palestinian Awareness Week”, there would be little we could do about it.
But the campaigners deliberately selected the misleading, provocative, emotive word “Apartheid” and we seem to have allowed it to become part of the vernacular.
Having said that, we must come to terms with the fact that it does exist and carefully consider our approach as a Jewish community. “Israel Apartheid Week” began and remains at its peak in universities.
The week is close to intolerable for many students, and University leaders and Vice Chancellors must do more to protect them.
Freedom of speech is a cherished value on campus, but when that spills over into intimidation of Jewish students, when they are made to feel segregated, unsafe and worried, then the University must act.
What we should do is passionately support peaceful protest and ensure that any anti-Israel events that do take place, do not end in intimidation and harassment – which the inflammatory nature of “the association between “Israel” and “Apartheid” often leads to.
As a community, we must be aware of the danger of the campaign spilling into wider society. Last year, a number of anti-Israel posters were smuggled onto the London Underground.
UJS and individual Jewish and Israel societies plan, every year, for a series of campaigns and activities to counter the Israel Apartheid Week activities and narrative.
The coordination with communal organisations is better too. At the JLC we hosted a multi- agency meeting to ensure that all parts of the community are aware of what was planned and what was available to support students in a coordinated and effective way.
While closed door meetings are not a fashionable way of dealing with these issues, they are effective and we have already seen the results.
For example, the Report by UCL into the disturbances last term was robust, independent and made sound conclusions. The evening it was published, 200 students heard an Israeli speaker at UCL in a quiet and peaceful atmosphere.
“Israel Apartheid Week” is so named to be emotive and create division.
Let’s respond appropriately and not fall into their trap.
And let’s not meekly accept that this is an appropriate name for their campaign.