Israeli Apartheid Week held at 30 UK universities, despite repression

Michael Deas. Reprinted from Electronic Intifada 10 March 2017

Israeli Apartheid Week took place on more than 30 university campuses across the UK last week despite a massive government backed campaign of repression.

Students at the University of Cambridge and five other campuses erected mock apartheid walls during Israeli Apartheid Week.
Students at the University of Cambridge and five other campuses erected mock apartheid walls during Israeli Apartheid Week.

The week saw some events cancelled, with unprecedented and bizarre restrictions imposed on organizers.

Israeli Apartheid Week is an annual series of events that last year took place in more than 225 cities across the world to raise awareness about how Israel meets the UN definition of apartheid and to build support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Thousands of students and academics attended events as part of what was one of the biggest Israeli Apartheid Weeks in the UK to date.

This was doubly impressive given the unprecedented campaign of repression launched against Israeli Apartheid Week by the UK government, universities and the pro-Israel lobby. The campaign came in the context of broader attacks on Palestine organizing in the UK and across the world.

Government interference

On 13 February, UK universities minister Jo Johnson wrote a letter, seen by The Electronic Intifada, titled “Tackling Anti-semitism on campus” to Nicola Dandridge, the head of Universities UK, the representative organization for universities.

Apparently signalling that universities should seek to subject Israeli Apartheid Week events to special scrutiny, Johnson wrote that events which “might take place under the banner of ‘Israel Apartheid’ events” must be “properly handled by higher education institutions to ensure that our values, expectations and laws are not violated.”

Johnson’s letter was passed on to the head of each of the UK’s universities.

South African anti-apartheid activist and academic Farid Esack spokes to more than 170 at an Israeli Apartheid Week event at the University of Sussex. Photo credit Tamara Lasheras
South African anti-apartheid activist and academic Farid Esack spokes to more than 170 at an Israeli Apartheid Week event at the University of Sussex. Tamara Lasheras

British university staff are also being told to “manage” pro-Palestine events on campus as part of the government’s controversial Prevent anti-extremism strategy, Middle East Eye reported.

In addition, pro-Israel organizations lobbied universities directly, urging them to cancel Israeli Apartheid Week events and organized mass letter writing campaigns. According to an email newsletter it sent out, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, a pro-Israel organization, met with several universities to call for the cancellation of events.

Apparently urged on by pro-Israel groups, the Charity Commission, the regulating body for UK charities, sent intimidating emails to student unions at many of the universities where Israeli Apartheid Week was taking place.

Having spoken to different student organizers and student union officers, it is clear the commission asked unions a series of questions about Israeli Apartheid Week. This included insisting that unions reconsider the “suitability of invited speakers” and urging them to take extra measures to ensure that Israeli Apartheid Week events were lawful.

As part of my organizing on Israeli Apartheid Week, I’ve been speaking to members of the Israeli Apartheid Week UK committee and to organizers on campuses across the country. The way in which universities and some student unions reacted to this external pressure were often dangerously repressive and outright bizarre. They included the following:

  • Management at the University of Central Lancashire revoked permission for a speaker panel, forcing organizers to hold the event off campus. Management falsely claimed the event violated the government’s controversial new guidelines on anti-Semitism.
  • At University College London, management forbade a planned street theatre event on the grounds that risk assessment forms had not been filled in on time.
  • At Kings College London, there was a heavy presence of university security officials inside an event and, in a highly unusual move, the speakers were given a lengthy “security briefing.”
  • Student organizers at Leeds were told by their student union that they were not allowed to show any documentary produced by Al-Jazeera or any that featured “emotive music.”
  • The director of the University of Sussex, Adam Tickell, emailed a statement to all students which said, “we will not tolerate intimidation of anyone for their religious or political opinions about the politics of the Middle East” and claimed that “the language” surrounding Israeli Apartheid Week was “deeply upsetting.” Students I talked to believed this was an attempt to intimidate them for their political opinions about the Middle East.
  • Several universities sent official observers to events or organized their own recording of events for monitoring purposes.

Yet despite all this, Israeli Apartheid Week events still took place at more than 30 campuses.

International speakers

US spoken word artist and organizer Aja Monet and South African anti-apartheid veteran and academic Farid Esack spoke to hundreds of people at events at Kings College London, the University of Manchester and the University of Sussex.

More than 170 people heard from US spoken word artist and organiser Aja Monet at an Israeli Apartheid Week event at the University of Sussex.
More than 170 people heard from US spoken word artist and organiser Aja Monet at an Israeli Apartheid Week event at the University of Sussex. Photo credit Tamara Lasheras

Monet also performed at a packed out cultural event in London alongside Palestinian spoken word artist and organizer Rafeef Ziadah and Moroccan band N3rdistan.

Abed Salayma from Hebron-based group Youth Against Settlements spoke out against Israeli apartheid at Portsmouth, University College London, Goldsmiths, Brunel and several Scottish universities.

At the University of Oxford, talks were given by Palme d’Or winning director Ken Loach and Professor Avi Shlaim.

The Israel lobby had clearly set its sights on the complete cancellation of Israeli Apartheid Week in the UK.

Indeed, the Board of Deputies of British Jews sent out an email claiming credit for some of the cancellations of events and other repressive measures enacted by universities.

The fact that inspiring, impressive and well attended events still took place across the country is down to the way in which students, as well as many student unions, stood up to university management and firmly pushed back against the repression.

Organising against repression

Explaining how Israel meets the UN definition of apartheid and that Palestinians are entitled to the same human rights as everyone else is part of a global anti-racist struggle – despite whatever the Israel lobby claims.

It’s also significant that academics across the country wrote emails to management and brought up concerns about repression in their departmental meetings. More than 250 academics signed an open letter published in The Guardian denouncing the campaign of repression.

Prominent anti-Palestinian activist David Collier appeared disappointed that the campaign of repression largely failed, writing “despite one or two cancellations, the government, the university, and elements of our own leadership are letting us down.”

It’s clear that attempts to repress Palestine solidarity organizing won’t stop students standing up for Palestinian rights.

In a statement, the Israeli Apartheid Week UK organizing committee said that although the restrictions “created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation on university campuses” attempts to silence the Palestine solidarity movement would fail.

“Freedom of expression is at stake here not only for campaigning around Palestinian rights, but social justice campaigning more broadly,” the committee said. “The attacks on Palestine campaigning must be situated within today’s overall current political context which facilitates discrimination towards marginalised groups.”

The committee insisted that “no amount of external meddling to shut down or censor IAW events will work – we will continue to uphold the right to campaign on university campuses and advocate for justice and freedom.”

See also Government and Zionists combine to disrupt Israeli Apartheid Week

‘BDS is a terrorist movement’ – exposing David Collier

Jonathan Ofir
Reprinted from Mondoweiss by permission of the author

British blogger David Collier recently boasted in an op-ed posted on the religious-nationalist outlet Israel National News:

“I have just concluded an in-depth investigation into anti-Semitism inside the [UK, ed.] Palestine Solidarity Campaign that has spanned months but drew on several years of underlying research.”

Sounds quite ominous. The Times of Israel also picked up the news immediately.

Continue reading “‘BDS is a terrorist movement’ – exposing David Collier”

Government and Zionists combine to disrupt Israeli Apartheid Week

Mike Cushman

Zionists on and off UK campuses have repeated their annual attempts to disrupt student organised events in Israeli Apartheid Week. This year they have been encouraged by Government Minister Jo Johnson who wrote to the Universities’ coordinating body, UUK, to say

I am sure you share my concerns about the rising reports of anti-Semitic incidents in this country and will want to make sure that your own institution is a welcoming environment for all students and that the legal position and guidelines are universally understood and acted upon at all times. This will include events such as those that might take place under the banner of ‘Israel Apartheid’ events for instance. Such events need to be properly handled by higher education institutions to ensure that our values, expectations and laws are not violated.

The leaders of most universities ignored this attack on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom and did not interfere with their students’ right to express their support for Human Rights. A few, however, decided to forget their duty in their rush to placate the Government and to succumb to Zionist threats. IAW events took place on most campuses and the campaign against drawing attention to Israel’s crimes only succeeded in causing many students to ask what Israel’s defenders were so keen to keep hidden.

Continue reading “Government and Zionists combine to disrupt Israeli Apartheid Week”

Campaign Against Antisemitism? Oh no it doesn’t!

The late Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, vilified by the pro-Israel Campaign Against Antisemitism for his support for Palestine. One of many reasons why the CAA’s charitable status should be revoked.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi.

Campaign Against Antisemitism? Oh no it doesn’t!

The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) is an intensely Zionist group created at the height of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014, with the specific goal of demonising Israel’s critics. It poses as a charity protecting Jews against rampant antisemitism. In fact it concentrates on belligerently attacking supporters of justice for Palestine who draw attention to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.

