Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
As a college student, I have become jaded to the endless cycle of unofficial “weeks.” We have Kick the Smoking Habit Week, Free Love Week, Save the Oceans Week – a week for every cause under the sun, with concerts, sit-ins, and creative protests for and against everything imaginable.
One of these “weeks” has always managed to scare me. Israel Apartheid Week, held earlier this month, is an international and extremely well organized event. According to its website, Israel apartheid Week is dedicated “to contribut[ing] to this chorus of international opposition to Israeli apartheid and to bolster support for…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 refugees’ right to return to their homes and properties….”
Frankly, my first reaction was sheer amazement. Israel gets an entire week of protest? In Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive, vote or even appear in public without a male escort. In Egypt, child labor is still a fact of life. In Iran, stoning is still practiced as a form of execution. I wondered how much protest time those countries get. A quick Google search revealed the answer I thought I’d get: absolutely none.
As I said, I’m scared. Why? These meetings were held all around in the world. There were events scheduled in venues ranging from Oxford, England, where I spent a happy summer as a visiting student at New College among many Jewish friends, to Norway, where a small community of fewer than 1,500 Jews has experienced several recent instances of harassment.
As a Jew, I see these protests as a direct insult not only to the Jewish state, but to academic freedom itself. As a young person, I have to wonder why my generation has turned so radically against the state of Israel.
Sometimes I wonder if maybe it’s all in my mind. I often ask my less religiously inclined friends if they feel threatened by the anti-Israel vibes going around campus. The response usually is “What anti-Zionism? I don’t see any.” But I can’t possibly be the only one who notices signs that scream “End the Occupation of Iraq and Palestine Now” and “Stop Supporting State-Sponsored Terrorism in Palestine.”
Given the chance, I’d ask the creators of Israel Apartheid Week whether they care about any of Israel’s many positive achievements. If they would rather not take the time to research it, I’d be happy to tell them that Israel is the only country in the region to outlaw “honor killings”; that Israel recognizes fifteen different religions and even allows Arabic to be an official language of the state, on par with Hebrew; that Israel offers legal protection against discrimination and hate crimes regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or political party.
In fact, Israel is a country in which the Supreme Court not only hears the side of Palestinians, but often rules in their favor. I would ask anti-Israel activists if they think they’d get a fair trial in Egypt or Libya.
Are we fighting a losing battle? Even one of my most politically astute friends commented that while it’s a pity more countries aren’t censured for their crimes, “what is going on [in Israel] is apartheid.” After briefly considering the realities of life in apartheid-era South Africa with the current state of affairs in Israel, my friend did budge somewhat, admitting the analogy was imperfect.
My friend’s misperception is precisely why we need a We Support Israel Week. Oh, we have our parade and all, but I want to see our side show the same type of diligence and organization expended by the anti-Israel students.
How about some protests against companies that do business in the Sudan or Darfur? How about women’s groups protesting in front of the UN against countries that allow honor killing? We could even have hip-hop concerts, since that seems to be a major part of the protest schedule.
I’m giving this lecture to myself, since I’m not on campus enough to engage in much advocacy and I could do more when I am. I applaud those on campus who do take a stand and put in their time to speak the truth. This article is hopefully a step in the right direction for me.
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