The thirteenth annual Israeli Apartheid Week was held at the end of February this year. This is a co-ordinated, international series of events designed to raise awareness of what many deem to be an apartheid regime operated by Israel in the West Bank. Indeed, many might go so far as to refer to it as “settler colonialism”.
The campaign focuses on the west bank, an area with a hundred-year-long history of occupation, but also the area that is the centre of efforts to build a Palestinian state, efforts that are recognised by 70% of the United Nations member states who voted to officially recognise Palestine as a state in 2013. However, much of the West Bank is under Israeli control, despite the fact that most of the population of the West Bank are Palestinian. Only pockets are under the control of the Palestinian National Authority.
There are a number of Israeli settlements in the West Bank that are all approved and protected by the state of Israel. There is a general consensus (especially among academics) that these settlements are illegal under international law. Yet the Israeli government continues to approve them whilst accusing the UN and any critics of being biased against Israel.
Moreover, in a report released on the 16th March 2017, the UN accused Israel of operating an apartheid regime in the West Bank. This is because Palestinians in the West Bank live under military law whilst settlers are given privileges. This discrimination is the very trademark of an apartheid regime.
In a mark of the disregard the Israeli government have for international law, at the end of January this year they announced that they had approved the construction of 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank. To many people this is probably not new or surprising information, but it is necessary that the context of Israeli Apartheid Week is understood, particularly given the attempts to censor criticism of Israel.
Many political groups at UK universities decided to engage in the week of campaigning against this apartheid regime, only to be censored by their respective Universities.
Groups at various universities, including UCL and the University of Exeter, had their events cancelled, often with the only justification for this being ‘security and safety fears’, which may refer to fears of violence towards specific communities.
The accusation most often levelled at groups who organise such events is that they are promoting anti-Semitism through their criticism of Israel (or even just Israeli settlements). This accusation has no actual grounding in reality. Most people with a shred of intelligence are able to distinguish legitimate criticism of a state and its oppressive policies from hatred towards a particular ethnic or religious group.
It is also important to consider that criticism of what even the UN has referred to as an ‘apartheid regime’ in the West Bank is not itself necessarily anti-Israel let alone anti-Semitic. Many politicians and academics who advocate for a two-state solution, such as John Kerry – who in December 2016 gave a long-overdue speech in which he criticised the construction of settlements – have publicly expressed opposition to the construction of settlements in the West Bank.
“Anti-Semitism is being used as an excuse by some to bully Universities into restricting the free speech of student groups.”
Coming from someone from a Jewish family, anti-Semitism is a deeply serious accusation. The entire Jewish community lives with the collective cultural memory of the Holocaust, which was caused by wide-spread and normalised anti-Semitism and racism. However, anti-Semitism is being used as an excuse by some to bully Universities into restricting the free speech of student groups.
In addition to this, the free-speech brigade who seem to constantly complain about what they deem to be attacks on freedoms of speech and the “safe-space culture” at Universities stay mysteriously silent in this situation, one where free speech is being directly attacked. It’s almost as if they only care about freedom of speech when it applies to voicing their own opinions.
Anti-Semitism must be taken incredibly seriously, but it must not be used as an excuse to bully groups into cancelling events when they are not promoting anti-Semitism in any way, but rather engaging in legitimate criticism of the actions of the Israeli state.
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