“Israeli Apartheid Week,” an international event which is being sponsored at Concordia by the Quebec Public Interest Research Group and Soldiarity for Palestinian Human Rights, kicked off March 1. While the event is meant to educate people about some real problems which exist with the plight of the Palestinians, the title of the week unfortunately detracts from any benefits which might otherwise result from such an event. Rather than being likely to result in bringing people together to help the Palestinian people, the title of the event is likely to contribute to the sort of divisions which have impeded past efforts to improve the plight of the Palestinian people.
The singling out of Israel by the organizers of the “Israeli Apartheid Week” for its role in the oppression of the Palestinian people ignores the involvement of Egypt and other regional powers. For instance, someone reading the title of the event would not know that while the Palestinians living in Gaza are barred from crossing their eastern border with Israel, they are also barred from crossing their western border, which is with Egypt. The Egyptian role in the effective siege of Gaza is such that without it, the Israeli blockade of Gaza would be impossible. Rather than educating, this part of the title of the “Israeli Apartheid Week” is more likely to give people only a partial understanding of the problems afflicting the Palestinian people. More so, it will alienate many who wonder why the organizers of the event have chosen to highlight only the actions of the Israeli state.
While the singling out of Israel by the organizers of the the “Israeli Apartheid Week” is troubling, what is more concerning is their usurpation of the term “apartheid.” The term “apartheid” refers to specific legslation which existed in South Africa between 1948 and 1994. While there are certain similarities between the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians and the policies which were carried out by the Nationalist government in South Africa, there are some key differences. First of all, under the Apartheid regime in South Africa, blacks were legally barred from participating in the political process. This contrasts greatly with the situation in Israel, where not only are Palestinians citizens allowed to vote, but where there are 13 Arabs sitting in Parliament. What’s more, key aspects of the Apartheid system, such as the banning of mixed marriages and segregated education, simply have no parallel in the Israeli state. The use of the word “apartheid” by the organizers of the “Israeli Apartheid Week” seems more like an attempt at garnering publicity and prompting controversy than an attempt at accurately characterizing the actions of the Israeli state in relation to the Palestinian people.
The title of the “Israeli Apartheid Week” event is simply misleading. Rather than setting the stage for education, its intentionally provocative and innacurate language sets the stage for the sort of controversy and conflict which has plagued the event in the past. Rather than resulting in helping the Palestinian people, it will serve to further politicize an issue which regards the human rights of real people. If the organizers of the “Israeli Apartheid Week” truly desire to help the Palestinian people, they would be well served in titling their event using language which is more accuarate, and more likely to unite people on what has in the past been a very divisive issue.