This week sees the return of Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) to campuses in the UK. The week long anti-Israel campaign originated in Toronto in 2005 and has since spread to dozens of cities around the world. Campus groups host a series of discussions, exhibitions, film viewings and publicity stunts, aiming to demonise and delegitimise the Jewish state in academia. Events planned this year include a celebration of Palestinian “resistance” at Kings College London; the recreation of an Israeli checkpoint at UCL; a discussion on the “anti-colonial struggle” with Ken Loach at Oxford; the building of a replica of the West Bank barrier at Cambridge; and a demonstration at Leeds. Israel Apartheid Week is the flagship event for pro-Palestinian student activism.
Despite the name, the week is about far more than Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and whether it constitutes apartheid. This year’s theme is “100 years of settler colonialism”. Israel Apartheid Week, representing the most extreme end of anti-Israel activism, promotes the idea that Israel in its entirety is a fundamentally illegitimate colonialist state. Rather than a state built by refugees realising their collective right as Jews to security and self-determination, Israel Apartheid Week promotes the idea that Jewish immigration to mandatory Palestine and the early Zionist movement was a colonialist enterprise acting to further the interests of the British Empire. Accordingly, Israel Apartheid Week views both Tel Aviv and Ariel as settlements of equal moral illegitimacy, promotes BDS of all of Israel, and supports a one-state solution whereby a state of Palestine would replace the state of Israel.
In North America, Israel Apartheid Weeks have frequently hosted speakers who have glorified terror attacks, made anti-semitic comments and weaponised Holocaust imagery against Israel. In 2011 in Connecticut, American Trotskyist Lenni Brenner said that Jews are the biggest donors to U.S. political parties and called them, “crooked as a dog’s hind leg”. At Boston University in 2010 students compared Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto, whilst in New York protestors chanted “long live the intifada”. At Emory University, Atlanta, in 2009, one speaker accused Jews of using the Holocaust as an “excuse” to perpetrate a “catastrophe” against Palestinians. Plans for last year’s activities, leaked to the Times of Israel, revealed unqualified support for the spate of stabbing attacks at the end of 2015, euphemistically described as an “uprising”.
In the UK, the government has sought to crack down on anti-semitism on campus. Universities minister Jo Johnson wrote to Universities UK last week reminding the organisation of its responsibility to counter anti-semitism on campus, following the government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-semitism. Following the letter, the University of Central Lancashire confirmed that one event was cancelled for contravening the definition, whilst Kings College London and UCL prohibited events taking place on campus property. Meanwhile, the Union of Jewish students launched a counter-campaign, ‘Bridges not Boycotts’, aiming to promote reconciliation and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. Over 2,000 resource cards have been sent to students on campus alongside a social media campaign. Former Chief Rabbi of the UK, Rabbi Sacks, also released a viral video on the BDS campaign.