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Israeli Apartheid Week

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Israeli Apartheid Week 2009 poster

Poster for the 2009 Israeli Apartheid Week, artwork by Latuff

Israeli Apartheid Week is an annual series of university lectures and rallies held in March which has stirred significant controversy[1]. It began in Toronto in 2005 and, by 2009, spread to 40 cities around the world including locations in Canada, England, the United States, South Africa, the West Bank, Mexico, Scotland and Norway.[2][3][4][5]


The aim of the week was officially said to be a contribution "to this chorus of international opposition to Israeli apartheid and to bolster support for the boycotts, divestments and sanctions campaign in accordance with the demands outlined in the July 2005 Statement: full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, an end to the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands – including the Golan Heights, the Occupied West Bank with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – and dismantling the Wall, and the protection of Palestinian refugeesright to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in U.N. resolution 194."[6]

The term "apartheid", while historically associated with South Africa, is a legal term under international law as defined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid[7]. It is included in the list of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.


Officially the organizers said the week has "played an important role in raising awareness and disseminating information about Zionism, the Palestinian liberation struggle and its similarities with the indigenous sovereignty struggle in North America and the South African anti-Apartheid movement." An international divestment campaign was also said to have gained momentum in response to the 2005 statement by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations who called for boycotts, divestments and sanctions. They also claimed that important gains had been made in the campaign in countries like South Africa, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.

The years preceding 2008, a significant year in that it marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel, had seen a sharp increase of literature and analysis that was said to have sought to document and challenge alleged Israeli apartheid, including reports issued by major international bodies and human rights organizations and findings published by political leaders, thinkers, academics, and activists. The efforts were also said to have highlighted the role that people and governments across the world could play in providing "solidarity with the Palestinian struggle by exerting urgent pressure on Israel to alter its current structure and practices as an apartheid state."[6]

Opponents of Israeli Apartheid Week argue that it has fomented an upsurge of anti-Zionism on Canadian and American campuses. Some have also labelled the event as anti-Semitic, although this charge is rejected by supporters.[8][9][10] [11]


According to the organizers prominent Palestinians, Jewish anti-Zionists, and South Africans had been at the "forefront of this struggle."[6]

"Israel Apartheid Week's" have generally comprised several events including lectures, informational booths, cultural events, film screenings and demonstrations held at the various North American and European campuses hosting the event.[12]

Previous locations

Amongst cities of the world to have hosted a previous event of the Week are: Oxford University, Oxford[13]; New York City[14]; University of Toronto[15] and University of Ottawa, Canada[16]; Montreal, Hamilton, London, Cambridge[17], and Soweto, South Africa, amongst others.

In 2009, locations include Abu Dis, Berkeley, Boston College, Emory University, Bir Zeit, Edinburgh, Edmonton, Johannesburg, Oxford, Kalkilya, San Francisco, Soweto, Tulkarm and Washington, DC. Speakers have included Balad MK Jamal Zahalka in 2007 and former MK Azmi Bishara, also of Balad, who began Israeli Apartheid Week 2008 with a live broadcast from Soweto.[3]

4th Annual conference

The 4th Annual Israeli Apartheid Week 2008 was officially launched on February 3, 2008 in Soweto, South Africa as former member of the Israeli Knesset" Azmi Bishara, currently a fugitive[18], gave a lecture on the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba. The conference continued till the 19th of the same month.[19]

Views on the conference and its activities


While academic institutions hosted the events, amidst controversy and debate[20], other speakers at the various meetings around the world supported the goals of the Week. An Arab citizen of Israel and Member of the Knesset, Jamal Zahalka, spoke in Montréal in 2007. He said: "Calling the occupation apartheid isn’t an overstatement, it’s an understatement. The Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are worse than apartheid.[12]

In response to rhetorical attacks and institutional measures directed at Israeli Apartheid Week 2009 in Canada, Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel[21] and a prominent speaker at the events, stated that equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism would be analogous to equating criticism of Saudi Arabia with Islamophobia, and labelled such accusations as "hypocrisy". He noted the role of Canadian Jewish citizens amongst the organizers of the event, while remarking: "Who says Israel equals Jews? Making this equation is itself anti-Semitic [...], since saying that attacking Israel is the same as attacking Jews assumes that Jews all over the world assume full responsibility for every crime and violation of international law committed by Israel."[22]

