Joan Ryan

Let’s kick ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ off campus for good

The National Union of Students should be ashamed of itself for backing such a divisive campaign


A Palestinian activist, wearing a full face veil, holds a sign during a protest against Israel at the north beach in Durban on March 10, 2013 ahead of the Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) from March 11 to 17, 2013 in South Africa. The annual international series of events includes rallies, lectures, cultural performances, film screenings, multimedia displays and boycott of Israel actions held in cities and campuses across the globe. AFP PHOTO / RAJESH JANTILAL (Photo credit should read RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP via Getty Images)

March 18, 2022 00:00

Next week is Israel Apartheid Week, an annual hard-left university jamboree which aims to demonise and delegitimise the world’s only Jewish state.

The notion that Israel is an “apartheid state” – one now sadly propagated by campaign groups such as Amnesty International – is a lie. Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel are fully equal before the law. 

Arab Israelis, who make up some 20 per cent of the population, can live and work where they want, marry who they want, and are represented at the highest echelons of Israeli government and society, including on the Supreme Court and in the Knesset. 

Their position is in no way comparable to that suffered by the black population of South Africa. Leading activists such as Benjamin Pogrund, the former deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail, have explicitly rejected the comparison. 

“Those who accuse Israel of apartheid — some even say, ‘worse than apartheid’ — have forgotten what actual apartheid was, or are ignorant, or malevolent,” Pogrund has suggested.

The “apartheid” smear is one of the central tenets of the BDS movement, a campaign which seeks to eliminate Israel and which has caused gross offence by comparing it to Nazi Germany.

In economic terms, BDS has been remarkably unsuccessful. British-Israel trade is booming and polls show only a small minority of the British public believes in boycotting Israel. 

Our government rightly recognises that Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy, is an important British regional ally and security partner.  Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are not simply recognising Israel but building new social, economic and strategic ties with it.

Worryingly, campaigns such as Israel Apartheid Week poison the hearts and minds of young people. I share the desire to see an end to the tragic conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. 

The hopes of a peaceful settlement, founded on a two-state solution, which flourished in the 1990s, have sadly faded in the face of terrorism and intransigence on the part of extremists. However, the way to promote peace and reconciliation is through measures which bring the two peoples together, promoting greater civic society and economic ties, not drive them further part.

We also always need to be alert to the way events in the Middle East, and the rhetoric and campaigning which surrounds them, have an impact here at home, especially given the fact that more than 90 per cent of British Jews say that Israel plays a part in their Jewish identity.

Last year, we saw a wave of antisemitism on streets of Britain directly related to conflict between Israel and Hamas. Unsurprisingly, polling by the Campaign Against Antisemitism shows that 80 per cent of British Jews felt intimidated.

The poll also showed that over nine in 10 Jews felt that antisemitism was a problem at universities, making Israel Apartheid Week particularly problematic.

By backing this carnival of hatred, the National Union of Students has ignored the clear concerns of the Union of Jewish Students. The NUS should be ashamed of itself. I doubt it would treat the concerns of any other minority group with such disdain. However, we should not be surprised by this attitude. For too long, universities have allowed themselves to become hotbeds of antisemitic anti-Zionism.

It is imperative that the government does more to challenge this dangerous and divisive event and ensure that universities can no longer be hijacked by the far left to pursue its spiteful and hateful agenda. 

It is welcome that more than half of universities have now adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. But we should only be satisfied when all universities have done so. Moreover, as the Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, suggested in January, adoption has to be more than a “tick-box exercise”. It is also vital that student unions are strongly encouraged to adopt the IHRA definition.

Given the current horrific events in Ukraine, staging Israel Apartheid Week seems especially inappropriate this year. It serves as a reminder of the obsessive focus on Israel that allows multiple abuses of human rights around the world to escape attention and go unchallenged. 

This is graphically demonstrated at the international level by bodies such as the UN General Assembly, which has passed 125 resolutions against Israel over the last seven years but only 15 against Putin’s Russia and nine against Assad’s Syria. Similarly, the UN Human Rights Council has passed 95 resolutions condemning Israel since 2006 but none against Russia or China.  

At best, Israel Apartheid Week and the BDS movement are nothing more than puerile hard left virtue-signalling; at worst, they sow division, hatred and antisemitism. They have no place on British campuses.

Joan Ryan is chief executive of the European Leadership Network (ELNET), an NGO dedicated to strengthening relations between Europe and Israel

March 18, 2022 00:00

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive