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'Israel Apartheid Weak'? - Anti-Zionist crusade barks but doesn't bite

Mar 22, 2011

By Adam Kredo, The Washington Jewish Week

The annual anti-Zionist exercise known as Israeli Apartheid Week made its appearance at several local universities last week, but pro-Israel campus activists report that this year's version of the event was all bark and no bite.

Part of an international movement to portray the Jewish state as a serial violater of Palestinian human rights, Israeli Apartheid Week, or IAW, encourages students across the globe to stage attention-grabbing spectacles, such as erecting mock security checkpoints and separation walls. Now in its seventh year, IAW has gained major traction on campuses across the U.S., particularly on the West Coast, where virulently anti-Israel displays have sparked clashes between student groups on opposing sides of the issue. Campuses in this area, however, have managed to avoid some of the worst that IAW has to offer, according to pro-Israel campus officials.

Students reported that although there was a slight uptick in IAW activity this year, the events were neither well promoted nor well attended.

At George Washington University, for instance, Jamie Albert spotted "a total of three signs," all promoting panel discussions that appeared to be highly critical of Israel - but nothing more inflammatory than that. "I'm sure at other schools it's big and bad and scary, and we were preparing for the worst," added Albert, 21, a member of the Student Alliance for Israel.

Despite the relatively restrained level of Israel bashing at GWU, Albert said it was still "upsetting" to see the Jewish state unfairly maligned.

Of the two still-disturbing events that Albert saw advertised, one featured political scientist Nadia Daar, a co-founder of IAW. Her March 3 talk, which was organized and sponsored by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), focused on "how Israel creates an apartheid state," according to a poster promoting the event. Another SJP-sponsored panel discussion the following day highlighted the "economic impact of the occupation."

Ari Hoffman, 20, president of GWU Acting Politically for Israel, was delighted to see that IAW events were generally met with apathy by students.

"I love it. It's wonderful," Hoffman exclaimed. "If they want to waste their money bringing in speakers nobody will attend, I love it. It only serves the pro-Israel movement." At the University of Maryland, College Park, IAW came and went "almost unnoticed," said Dan Ensign, co-president of Terrapin Students for Israel. Three IAW events were promoted at U.Md., but only one of them, a film screening about Israel's "occupation," was actually held on campus. "It really wasn't a big event for something you think would be huge," said Ensign, 20. "Other than the initial announcements of the events, there was no coverage of it."

Due to the timing of spring break, other area universities have yet to host IAW, including American University in the District, which is currently gearing up for the annual confrontation.

According to a Facebook page set-up to promote IAW at A.U., the SJP will host four pro-Palestine events from March 21 to 24. There will be a book drive for children in Gaza, for example, as well as a screening of the documentary Bi'lin Habibti, which depicts activists protesting "against the Israeli apartheid wall in the West Bank," according to SJP's literature.

Pro-Israel activist [and Hasbara Fellow] Helena Bondar, 19, says she isn't overly concerned about the upcoming events at A.U. Last year, noted Bondar, a member of the A.U. Students for Israel, participation in IAW events was minimal, and she expects that to be the case this year. "We're almost fortunate that we don't have to deal with a lot."

In April, A.U.'s pro-Israel groups will host "peace week," though students and officials don't bill it as a direct response to campus efforts to delegitimize Israel. While IAW hasn't made a huge splash locally, the increase in anti-Israel activities nevertheless constitutes a disturbing trend, according to pro-Israel activists. "Even though on an individual basis they're not causing a lot of noise, in the last year we're seeing a lot more of them," explained Abram Shanedling, Regional Campus Director of the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest for Hasbara Fellowships, a pro-Israel resource group. "That's what we're worrying about."

To help students combat IAW, groups such as NGO Monitor have distributed materials purporting to expose the movement's anti-Israel roots. One booklet, the "BDS Sewer System," which NGO-Monitor sent to U.Md., as well as other campuses across the nation, depicts what it says are the "connecting network of pipes between funders, NGOs, and tactics that sustain the BDS movement."

Resources such as the NGO booklet, the groups maintain, will help pro-Israel groups contend with IAW.

This article from March 16, 2011 can be found here.

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