Emotions fly over 'apartheid'
This week, the Brandeis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine will host Israel Apartheid Week-a week that is designed to highlight the ongoing issues between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. SJP initiated the series of events last night with a presentation from controversial author and journalist Max Blumenthal.
In an interview with the Justice, SJP member Guy Mika '17 said that the purpose of Israel Apartheid Week is to "bring the Palestinian narrative to campus."
The Israel Apartheid Week movement is a national organization that has promoted Israel Apartheid Week since 2004, according to the movement's website. When asked why SJP decided to host a week of their own, Mika said that the group "feels that whenever Palestinians are represented on campus" they are "viewed through the lens of Israel, which inherently dehumanizes them and silences their stories."
The current iteration of Israel Apartheid Week is the second SJP has hosted on campus, the first occurring in 2012. The group was not able to host a week last year "due to organizational problems," according to Joey Morris '14, a member of SJP. He also told the Justice that SJP decided not to have an executive board this semester, and cited the efforts of multiple club members in the organization of this year's event.
When asked about the use of the term "apartheid," Mika said that SJP believes it is "an appropriate term to describe what is happening in Israel and Palestine." He further stated that SJP acknowledges that Palestinians are treated differently in Israel and the alleged occupied territories, classifying the two as reminiscent of "the racism of the United States around the time of the Civil Rights Movement" and "the apartheid of South Africa."
Jewish student groups on campus have reacted to the term "apartheid" in varying ways. Catie Stewart '16, president of J Street U Brandeis, told the Justice that she believes apartheid is a very divisive term. When asked what J Street U Brandeis' official stance on Israel Apartheid Week is, Stewart said that while the group's members "share the concerns of many members of SJP about the continuation of the occupation," the group does not believe that "characterizing Israel as an apartheid state is either accurate or productive towards a solution."
The term apartheid is "entirely false when it comes to describing life in Israel and Israeli policy," according to Daniel Koas '15, president of the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee. In an email to the Justice, Koas said that "all citizens of Israel are fully equal under the law" and that Israel is the "exact opposite of the institutional, discriminatory system of actual apartheid that was in effect in South Africa."
Daniel Mael '15, co-president of the Students for Accuracy about Israeli and Palestinian Affairs, said in a phone interview with the Justice that Israel Apartheid Week was "intellectually dishonest" and what he called 'Israel Hate Week' "hides behind smoke and mirrors when it is plainly Jew hatred." Mael also stated that there are "productive avenues to explore" in the conversation of furthering human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis but "supporting anti-Semitism is not an acceptable means of solving the issue."
Israel Apartheid Week was mired in controversy though before it began. Last Monday, SJP member Aya Abdelaziz '16 created a Facebook event for the week. Within a few hours, according to Morris, the event's administrators were "bombarded with offensive messages" and "personal attacks against specific group members, which were very Islamophobic and racist."
Eventually, this led the event's administrators to limit the commenting ability of guests attending the event.
"I was very offended by what I saw," Stewart told the Justice. "I'm deeply disappointed in my campus, and we just don't have productive dialogue around this issue, in part because of SJP and because of people to the right of us [J Street U Brandeis]."
What was interesting about this, according to Mika, was that "all of the worst offenders were not Brandeis students." Some of these profiles were "ghost people," according to Morris, who were only Facebook friends with each other.
The Brandeis Israel Apartheid Week began in earnest with a speech by Blumenthal, a prominent author and journalist who has written extensively about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It will continue with a discussion about the word "apartheid" on Wednesday, a screening of the film Voices Across the Divide on Thursday and a peace vigil for Palestinians in the Yarmouk Camp on Friday.
Blumenthal's presence on campus has also generated controversy. In his latest book, Blumenthal "used comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany," according to Stewart, which were "offensive to many people." Thus, at the event yesterday, Blumenthal talked about the conditions for Palestinians and Sudanese refugees on the ground behind Israeli lines. He related the story of a 17-year-old Palestinian living in the Arab-Israeli city of Lod. "When he was in school, the Palestinian youth was told by his principal, 'Do not go home because your house is being destroyed,'" Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said that when he was in Israel, he saw "an entire neighborhood reduced to rubble in a core Israeli city" because the Palestinian residents had done construction without a permit. He said that when the residents discovered that he was a reporter, they told him that they wanted protection from the United Nations and that "this is worse than the Gaza strip."
African immigrants face similar discrimination, Blumenthal said. According to the Times of Israel, the Blumenthal also discussed former Israel Defence Force spokesperson Miri Regev's controversial remark that "the Sudanese are a cancer in our body" during a rally protesting the rising crime rate in Tel Aviv.
Blumenthal said that rally ended up launching a riot, which was, according to Blumenthal, "barely reported" despite "hundreds of right-wing thugs and vandals attacking any African business they could find." Blumenthal further stated that he called the chapter in which he discussed this riot "the night of broken glass," referencing the night when members of the Nazi Party rioted in the streets and looted hundreds of Jewish owned businesses and synagogues before World War II. The author said that he did not reference this tragic moment in Jewish history out of reverence for the Jewish people who lived through it, but because, for him, the lesson of the Holocaust "is not never again to Jews, it's never again to anyone."
Luky Guigui '14, who attended the event, brought to Blumenthal's attention the fact that there were Arab representatives currently in the Israeli parliament and asked the reporter to comment on that. Blumenthal responded by talking about the former nation of Rhodesia. Rhodesia, like South Africa, was governed by a white minority. Blumenthal discussed in particular how Rhodesia had Africans in its government, "but [the white minority] made sure [the black Africans] did not get enough representation to impact the actual policies of the state" instead making them symbolic representatives. The reporter related this to the representatives of Arabs in the Israeli parliament.
Israel Apartheid Week has also drawn national attention to Brandeis, through the responses of certain students to the event. Joshua Nass '14, chief executive officer and founder of Voices of Conservative Youth, recently attacked the national Israel Apartheid Week movement for featuring him in a trailer advertising the week. In the trailer for Israel Apartheid Week, Nass was seen to be nodding his head in agreement with a statement about the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement-an endeavor to pressure the Israeli government with nonviolent means-and seemingly giving his support to the movement.
In an interview with the Justice, Nass said that the trailer was "blatantly inaccurate." In response to this trailer, Nass put out an offer via several news outlets.
His offer stipulated that if the person who published the trailer would debate him at a public forum of his choosing, he would pay $5,000 of his personal money to a mutually agreed-upon charity. The national movement would also have to retract the trailer and issue a public apology along with the debate.
On Friday afternoon, when Nass tried to access the trailer, the host website stated that it had been "removed by the user." By Saturday night, there was a new video uploaded which did not include Nass.
When asked about the video's removal, Nass told the Justice that "the fact that they did this, silently as if it would go unnoticed, is telling of [the leadership of the national Israel Apartheid movement's] tactics, and that they themselves don't have the courage in their convictions to defend their behavior."
-Kathryn Brody contributed reporting