Jewish Students Respond to Israel Apartheid Week
As campuses are flooded with anti-Israel events, Jewish organizations on campus are planning programs that outline the ‘other side of Israel’.
The 6th Israel Apartheid Week started on Monday in campuses across Canada and around the world. Once again Jewish students will have to face anti-Israel propaganda as they walk to and from classes on campuses.
Noah Kochman, chair of Political Affairs and Advocacy at the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students, told Shalom Life that it is imperative that Jewish students come together against Israel Apartheid Week: “One thing that’s important for us as Jewish students on campus is to speak out against these types of initiatives, which not only demonize Israel but seek to destroy what the university environment is all about and what Canadian academic discourse is all about. Our responsibility it not only to combat IAW but to grab hold of the opportunity to educate students not only on prospects for peace or on our hopes to support movements towards the peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but also to help others discover the Israeli people. Just like we wouldn’t want to have Canadians be defined by the war in Afghanistan or Americans to be defined by the war in Iraq, we don’t want Israelis to be defined by the Arab-Israeli conflict and we think that IAW not only doesn’t speak to deal with prospects for peace, it doesn’t even speak to deal with the major impediments to Palestinian human rights rather, it speaks to end academic discourse on campus. It’s definitely counter to the Canadian values that we hold dear when it comes to academic discourse on campus.”
According to Kochman, there is a high number of non-Jewish students who need to be educated on Israel: “We’re dealing with an audience of over 80 percent of students on campuses who haven’t made up their minds about Israel and who don’t know enough about Israel to make up their mind. That’s over three quarters of the students on a given campus.”
In order to respond to the events of Israel Apartheid Week, the Jewish organizations on campuses have come up with programs of their own which present Israel from many different points of view and are geared to both Jewish as well as non-Jewish students. All three Toronto universities - York, U of T and Ryerson - will be hosting programs this week, but as Hillel @ York president Matan Hazanov emphasized, programming takes place throughout the year: “The fact that we have a higher volume of programs during Israel Apartheid Week may be a direct result of IAW but we’re strong all year round. Our community expects us and rightfully so to be more present on campus during this week but in reality we’re constantly organizing programs and doing advocacy throughout the entire year.”
York students have already begun to table as of last week in what was called Israel Product Week, which was meant to show the many different sides of Israel. Hazanov said that the programs have attracted more non-Jewish students who are not necessarily interested in politics: “We got an entirely different group of students coming out to our tables who are more interested in medical developments or innovations. We showed them what Israel is doing and we got tremendous feedback.” However, the events at York will not ignore the political situation. “We’re not shying away from the conflict and we have several speakers and programs that tackle the conflict directly. It’s an issue which has to be addressed,” said Hazanov.
The situation for Jewish students at York University has not been easy. “Every time you walk around the campus you’re faced with an Israel Apartheid wall, and it’s uncomfortable because you know the truth and you know that there’s 90 percent of students that don’t know what that means and they’re being fed misinformation,” said Nathaly Schneider, a York University student who is involved with programs advocating for Israel. “It makes me very nervous for all the students that go to York and are misled.”
In order to respond to events such as the ones during Israel Apartheid Week, Schneider and her friend Tali Spektor have come up with Parallels for Peace, an initiative meant to cease the negative attention on campus while educating and informing about Israel. Schneider and Spektor have teamed up with groups such as Hillel @ York, CUFI (Christians United for Israel), Stand with Us and Aish Campus, and they work together to achieve their goals. One of the programs they will be running this week is called Peacemaker, which is an online game that can be played from the perspective of a Palestinian or an Israeli trying to achieve peace. The game will be available at York’s Vari Hall for students to play.