Nearly 1,000 Palestinians were injured Friday as the protestors entered their third week along the Gaza-Israel border. Since the protest started on March 30, Israeli forces have killed 34 Palestinians.
Josh Ruebner, a political analyst and author, discussed the state of Israeli-Palestinian politics and the history of the nations in light of these protests as the keynote lecturer for Students for Justice in Palestine’s Israeli Apartheid Week.
SJP, a student organization that advocates for Palestinian human rights, was one of many college
organizations across the country that held the internationally recognized Apartheid Week to bring awareness to Israel’s discriminatory policies, said Liat Ben-Moshe, faculty adviser for SJP.
The word “apartheid” is used to draw attention to these policies, she said.
“It was a tactic used to counter South Africa’s discriminatory policies back in the day,” Ben-Moshe said.
“This is not something Toledo related, but something internationally related.”
Ruebner argued that “apartheid” is more than just a tactic – it’s the reality Palestinians face in Israel.
Even though Palestinians are enfranchised, they have the third largest political party and had judicial representation in recent years, there are 55 laws in Israel that discriminate against Palestinians including lingually segregated school systems – Hebrew and Arabic – that are not equally funded, he said.
He also cited Israel’s continued demolition of villages that drive Palestinians out of their homes and replace them with Israeli residents and housing on the West Bank, such as the village of Susiya.
“The Façade of Israeli democracy is crumbling,” Ruebner said, using the recent protests in Gaza and the increase in Jewish settlements in occupied territory as evidence.
Not everyone shared Ruebner’s arguments though, with one audience member saying he ignored the shared histories of Israel’s neighboring countries – Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
“Apartheid is really a unique event to South Africa,” said Rachel Pointer, a third-year communication major, in an interview prior to the event. “Israel doesn’t have any of the same laws, and Arab citizens are treated equally.”
Pointer said Palestinians can join the Anti-Defamation League and have their rights guaranteed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
SJP promoted the event on campus with signs and flyers posted around the Student Union and on social media.
Several individuals including Pointer commented on SJP’s Facebook post promoting Israeli Apartheid Week, saying the event coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“I want to believe it was unintentional, but IAW was scheduled in such a way that it also coincides with our Day of Remembrance for the Shoah,” Netaniel Chernyk wrote on Facebook.
A number of comments were deleted and some Facebook users like Pointer were blocked from the organizations social media page, Pointer said.
In response to the complaints SJP received about the event, they posted a statement on March 30 stating the purpose of the event and the unintentional timing of the event.
“As many of you are aware, Israeli Apartheid Week 2018 has been scheduled for the week of April 9th,” the statement said. “It has been brought to our attention that Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) also occurs on this week. We had no intention to plan events to occur at the same time. We designated Israeli Apartheid Week to be on the week of the 9th due to this being the general time frame of Israeli Apartheid Week in the United States as well as to coordinate with the schedule of our speaker. We would not intentionally plan an event around a Jewish holiday as to not exclude participation.”
Ben-Moshe didn’t know the specifics of the social media comments, but said the SJP Executive Board contacted her and asked her if they made any mistakes in planning the week-long event.
In response to the event’s timing, UT’s Jewish organization Hillel released a statement.
“During the week of April 9, Jewish communities around the world observed Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day, in commemoration of the six million Jews and millions of others killed by the Nazi’s,” the statement said. “The scheduling of Israel Apartheid Week during this time showed disrespect to the victims of the Holocaust and did not keep with the school’s principals of respectful dialogue.”
As an Israeli Jew who had family members die in the Holocaust, Ben-Moshe had no qualms with the event’s timing because it didn’t coincide with the United States’ Holocaust Remembrance Day in January.
“I don’t see why we need to acknowledge all the countries’ different days, unless it pertains to an individual, which I completely understand,” she said.
Many SJP Facebook posts refer to Zionism rather than the state of Israel, which Pointer said was “troubling.”
“[Zionism] is wanting to have a place where we can be safe and practice, because there isn’t really any place in the world that is safe,” she said.
Pointer said this criticism is a slippery slope.
“It’s when you demonize Israel and Zionism at the same time,” Pointer said. “One of the big things is that anti-Semitism in leftist spaces such as with pro-Palestine spaces is really subtle and insidious.”
Ben-Moshe said there are some problems with anti-Zionist rhetoric, but she doesn’t believe anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are connected.
Even though there is tension surrounding the subject of Israel and Palestine, Ben-Moshe was glad individuals who disagreed with the event attended the lecture.
“It is not necessary to agree on everything, but to learn,” she said. “I don’t think [discussions] happen on social media in the same kind of way like when someone comes to an event with an open mind.”