Reaction by university administration

The University of Toronto president, David Naylor, said of the week featuring the events "this isn’t [my] favourite time of year." However, Dr. Naylor responded to objections from the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, in signing a statement that declared, "We do, in fact, recognize that the term Israeli Apartheid is upsetting to many people, [but] we also recognize that, in every society, universities have a unique role to provide a safe venue for highly charged discourse."[15]


Canadian MP Michael Ignatieff condemned IAW as a form of "demonization" of Israeli and Jewish students, causing them to "fear for their safety" on campus. He went on to say that IAW "should be condemned by all who value civil and respectful debate about the tragic conflict in the Middle East." [23]

The Institute for Global Jewish Affairs describes Israel Apartheid week as example of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism. [24] A representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center described it as an event that "promotes anti-Semitism on Canadian university campuses." [25]

Orna Hollander of Betar Canada called for supporters of Israel to stand up to the event telling the Canadian Jewish News that, "The strategy has been … from an organized community end, to not lend credibility, to be quiet about it, not bring press around it … Four years later, I think we definitely learned that we can keep our heads in the sand, but it’s going to go on with or without us. [IAW organizers] very much control the PR and rhetoric on campus, and its time to stand up and take responsibility.” [5]

In 2008, pro-Israel activists countered the event with "Islamic State Apartheid Week" organized by the Hasbara Fellowships and endorsed by Betar.[5].

Organizers of the counterprotest stated that they "want to remove the connection that modern-day students have to the word apartheid and Israel and refocus it to the countries that we think really exemplify the definition of apartheid, being a policy of separation and segregation. Through a week which encompasses the themes of gender, sexual and political apartheid, we hope to get out a new message."[5]

Israel's ambassador to Canada, Alan Baker, denounced Israeli Apartheid Week as "crude propagandism, pure hypocrisy and cynical manipulation of the student body."[26]

In 2007, the event spread to New York University, Columbia University and Hunter College in New York City.[27] The David Project, organized meetings the same week in opposition to the characterization of Israel as an apartheid state, and the American Jewish Committee Koppelman Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations denounced the apartheid week saying "the specter of apartheid should not be raised in any form."[27]


  1. Israel Apartheid Week stirs controversy, By BRETT CLARKSON, SUN MEDIA, 4th March 2009 [1]
  2. Campuses awash in tension over Israel apartheid week", National Post, March 2, 2009
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Israeli Apartheid Week 2009 may be coming to a campus near you", Jerusalem Post, January 29, 2009
  4. How did the most humane state in history become demonized? - Opinion
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 The Canadian Jewish News - Israel Apartheid Week gains momentum
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2
  8. 5th Israel Apartheid Week bigger than ever, Mar. 11, 2009, ELAN LUBLINER , THE JERUSALEM POST [2]
  9. IGNATIEFF CONDEMNS ISRAEL APARTHEID WEEK, By Michael Ignatieff, National Post, March 5, 2009, [3]
  10. Another Year of Global Academic Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism, by Manfred Gerstenfeld No. 73, 2 October 2008 [4]
  11. Israel Apartheid Week stirs controversy, By BRETT CLARKSON, SUN MEDIA, 4th March 2009 [5]
  12. 12.0 12.1,7340,L-3362888,00.html
  15. 15.0 15.1
  18. Fugitive Israeli Arab lawmaker suspected of 'aiding enemies'
  22. University of Ottawa, 2009
  23. IGNATIEFF CONDEMNS ISRAEL APARTHEID WEEK, By Michael Ignatieff, National Post, March 5, 2009, [6]
  24. Another Year of Global Academic Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism, by Manfred Gerstenfeld No. 73, 2 October 2008 [7]
  25. Israel Apartheid Week stirs controversy, By BRETT CLARKSON, SUN MEDIA, 4th March 2009 [8]
  26. Israeli ambassador condemns students for 'celebration of ignorance'
  27. 27.0 27.1 ‘Israel Apartheid Week' Begins, Reigniting Carter-Led Debate - February 13, 2007 - The New York Sun

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