Controversy, criticism and confusion

A retrospect on Israeli Apartheid Week

Dedicated to discussing Israeli racial segregation issues, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) took place at the University of Manitoba campus for the very first time from Monday, March 8 to Friday March 12.

Controversy regarding the event arose when the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg issued a statement declaring the IAW’s tactics “bigoted, racist and a wholesale condemnation of Israel and its people.”

Organizers call IAW an anti-racist event, seeking to inform the public of Arab-Palestinian discrimination. The group accuses the Israeli government of racially-based building permit approval, confiscation of Palestinian land for Jewish use and discriminatory policing.

IAW defines apartheid as, “Any measures, including legislative, designed to divide the population along racial lines.” Meanwhile, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg (JFW) contends that accusing Israel of apartheid is, in itself, racist. Their public statement declares that by using such a term, the organizers demonize Israel by comparing it to apartheid in South Africa. Furthermore, they believe the event is an insult to Canada’s relations with the state.

Bob Freedman, CEO of the JFW, states that the organization’s concerns stemmed from problems that arose during apartheid weeks held at other institutions, like York University and the University of Toronto.

“On other campuses some very disturbing things have happened,” says Freedman. “Jewish students who were going to class were yelled and spat at. We were worried about this happening at the U of M.”

Riyad Twair, one the IAW organizers, states that the group was unaware of such problems but, nonetheless, took steps to avoid any prejudice at the events.

“We do not condone anti-Semitism or any sort of prejudice under any circumstance. At the beginning of every panel, we clearly state this to the audience,” he said.

Freedman contends that using the term apartheid this way is misleading and wrong. He says the Arab minorities in Israel have representatives in the judicial system, elective officials and access to democratic press; the black minority in apartheid South Africa had none of these things.

“Anyone can give examples of unequal treatment in Canada of minorities. This does not give us reason to call it an apartheid state though,” Freedman said.

Twair says that the group used the United Nations definition of apartheid and that the definition applies to the situation in Israel.

Freedman says that although the JFW believes that IAW misleads people, they will make no move to ban the organization. However, Conservative MLA Heather Stefanson plans to introduce a private member’s resolution to condemn IAW.

To prevent the proposal, IAW organizers have put together a petition. They plan to hold another apartheid week next year, assuming Stefanson’s proposal does not pass.

Published in Volume 64, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 25, 2010)

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