This is why Free Speech on Israel supports the petition challenging the CAA’s charitable status launched by activist Tony Greenstein. The CAA’s characteristic response has been to make a failed bid to force the online petition site change.org to take down Greenstein’s petition.

Continue reading “Campaign Against Antisemitism? Oh no it doesn’t!”

FSOI supports Malaka Shwaikh

FSOI has written to Malaka Shwaikh to express our support for her in the face of the harassment and threats she has been subject to.
Malaka Shwaikh

Malaka Shwaikh (Photo credit: Jeremy Abrahams)

I am writing on behalf of Free Speech on Israel to offer you our solidarity and support. FSOI is a Jewish led group set up a year ago to counter the false allegations of antisemitism being brought against Labour Party and NUS activists.

We view the malicious attacks on you as deeply unfair and deplorable but sadly not surprising. It seems Zionists and apologists for Israel’s crimes get particularly virulent when a Muslim women challenges their air of superiority. Like in many other cases you are being attacked for words ripped from their context and maliciously selected.

We see nothing antisemitic in any of your words or actions that have been reported. The reports in the Daily Mail reflect the typical level of distortion and abuse we expect from that newspaper.

We regret the lack of support you have received from Exeter University management which is total failure in their duty of care towards a member of the university.

I attach a copy of our latest leaflet which explains the deficiencies in the IHRA definition of antisemitism which has been adopted by the Government which has encouraged all Universities to adopt it in order to suppress support for Palestinian rights and criticism of Israel.

Please let us know if there are any practical steps we can take to support you.

Dear Rabbi Sacks – stop your lies about BDS

by Robert Cohen
Republished from Writing from the Edge by permission of the author

Dear Jonathan Sacks

Stop telling lies about BDS

Your video animation, designed to make the moral and political case against this year’s Israel Apartheid Weeks on campuses around the world, is a skilful piece of deceit that needs urgent challenge from all who support human rights.

I’ve always admired your writing on Judaism and I recommend your books to others. Except where you talk about Israel, at which point you appear to abandon your learning and your ethical values.

You’re hardly the only rabbi who does this. But most of them don’t have your worldwide reputation, status and audience. When you say something on an important topic like boycotts many will be listening and they will take your position to be the authentic, intelligent and trustworthy voice of Judaism.

That’s exactly why it’s so important to challenge the deliberate distortions and misrepresentations you’re making. Continue reading “Dear Rabbi Sacks – stop your lies about BDS”

“Are you kidding, Apartheid has been here for ages. Ages”

Mike Cushman

In the UK the Government wants to outlaw statements like “Are you kidding, Apartheid has been here for ages. Ages” as antisemitic. In Israel they were part of  Assaf Harel’s appeal to his fellow Israelis to wake up and realise the sort of society they are living in and endorse before it is too late.

This was Harel’s desperate final call as his show has now been cancelled.

In the video Harel demands that his fellow citizens compare their comfortable lifestyle, despite soaring prices and corrupt politicians, with the lives of Palestinians. He points out the daily reality of land thefts; soldiers shooting stone throwing children; administrative detention [without trial] of journalists; and so on. He despairs of Israelis’ collective ability to ignore what is happening a few kilometres away and willingness to dismiss the few brave voices who point this out as ‘left-wing extremists’. Left-wing ‘extremists’ who speak truth to power are equated in the public imagination to right-wing extremists who murder and burn people alive and are praised and protected by ruling politicians.

Read more in Ha’aretz

Academics expose threat to freedom of speech on Israel and Palestine

Jo Johnson MP, Minister for Universities
Jo Johnson MP, Minister for Universities, suggested they seek to ban Israel Apartheid Week

‘People can and do have a range of views on this flashpoint in the Middle East. Yet there should surely be no two views about the importance of defending the right to free expression in our institutions.’                       Tom Hickey, University of Brighton

On February 27, a letter appeared in the Guardian signed by 243 academics condemning “outrageous interferences with free expression” and “direct attacks on academic freedom” resulting from attempts “to silence campus discussion about Israel, including its violation of the rights of Palestinians for more than 50 years.”

The letter attributed these developments to adoption by the UK government of “the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism” which is being interpreted as meaning that criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights is prima facie evidence of antisemitism.

New names are pouring in to be added to the list of signatories to the academics’ letter. If you would like to join them please read the statement below. The full text of the letter follows.

Continue reading “Academics expose threat to freedom of speech on Israel and Palestine”