I was taking a break from exam studying when I opened up the mitZine and was horrified to find the article criticising Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). It offered a very inadequate perspective on the issue and failed to address why many people, including myself, are passionate about it: because at its very core lies the matter of human rights.
First off, the article criticises the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights club (SPHR) and the usage of the term “apartheid”. Yes, apartheid stems from the African word for apart-ness, but the current definition I pulled from the web goes “The policy of racial separation used in South Africa from 1948 to 1990; By extension, any similar policy of racial separation.” The word is also used to discuss the religious separation of India – Indian Apartheid. Hence, I find the word to be an adequate fit.
Next, the article says that the IAW is offensive to Jewish and Israeli students. Well, it shouldn’t be, unless one speaks with a “human rights” framework in mind. Then, absolutely, every cultural and religious background should be offended, because Israel’s notoriety for violating human rights is something that no PR campaign could fix.
Regardless, I know that the article does not refer to the matter with said framework, but rather the idea that SPHR is attacking these students. Still, this is not the case. Yes, Israeli students (or more broadly, those who support Zionism) definitely found the week to be a piss-off, so to speak. But a cultural propaganda that continues to permeate is that Judaism and Zionism are mutually inclusive. This is not at all the case! Exhibit A: Judith Butler, an ethical and political philosopher, feminist and queer theorist, cultural critic and overall brilliant mind. She’s also a Jewish supporter of Palestine. Wait – for real?! Yup. She spoke at The University of Toronto over IAW, and while I didn’t attend, I don’t doubt that she touched on the fact that she has often been criticised for her support of Palestinian Human Rights – even referred to as self-hating. In her London Review of Books article entitled, “No, It’s Not Anti-Semitic”, she says that “a challenge to the right of Israel to exist can be construed as a challenge to the existence of the Jewish people only if one believes that Israel alone keeps the Jewish people alive or that all Jews invest their sense of perpetuity in the state of Israel in its current or traditional forms.” (You can find it online, just give Judith a quick google). So no, it’s not a Jewish-Arab or overall culturally relative issue. It’s a human right issue. To further highlight that it’s a human rights issue, I contacted the SPHR President who told me that upwards of 30% of SPHR members do not have an Arab background at all.
I’m stressing this because if Jewish people have a problem with Israel, something clearly isn’t right. The abstraction that supporting Israel and being Jewish is mutually inclusive is misleading and inhibits people from learning more about the matter.
Speaking of learning…
The article says that the IAW ”has no place on campus,” because it’s a complex issue and people need to learn about it first. Well, where are we going to learn about it if not on campus? Isn’t that what university is about? Learning about contemporary, complex issues is what I’m paying tuition for – especially in FIMS, where we critique culture and politics like it’s our job. I also find it frustrating that the article didn’t touch on the fact that the Israeli Student Association had a booth in the UCC Atrium as well – so there absolutely was another viewpoint available during IAW. Further more, if one continues to argue that such events have no place on campus, then the Israeli Student Association should not be allowed to exist either. It’s only fair. Also, as university students, we are not only the future, but the present; we have voting rights, we have resources and we have voices. If anyone is going to finally end this conflict, it’s us.
On a final note, I was absolutely horrified when the article said something along the lines of “Palestinian children who die were probably carrying AK47’s to begin with.” For one, child soldiers are never to blame; they are young, easily influenced, and desperately feel that they need to do something if their people are being threatened. And two, by default, the article is saying that the death of anyone carrying a gun, like an Israeli soldier, is justified because they were actively participating in the violence. Loss of life on both sides of the issue should not be trivialized, whether they are children or adults.
I keep referring to the article because I don’t mean to attack the writer in any way. While this may not be the case, I have many friends were raised in homes that were all “Rah! Rah! Israel FTW!” and it seems only natural to choose the ideological viewpoints of our families or communities. However, I encourage my fellow MITers to go beyond what’s easy. Learn more. Ask. And when you find something that simply piques your interest or wholly outrages you, use your voice! Israeli Apartheid was rarely discussed in my household, yet I decided to educate myself and choose a side; I have chosen the side of human rights.