Global actions, backlash during Israeli Apartheid Week

The 7th annual Israeli Apartheid Week launched this week, with more than 75 cities across six continents participating in educational events and direct actions in support of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

With events taking place from Boston to Zurich, Durban to Perth, and Montreal to Gaza City, on college campuses and in conference halls, thousands of activists, students and analysts are strengthening anti-apartheid solidarity networks while calling attention to the ongoing struggle for Palestinian liberation.

The Israeli Apartheid Week coordination website (http://apartheidweek.org/en) says that these annual events “have highlighted the role that could be played by people and governments across the world in providing solidarity with the Palestinian struggle by exerting urgent pressure on Israel to alter its current structure and practices as an apartheid state.”

Since its launch by the Arab Student’s Collective at the University of Toronto, Canada in 2005 — following the call by 170 Palestinian civil society groups for a global boycott movement — Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) has played an important role in unifying opposition movements against Israeli apartheid.

Worldwide events include lectures by prominent Palestinian activists, poets, academics and analysts, as well as a myriad of direct actions, such as mock Israeli checkpoints, protests and concerts centered around expanding anti-apartheid activism.

The Electronic Intifada’s co-founder, Ali Abunimah, spoke this week at IAW events in Canada.

Arab participation in IAW

In Beirut, hundreds are participating in this week’s IAW events.

Hazem Jamjoum is a contributor to The Electronic Intifada and a founding member of IAW. As a current graduate student at the American University of Beirut and an organizer with this year’s second annual marking of the global week of action in Lebanon, he said that IAW’s expansion can be seen as a barometer to measure the growth of the global BDS movement over the last six years.

IAW is generally organized by the youth wing of the BDS movement,” Jamjoum told The Electronic Intifada. “What this year’s IAW events mean is that the younger generation has adopted an approach that sees Israel as an apartheid state and a colonial project in addition to the ongoing occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands. This has become the base analysis to inform their BDS action strategies.”

Jamjoum said that South African anti-apartheid activist Salim Vally opened the schedule in Beirut by giving an analysis of Israel from his perspective. He was followed by Lebanese activist Rania Masri who talked about the boycott movement as a vehicle against global and local neoliberalism. For International Women’s Day, Jamjoum said that iconic Palestinian freedom fighter Leila Khaled spoke at an event with Hana Ibrahim, an Iraqi anti-occupation activist.

Specifically, the Palestinian experience in Lebanon is a major highlight of this week’s IAW events. With widespread denial of civil rights to Palestinian refugees, including the prevention of refugees to work or own property, Jamjoum said that IAW lectures and actions will confront these various “taboo subjects” in Lebanon. Discussions about the current state of anti-government revolts in the broader Arab world are also planned for this week, incorporating local social movements for justice and self-determination into the broader regional conversation.

Backlash against IAW events

IAW events have been met with strong opposition and smear campaigns by local, national and international Zionist organizations since its launch.

In New York City, more than 130 persons protested and chanted in front of the NYC LGBT Center after the center decided to cancel a planned IAW event and banned one of the event’s organizers from holding meetings inside.

According to a press release by the New York chapter of Israeli Apartheid Week, “gay adult film producer and right-wing columnist Michael Lucas issued a press release threatening to boycott the LGBT Center for allowing local IAW organizers to meet and plan an event there. Lucas denounced IAW as a ‘hate group’ and ‘anti-Semitic,’ charges categorically rejected by event organizers Siegebusters and Existence Is Resistance (EIR), as well as other IAW organizers.”

The press release adds “Hours after Lucas issued his press release, Glennda Testone, LGBT Center director, released a two-sentence statement canceling the event, banning Siegebusters, and saying, ‘We have determined that this event is not appropriate to be held at our LGBT Community Center, which is a safe haven for LGBT groups and individuals’ ” (“LGBT & Palestinian rights groups protest discrimination at NYC’s gay community center,” 5 March 2011).

Protester Melissa Morrone states in the press release “I’m here tonight because bigotry and apartheid are queer issues … The center says their mission is to provide a safe haven for the LGBT community, but by letting one donor exclude a particular point of view, they’re making queers who support Palestinian rights feel unwelcome.”

The press release states that more than 1,500 individuals have signed a petition decrying the LGBT center’s decision, including queer theorist, activist and professor Judith Butler, who is part of an IAW panel discussion scheduled for today entitled “How Now BDS? Media, Politics and Queer Activism.”

Meanwhile, IAW organizers in Canada reported that the administration at York University in Toronto had required them to pay “security fees” for a planned event on campus, which was to be held by university faculty and students. The organizers said that this was an unreasonable demand, since past IAW events have been held “without incident.”

However, Israel lobby groups have pressured educational institutions “to raise the cost for holding Palestine advocacy events,” the organizers stated.

Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York refused to pay the fees, and stated in a press release that “it is unjust for SAIA-York to be asked to pay to protect itself from harassment done to its members and supporters by outside aggressors.”

The press release adds “Unfortunately, by imposing the security fees and putting a price tag on freedom of speech and inquiry, York University has become the most recent institution to use this silencing tactic. This of course comes as no surprise. As demonstrated by a number of incidents in the past, documented by publications and reports, York University’s commitment to freedom of speech is almost always limited when it comes to Palestine.”