Campus activists tried to turn heads towards Palestine’s cause this past week, as U of T hosted the sixth annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). The week focused on the strategy of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel about the seizure of Palestinian lands and the imprisonment of the West Bank populace behind an eight-foot concrete wall.


Thirty Ontario MPPs passed a motion on February 25 to condemn the week and its activities. The motion presented the opinion that its commemoration serves to incite hatred towards Israel as a democratic state. Furthermore, the motion stated, “'apartheid' in this context diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.”


The BDS campaign, born in 2005 and inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid, sounds a worldwide call for nations to pressure their respective governments to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. “These non-violent measures,” the call declares, “should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law.” Over 500 organizations currently endorse BDS. IAW was observed in 40 cities this year.


The percept it refers to is “Resolution 194,” passed shortly after the 1948 Israeli War of Independence (known to Palestinians as “Al Nakba” – “The Disaster”) by the United Nations General Assembly. This calls for Palestinians' Right to Return and right for compensation of lost property.


In Toronto, IAW included events every evening, culminating in a  sold-out rap show, “Hip Hop for Palestine – Won’t Stop ‘till da Wall Drops,” featuring Palestinian hip-hop artist Abeer Alzinaty (a.k.a Sabreena da Witch) and Iraqi MC “The Narcicyst.” The events included lectures, film screenings, and demonstrations featuring prominent activists, writers, and professors.


“What started as a small campus event at the University of Toronto has become a strong global anti-apartheid movement, standing up for justice, equality and human rights,” said organizer Lama Al Choufani.


Speaker Jenny Peto, an activist with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and student at OISE, argued that, like Canada, Israel uses its queer-friendly, anti-racist, gender-equality, egalitarian status to smokescreen its human rights atrocities. She called for people to become active in the fight against oppressive systems. "To remain neutral is to be complacent with perpetuating injustice," she said.


Adir Krafman and Aviv Sarner, members of U of T Hillel, argue that Israel is not an apartheid state. “The use of the word apartheid leaves no room for discussion,” explained Krafman. If it were called Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Week and brought in speakers from both sides to try to do some conflict resolution, then it wouldn’t have been condemned this way." Krafman maintains that the week is held to delegitimize the Jewish state, which is why some people see it as anti-Semitic. “It’s more anti-Israel than it is pro-Palestine,” he said.


The events drew parallels between Israeli society and other marginalized communities, including the apartheid regime in South Africa. Nobel Peace Prize winner and patron of a Holocaust centre in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said in an interview with The Guardian in 2002, “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.” Similarities highlighted include legislated discrimination in property ownership, family law, citizenship rights, and freedom of movement. IAW speaker Rabab Abdulhadi, Palestinian feminist activist, supports BDS’ efforts in the hope that it leads to trade embargoes, like those previously imposed on South Africa.


Shawn Brant of the Mohawk Aboriginals also spoke at the IAW lectures. He drew comparisons between Palestinians’ conditions in the West Bank to the aboriginal standard of living in Ontario. There too, he said, aboriginals are engaged in land disputes with a larger, dominant force. In a chronicle akin to the David-Goliath battle, he describes the futile efforts of a boy throwing rocks at armed police. “I asked my father, ‘Why do they throw rocks? What is the point?’ to which he replied, ‘It represents our courage, our valour, to show them that we are not losing without a fight.’”

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