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On Israeli Apartheid Week

Published: Monday, February 27, 2012

Updated: Monday, February 27, 2012 07:02

op-ed israel

Courtesy Justin Mccallum

Israel: Apartheid week. The name begs the question: Is Israel actually an apartheid state? Apartheid, as defined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, is racial segregation and discrimination with the intent "of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons." I am familiar with many of the crimes that the Israeli government commits against Palestinians living in the occupied territories, such as house demolitions and denied access to much needed resources. I am also familiar with many of the forms of institutionalized racism that discriminate against Arabs within Israel proper. I have read "Is Israel an Apartheid State?" a publication by the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions. This publication summarizes the findings of a study conducted by the Human Sciences Research Center of South Africa. The study examines Israeli laws and practices, listing the plethora of crimes that have been committed against the Palestinians, to determine whether Israel is in fact an apartheid state. Spoiler alert: Their conclusion is yes.

No reasonable person would argue that Israeli society does not discriminate against Palestinians. But are these oppressive acts committed with the intent of "establishing and maintaining domination" of the Jewish population of Israel? Perhaps. I believe there is some truth to this statement, but this view also oversimplifies the conflict, presenting it solely as a racial one. Israel's victimization complex plays a strong hand in many policies that demean and oppress Palestinians. Whether real or imagined, many Israelis believe that their nation still faces an existential threat. Israel feels threatened by the Arab world and the Palestinians suffer from this fear. So is Israel an apartheid state? I don't think it's that simple, but what's in a name? Would systematic oppression by any other name smell as putrid?

By creating the first annual Tufts Israeli Apartheid Week, the Tufts chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) aligns itself with many other SJP chapters. The aims of Israeli Apartheid Week are "to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns." Showing solidarity with an international movement that condemns Israel's discriminatory practices is a crucial aspect of bringing voice to the Palestinian struggle for justice and human rights. I understand the importance of this event. I am not condemning SJP for using Israeli Apartheid Week as a means for spreading awareness of Palestinian oppression. However, I think it is also important to consider how this event affects the dialogue surrounding the conflict at Tufts.

Creating an Israeli Apartheid Week alienates a large segment of the Tufts Jewish community. Some of us are ignorant of the injustices committed against Palestinians. Some of us don't want to hear an ill word uttered about our beloved Israel. And there are also those of us who feel heartbreak every time we read about the conflict in Haaretz, because the Jewish state should not exist at the expense of Palestinian rights. Many of these same people who support both the right of Palestinian self−determination as well as just and equal treatment for all Israeli citizens immediately disengage from a conversation upon hearing the words "Israel" and "apartheid" in the same sentence. I am not justifying this reaction. The Tufts Jewish community needs to engage critically with Israel, even when it pains us. One way for us to challenge our beliefs about Israel is through participating in SJP events and discussions. I believe that many more of us would want to work with SJP if we did not feel alienated by the language SJP uses.

SJP has no obligation to have a productive relationship with the Jewish community. Being a part of an international BDS movement may very well be a more important goal than engaging with supporters of Israel at Tufts. However, I am of the opinion that discussion and dialogue amongst SJP and the Jewish community is very important to the future of Israel and Palestine. The United States' influence in Israeli affairs is immense, and American Jews have a large voice in shaping that influence.

We, the Tufts Jewish community, are part of that voice. Being educated about the Palestinian struggle is the first, vital step in changing the Jewish American discourse about Israel. For those of us who are ignorant of the many injustices that Palestinians face, interacting with SJP through attending events and participating in discussions, could have a formative role in how we conceptualize Israel, and more importantly, what we want Israel to be. But we may not show up because we feel alienated. For those of us who already are committed to human rights and justice for Jews and Arabs living in Israel and Palestine, participating in SJP events and activism would bring more voices to the cause. But we may not show up because we feel alienated. There is a huge potential for partnership amongst Israel supporters and JSP in fighting for justice for Palestinians, and by using alienating language, SJP is missing out on the opportunity to work with numerous potential partners.

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