Over the past couple of years, the annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) in Ottawa has become smaller and less noticeable to the general public. Pro-Israel advocates believe this is because of successful efforts of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations on campus. They’re not wrong. Organizations like Hillel and its Israel Awareness Committee have put together very strong campaigns against IAW and promoted progressive dialogue on Middle Eastern issues to dispel many of the falsehoods put forward during IAW.
Yet the insidious IAW remains an annual occurrence on our campuses. And, when something is repeated often enough, many believe it. That is human nature. False claims, such as Israel is an apartheid state, are repeated over and over again and become planted in the minds of many.
That was the initial victory of the IAW. While we pro-Israel supporters aimed to delegitimize the absurd campaign with facts and counter-arguments, we unknowingly gave the impression that IAW was an idea worth arguing against.
Because the idea of Israeli apartheid has been said enough times, we ourselves have forgotten the ludicrousness of it. We have forgotten our right to be outraged by something so outrageous and, as such, we have been lured seductively to believe parts, albeit subconsciously, of an insidious lie. We have defended against a nonsensical claim of apartheid with cold, collected and rational facts. In some ways, we’ve been successful, but, in others, we have not.
A year ago, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel was rejected at Carleton University. Yet it was debated for weeks and given a platform in front of thousands of students. Pro-Israel students argued against BDS not by attacking the basis of the idea, but by stating the student political realm was not the place for such debates. A blog post by South African student Josh Benjamin on the Times of Israel website (“Reclaiming ridiculousness: The advocate’s guide to Israel Apartheid Week,” March 2) discussed a change of mindset in regard to combatting IAW. Rather than defend against IAW’s false accusations, he suggests going on the offensive and attacking the very foundation of the apartheid accusations.
I believe Benjamin’s proposal has merit. Rather than debating the merits and infringements of the security wall, should we not point towards the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? The security wall has led to the prevention of most terrorist attacks against Israel from the West Bank. Thus, rather than arguing with IAW activists and sympathetic professors about whether they target Israel or Israelis, should we not wonder why these activists imply that Israel should not provide for fundamental human rights, such as security, for its citizens? Are they not guilty of discrimination for implying that Palestinians are more deserving of human rights than Israelis?
Why do we not appeal to emotion and make the situation relatable? Ask them if they would prefer their children to be searched at checkpoints and circumvent a giant concrete wall rather than risk their being blown to pieces by a terrorist’s bomb. Walls and checkpoints were put in place for a reason: to stop such bombings from taking place.
When we debate defensively – instead of attacking the validity of the IAW accusations – we ultimately aid our opponents’ arguments. The concept of Israeli apartheid has morphed from an absurdity to a widely endorsed global campaign. While organizations and pro-Israel advocates in Ottawa have done an admirable job of combatting the insidious nature of IAW, the fact that IAW continues to exist is a problem in itself.
Moving forward a new framework can be created – a framework of fairness and rationality, striving for peace instead of blame. Before that happens, though, pro-Israel advocates and supporters alike must continue to remain on guard against insidious campaigns like IAW and BDS, and remind ourselves that ideas so absurd must remain absurd, no matter how many times they’re repeated.