Israel Apartheid Week: What has it achieved?

By Alex Green, February 27, 2012

Israel Apartheid week. The one week in the year when the rules of genuine engagement, constructive dialogue and all forms of moderation, are dispensed with.

It is the one week where it is acceptable to stop and harass students on a British university campus in fancy dress as Israeli soldiers; where speaker events, which are often an orgy of self-congratulation and hysteria, are packed to capacity with people who have turned up to hear people bashing the Jewish state, where fist-raising replaces applause as a sign of support for speakers in a way that not even Orwell could have imagined would become a reality. It is the one week where the word "Apartheid" is thrown around mercilessly as merely another adjective in the inventory of vulgarities with which to describe Israel.

Devastatingly, this week is the time when Palestinian societies around the country waste rare opportunities to raise awareness and engage a wider body of students with the harsh realities that exist within the Palestinian territories and Israel. Instead they seek to erode any kind of legitimate debate. My wish for Palestinian societies is that their efforts and energies will be focused instead on creating tangible ways to improve the lives of Palestinians on the ground.

Our Jewish values dictate the necessity of protecting human rights and, Jewish students, despite being called "Nazis", "racists" and "occupiers", still continue to work to better the lives of those living in the region. Last week, Birmingham Jewish Society raised money for a Palestinian child in Gaza to receive life-changing heart treatment; this week members of the Jewish community are on a UK Taskforce trip, attempting to find ways to proactively challenge discrimination within Israel. I seriously question the credibility of anyone that suggests that we are blind to the suffering of others within the Middle-East.

The frustration felt by many Jewish students about this week is that repeatedly JSocs are doing their best to promote both the dialogue of peace and tangible action to secure this goal. Fake walls, mock-checkpoints and flotillas (glorified cruises) in a handful of the roughly 280 higher education institutions are merely theatrical stunts which do nothing to help bring about an end to the conflict. So, at the end of this week, I can't help but ask myself what has been achieved?

The answer: the continued condemnation of the state of Israel. They say we don't get it - it is because we do get it that we continue our efforts on campuses to ensure there is fair and constructive debate. It is because many of us have family in the region, many of us have invested time speaking to people that are affected daily and because it is our homeland that we have such a vested interest in obtaining peace. We know the price at stake and we are not prepared to let that slip away to make room for extremism, theatrics and destruction - both in the region and on campus.

No doubt the planning for the next Israel Apartheid Week has already started. It promises to be bigger and better than this year's festivities - more checkpoints, more walls and more mocktillas. These will be staged irrespective of the political situation and irrespective of the difference these will make to the Palestinian people. They just don't get it.

Alex Green is a law student at Birmingham University, a former campus relations officer for Birmingham JSoc and the UJS president-elect. Follow him on Twitter here.

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Last updated: 11:26am, February 27 2012