Letter to the editor: Regarding IAW

The Laurentian University Jewish Students Association strongly condemns Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) and the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on our campus and as a whole. Though IAW’s stated intent is to advocate for Palestinian human rights, their actions serve to demonize and delegitimize Israel.

First and foremost, the idea that Israel is an “apartheid state” is not grounded in reality. In Apartheid South Africa, South African citizens of colour were completely – excluded from the civil services afforded to whites by South African laws. Those marginalized did not have access to the same medical care, could not attend the same schools, visit the same beaches, or even use the same public restrooms. Needless to say, they also could not vote or run for public office.

Israel is a modern democracy that, under its Basic Laws, affords equal rights to all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, et cetera. This includes Arab Israelis, who possess the exact same rights and privileges as Jewish Israelis. There is no legal distinction between the two. Arab Israelis can vote, can run for government, and are elected to the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), serve in the judiciary and on the Supreme Court, and participate in all aspects of public life. Since the state’s inception, Israeli Arab women have had full civil liberties in Israel, in contrast to some Arab countries, where women cannot legally vote, cannot run for public office, and, in at least one case, cannot even travel without male accompaniment.

The people living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are not citizens of Israel and have their own elected governments. As such, the comparison of modern-day Israel to Apartheid-era South Africa lacks integrity – it either ignores what Israel is today, what South Africa was then, or perhaps both.
Beyond its factual ignorance, IAW further outrages us for its insincerity. Norman Finkelstein, a prominent critic of Israel, berated the BDS movement for its “disingenuousness”, saying its leaders “think they’re being very clever” for their “three-tier plan” which includes “the end of the occupation…the right of return…and equal rights for [Palestinians] in Israel”, knowing full-well that “the result of implementing all three is…no Israel”.

Society cannot afford to accept that goal. Rather, we must strive for the peace that Israel has pursued endlessly for decades, and continues to do so.
Israel has twice attempted to help establish a Palestinian state, once in 2000 and again in 2008. In August 2005, Israel enacted a unilateral withdrawal plan from Gaza. Since January 24, 2009, there are no Israeli settlements or soldiers in Gaza. In 2006, Palestinians had the opportunity to elect a democratic government that would strive for peace with their neighbours; instead, they elected Hamas (which Canada and other democratic nations consider a terrorist organization), who immediately targeted rival Palestinian political party Fatah, and began encouraging other groups to carry out attacks against Israel.

IAW and the BDS movement are an impediment to real peace and meaningful dialogue. Their fight to delegitimize Israel precludes discussion, serving only to further divide the two sides and promote the agenda of the few. The Legislative Assembly of Ontario unanimously condemned IAW, and at the national level, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, and the NDP have all denounced it.

IAW’s efforts are not progressive, but are based on a dangerously distorted reality. Even as Zionists, we would never call Israel perfect. We believe that, like any nation, Israel does need to be held accountable. Accountability and progress is best made through diplomacy, not rhetoric. As a society, and as inquisitive students who deserve more than propaganda, we must do better than Israel Apartheid Week.

Signed, Sidney Shapiro, LUJSA President Kirk Unger, LUJSA VP Jordan Feldberg, LUJSA VP Emily Caruso Parnell, President, Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Dr. Jacques Abourih, Associate Professor, Northern Ontario School of Medicine Dr Sheldon Tobe, Full Professor, Northern Ontario School of Medicine Dr. Marion Briggs, Associate Professor, Northern Ontario School of Medicine Dr. Carita Lannér, Associate Professor, Northern Ontario School of Medicine