By Patrick Mascoe
It’s that time of year again (March 4th – 8th), when our institutions of higher learning take a week out of their busy schedules to collectively confuse the right to free speech with hate speech in order to promote and celebrate anti-Semitism week. Oh, I know it’s officially called Israel Apartheid Week, but really, whatever you choose to call it, it’s nothing short of absurd. Originally started in 2005, by the Arab Student Collective at the University of Toronto, a number of Canadian and American academic institutions have chosen to blindly follow along.
According to the IAW website, the aim of Israel Apartheid Week is to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global movement. Here in North America people have the right to free speech; however, the extremist nature of this event serves not to enlighten the uninformed but rather to promote hatred and intolerance within our university campuses.
Initially, the Toronto Arab Student Collective developed a rudimentary website used specifically to inform its followers of various IAW activities. However, with the growth of the IAW movement a more sophisticated website entitled, the “Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) Movement” soon emerged claiming to represent the Palestinian National Committee.
Canadian historian David Lowenthal has spoken often about the fact that societies regularly invent false information and fabricate heritage. This he tells us should not be confused with history. Interestingly, in the Islamic world the concept of fabrication is known as al-taquiyya and according to Hebrew University professor and author, Raphael Israeli, it is used as a form of jihad to deceive ones’ enemies.
Whether the term is al-taquiyya or fabrication, the BDS website appears to have intentionally misinformed its readers regarding the wording of historical documents. According to the website, one of their main objectives is to have Israel adhere to United Nations Resolution 194. The website phrases that request as follows, “Respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.” In truth, Resolution 194, never uses the word Palestinians but does state that, “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so.”
The majority of countries voting accepted the resolution, but six Arab countries nonetheless rejected it. Israel, who was not yet a member of the United Nations, did not have a vote. This appears to be a substantial omission on the part of the BDS Movement. By ignoring that particular information, and rewording the actual resolution, it appears they have intentionally portrayed Israel as the one who rejected resolution 194.
Another problem with both the BDS and IAW websites is that it limits contact and conceals authorship. Websites of this nature are known as “cloaked websites.” According to City University New York professor Jessie Daniels, these are websites that often have a political agenda that makes it difficult to distinguish fact from propaganda. Daniels states, “Cloaked websites deliberately seek to disguise the racism of the authors and the rhetoric used regularly mimics the language of civil rights in order to deceive.”
Both websites intentionally use the apartheid label to describe the state of Israel because it implies a comparison to the apartheid of South Africa where blacks suffered countless atrocities at the hands of their white oppressors. Is this label accurate or embellished? According to Oxford professor, Brian Klug, such a comparison is “profoundly unjust.” Any comparison between Israel and South Africa is based on a “false” analogy with facts having been intentionally misrepresented so as to present Israel in a negative light.
This might explain why the BDS and IAW organizers seem so selective when using the apartheid stamp. If apartheid means the racial segregation or discrimination of one group over another then why is it that only Israel wears that label? Islamic law breaks society down into two distinct groups, believers and non-believers. Non-believers face suppression of religious beliefs, often cannot hold positions of authority, and have little protection under the law. Legal segregation based on one’s religion is no different than apartheid based on racial segregation. So, if Israel is an apartheid state and we view the rest of the Middle East by the same standards, then why is it that only Israel being labeled?
Herein lies the problem with the BDS website and activities like Israel Apartheid Week; it is hard to establish what purpose is really being served. Is the true goal resolving injustice or is it about disseminating propaganda aimed at university campuses in order to promote intolerance?
Our universities need to be more responsible. They should not be breeding grounds for hatred and violence. Universities need to do more than just protect students’ right to free speech. They also need to protect their right to learn and study in a safe environment, free of intolerance, discrimination, and violence.
Patrick Mascoe is a teacher and graduate student at the University of Ottawa. He completed his thesis at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem examining the relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.