Arabs help Israel fight Apartheid Week cliches

By Nathan Jeffay, March 1, 2012
Belaynesh Zevadia, Israel's new envoy to Ethiopia, is an ethnic Ethiopian

Belaynesh Zevadia, Israel's new envoy to Ethiopia, is an ethnic Ethiopian

If it works out, it will be a stereotype-busting moment on a par with Susan Boyle's Britain's Got Talent audition.

Israeli student Leah Tegegne will go into the lion's den next week, appearing at university campuses in South Africa as they mark Israel Apartheid Week.

Although the event is held worldwide, it evokes particularly strong passions in South Africa, as its claim is that Israel's policies today are akin to those of their country in the days when blacks were second-class citizens.

When students come to hear an Israeli representative at the rival events she is running and see that she is black, Ms Tegegne believes it will challenge their preconceptions. "With me being an Ethiopian, considering South Africa's history of apartheid I'm hoping it will be a chance for me to give a different perspective on the apartheid issue," she said.

For the first six years that the international Israel Apartheid Week took place, the Israeli government hardly responded. Then last year, the seventh, it ran a small pilot project of sending representatives to answer back, and this year for the first time it is sending a major cohort of advocates - 100 in total - to campuses worldwide to respond through meetings and talks.

The key strategy is to stress Israel's diversity. All delegations, including the one that spent last week in the UK, include members of different communities. But the South Africa delegation is the most diverse, containing members of the Druze-Arab, Muslim-Arab, Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities alongside Ms Tegegne.

Anti-Israel talk blocked in Paris

A Paris university was forced to close for two days this week because of the "public order" threat posed by a group of anti-Israel activists.
A group called Collectif Palestine Paris 8 sought to hold a conference looking at Israel's "apartheid" practices on the campus of the Paris-8 University despite being denied permission.
In a comment piece for Le Monde, the university's president, Pascal Binczak, suggested that activists were "taking advantage of academic freedom" and criticised the organisers for the misuse of the term "academic conference". He cited cases of antisemitism as reasons for his decision.

"People will see our diverse group and think they want to say that Israel is an apartheid country, but now don't understand how that adds up," said delegation head Liron Karass, a 24-year-old student. Fatin Birani, a 45-year-old Druze-Arab educationalist, said he plans to tell South African audiences that "for Arabs life in Israel is good". He added: "I'll say that in Israel we can live together and that if we want to make peace we can."

Last updated: 3:25pm, March 1 2012