Student solidarity groups from more than twenty UK universities held Israeli Apartheid Week events last week, raising awareness of the apartheid analysis and building boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on campus. Coming towards the end of an academic year that has seen students’ unions across the country and the National Union of Students move to support BDS initiatives and many successful BDS campaigns, the week has been hailed as having taken the UK student movement for Palestine to new heights.
The week kicked off on the Monday with a national day of action, with campuses across the country organising mock checkpoints, street theatre and supermarket actions.
Focus on youth
Organisers chose to bring young activists from Palestine and South Africa as visiting speakers, resulting in energetic and action-focused panel discussions and providing students with the opportunity to hear about the latest developments in the Palestinian and South African youth movements.
In Scotland, five universities hosted talks by Adameer activist Murad Jadallah and Wassim Ghantous, a Palestinian youth activist currently active in the Belgian BDS movement. With students in Scotland especially active in organising solidarity for Khader Adnan, Murad’s talks on the work Adameer had been doing to support him were particularly well timed. The announcement that Adnan was to be released came shortly before one of the biggest public events was due to start.
Yara Sadi from the Who Profits from the Occupation? project spoke alongside local activists in Leicester, Leeds and Sheffield and Israeli BDS activist Leehee Rothschild visited the universities of Sussex, Warwick and Essex.
In London, the main panel discussion featured film maker Eyal Sivan, Palestinian BDS National Committee secretariat member Rafeef Ziadah, journalist Ben White and South African student leader Mbuyiseni Ndlozi. Mbuyiseni spoke passionately of the “potent gift of international solidarity” that contributed to the downfall of South African apartheid and must be developed further to support the Palestinian struggle against Israeli apartheid.
Mbuyiseni also spoke in Nottingham and alongside Ewa Jasiewicz at a meeting at Manchester Metropolitan University that launched a campaign against the university’s ties with Veolia, the French multinational that provides services to Israel’s illegal settlements.
At the University of Liverpool, the Guild of Students voted to adopt a range of policy motions in support of campaigns following presentations earlier in the week by the Corporate Watch research group about their newly released BDS book Targeting Israeli Apartheid.
On Friday, the week was rounded up with a series of social events. In London, a Beats Against Apartheid event was attended by over 600 students. It was the perfect energetic ending to an inspiring week with performances from hip-hop artists Lowkey, Mic Righteous, Awate and spoken word performers Rafeef Ziadah and Jody Mcintyre among many others.
Opposition and repression
Despite much fanfare in the Israeli media, the official ‘Voices for Israel’ delegation made little impact. Bizarrely, meetings at which they spoke were poorly publicised and there was almost no visible presence on campuses from the official delegation.
In contrast, local pro-Israel student activists attempted to intimidate IAW organisers, with students at LSE being pelted with water balloons as they staged a mock check point on campus and there were reports of confrontational behaviour in Birmingham, Nottingham and elsewhere.
Regardless of these attempts at intimidation, Israeli Apartheid Week has been widely successful and has continued its consistent growth across the UK. Indeed, the failure of pro-Israel activists to detract from our activities in any meaningful way should be seen as a further sign that the debate on UK campuses is now happening very much on our terms.
For information on the Israeli Apartheid Week events that will take elsewhere in the world in the coming weeks, check out the official Israeli Apartheid Week website.