Point • Counter-point: Israeli Apartheid Week
Israeli Apartheid Week — doesn’t it just roll off the tongue? That’s what the organizers want anyway, because it’s their only hope.
Seasoned activists, they know that since facts and logic aren’t on their side, they must resort to slogans, buzz words and lies to win support. But at Laurier, even catchy slogans haven’t won them any success.
The virulent anti-Israel movement seeks to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state through promoting the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign. After two years hosting the largely unnoticed week of protests and lectures at Laurier, this year the activists have given up. There will be no 2011 Israeli Apartheid Week on our campus.
There’s no doubt that the organizers feel as strongly as ever about their cause, so why have they given up?
Perhaps they simply grew tired of being ignored. The Laurier community prides itself on academic integrity and doesn’t put up with misinformation and propaganda. So when a small group of students came to our campus and attempted to demonize Israel by spreading hateful lies, that’s exactly what happened — they were ignored.
The one area in which Israeli Apartheid Week organizers have found success is blurring the lines of legitimate criticism and racist hypocrisy. Some diehard freedom of speech proponents have been misled into supporting these activists because they support the right to criticise Israeli policies.
Of course, such criticism is completely legitimate and welcomed. However, the campaign crosses the line of legitimate protest in advocating the destruction of Israel, supporting internationally recognized terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah in their attacks against Israeli civilians and setting double standards when judging Israel’s actions.
The organizers are not shy of their motives — they readily admit that their mission is not to advocate human rights or peace, but rather to create a chorus of opposition to Israel.
They aren’t interested in dialogue or open discourse — unsurprisingly, when I attempted to engage in civil discussion on the Facebook page of their event at another campus, my post was deleted and I was immediately banned.
Overall, the BDS movement and Israeli Apartheid Week have been utter failures on multiple levels. In terms of accomplishing the stated goal of pressuring Israel financially, quite the opposite has happened.
In the decade since the creation of the campaign, Israel’s gross domestic product has nearly doubled.
The number of tourists visiting Israel has increased steadily each year, with an all-time record of nearly 3.5 million visitors in 2010.
The decade has seen dozens of world-famous musicians hold concerts in Israel, including Madonna and Lady Gaga and, as if we could we forget, Justin Bieber, who will be met by thousands of gleeful Israeli teen girls at his Tel Aviv concert this April.
In terms of public policy, the organizers have only had one effect — receiving harsh criticism from all corners of the political spectrum across the Western world.
In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has harshly condemned Israeli Apartheid Week, stating that it is an attempt to “delegitimize a democratic state” and that “Canadians must stand against it.”
Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff was no less forceful, stating that they “exploit academic freedom” and “should be condemned by all who value civil and respectful debate about the tragic conflict in the Middle East.”
Indeed, as peace-seeking Canadians and as intellectuals who value democracy, equality and civil debate, we must all stand strong against Israeli Apartheid Week and make clear that it will not be tolerated in our community.
Like conceivably every foreign policy issue, this counterpoint on Israel Apartheid Week is not black and white. I do not support the movement and abhor their tactics and I believe Israel has the right to exist.
Furthermore, I believe that any actions taken or comments made throughout the duration of these demonstrations that could be reasonably construed as racist and anti-Semitic should be dealt with.
With those disclaimers aside, there are two main points that I wish to make about Israel Apartheid Week. First of all, no matter how much one disagrees with the organizers of such an event, we have a commitment to freedom of expression in this country that needs to be fulfilled. As Voltaire once suggested, “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
To suggest that this movement is altogether racist does not move the conversation about Israel forward. While there may very well be elements that are unnecessary and without place in this society, it is important that we listen to the other side of the argument so that we do not blindly support Israel.
Secondly, I think we have to recognize that this movement, as radical and as offensive as it can be, does suggest why foreign policy toward Israel cannot ignore some of the questionable actions the state has taken.
In foreign affairs, even in the most seemingly black-and-white situations, it is extremely difficult to find one state that is ever 100 per cent correct or 100 per cent moral.
Just weeks ago, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted down a resolution condemning Israel’s continued settlement in the West Bank, considered by many to be an affront to international law. The U.S. vetoed the resolution with Ambassador Susan Rice claiming that this did not mean that America supports the settlements, but that they thought it “unwise to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians.”
Settlements have been an ongoing issue since 1979 when the United Nations (UN) passed Resolution 446, rejecting the legal validity of Israeli settlements. This has been an issue which Israel has ignored for some time, publicly accepting American and UN opinion on the issue, but then turning around and ignoring the resolutions.
So yes, without a doubt, Israel should have support of the West. But it is also important to be honest among friends. Israel may be in the right, but at times they have erred in the face of international law and their allies’ wishes.
While Israel Apartheid Week takes this debate way beyond an acceptable level of productive discourse, it does underscore the fact that we need to start having a discussion about Israel that doesn’t put blinders on and accept without question all actions of Israel.