The sixth annual “Israeli Apartheid Week” kicked off today, starting what will be two global weeks of action across the world meant to highlight Israel’s apartheid system and to build the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The global event has come under attack, of course, with the usual conflation of criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism.
In Canada, continuing to strengthen the nation’s standing as “the most pro-Israel country in the world” (as Yves Engler in the Electronic Intifada put it), Ontario’s legislature unanimously passed a resolution last week condemning “Israeli Apartheid Week.”
Canadian publication Shalom Life interviewed the author of the motion, Progressive Conservative Peter Shurman:
"If you’re going to label Israel as apartheid, then you are also calling Canada apartheid and you are attacking Canadian values,” said Shurman. “The use of the phrase ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ is about as close to hate speech as one can get without being arrested, and I’m not certain it doesn’t actually cross over that line."
Rabble.ca, a progressive Canadian publication, reports that a separate, but similar resolution on the federal level is to be introduced this week.
The Electronic Intifada has a piece today by an “Israeli Apartheid Week” organizer in Toronto that puts the recent attacks in context, and also says that the campaigns against the event only show that the BDS movement is growing in strength:
Over the years, organizers have faced ongoing institutional harassment, including last-minute cancellation of room bookings and the banning of Apartheid Week materials. In fall 2008, for instance, room bookings for an IAW organizing conference in Toronto were cancelled on short notice by the university under pressure of local Zionist groups. Similarly, in March 2009, the University of Pisa, Italy, denied university venues to IAW organizers. In the same year, the poster for the 5th International Israeli Apartheid Week was banned at Carleton University in Ottawa and Trent University in Peterborough.
IAW has also been the object of investigation by the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA), a highly contentious initiative that has been defined by the Canadian Independent Jewish Voices as an "attempt to attack free speech and silence criticism of the Israeli government’s oppressive and illegal policies" and "to label criticism of Israel and its behavior, as well as organized efforts to change them, as anti-Semitic and to criminalize both."
Attempts at shutting down IAW on campuses are in line with growing efforts of the Israeli government to crush the BDS movement. To the present time, this crackdown has primarily targeted Palestinian grassroots activists within the occupied West Bank, including Mohammad Othman Jamal Juma’ from the Stop the Wall Campaign, recently released from prison.
However, a recent report published by the Reut Institute, an Israeli think tank, and presented at the 10th Herzliya Conference in February 2010 identifies a global campaign of "delegitimization" of Israel — which includes the BDS movement and IAW — as one that "is effective, possesses strategic significance, and may develop into a comprehensive existential threat within a few years." As such, it also underlines the need for Israel to engage in a substantial diplomatic counter-effort to sabotage the movement.
While this means that organizers will face increasing obstacles in the coming years, it also testifies to the growing strength of the BDS movement, which has reached fundamental targets in the last year.