The Conspiracy

Disorganization, lack of information characterize run up to annual event [Israeli Apartheid Week]

Israeli Apartheid Week begins on Sunday and runs through Saturday, March 3. New Voices writers will be covering it all week on several campuses. If you know of  IAW events — or its counterpart, Israel Peace Week — on your campus, let us know by emailing Dafna Fine at dafna@newvoices.org.

The trailer below is from the documentary “Budrus,” which will be screened at American University this week as part of IAW:

Israeli Apartheid Week is only four days away, but it’s easy to miss.

“In the past, this has been a time for hardline pro-Palestinians and hardline pro-Israelis to rumble, counter-accuse, hurl half-truths and, often as not, scrum to an ineffectual draw,” Bradley Burston wrote in his Haaretz column on Wednesday. “Not this year. This year there’s something distinctly unfamiliar in the air. People have begun telling the truth about BDS,” wrote Burston, who explained that BDS (the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel) hides the fact that it believes in eliminating Israel.

Yet it’s hard to predict what this year will bring without knowing what the BDS supporters behind IAW have planned. There are sparse Facebook events for a smattering of campuses, but it’s impossible to find a comprehensive schedule or calendar of events. Missing from the IAW website is a list of participating universities for 2012. The website mostly lists plans for 2011 and as late as four days before the start of IAW, instructed readers to check back for 2012 plans. IAW starts on Sunday and runs through next Saturday, March 3.

IAW organizers have been extremely hard to reach. A group at Portland State University told a New Voices writer who is a student a there they were unwilling to give him any information.

Among the few campus schedules that have gone out, Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine announced keynote speaker Ali Abunimah, a prominent figure of in the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. Abunimah will speak at Brown University the following day as well. American University plans include a discussion on the Israeli apartheid analogy, a screening of the documentary “Budrus” (trailer embedded above) and an appearance by guest poet and human rights activist Remi Kanazi.

As a form of opposition to IAW, there is also Israel Peace Week. Peace Week is organized by the Hasbara Fellowship (a program run by Aish, the right-wing Orthodox outreach organization) and CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) fellows at universities across the country at the same time as IAW.

“Many of our students have been writing articles about Israeli Apartheid Week and exposing it for the bigoted and often anti-Semitic campaign that it really is,” CAMERA Campus Associate Samantha Mandele said.

“Students are bringing in speakers and lecturers to talk about how to combat the BDS movement, how to combat the metaphor of Israeli apartheid and a lot of our students are working hard to organize their own Israel Peace Weeks with workshops and music and speakers and food,” Mandele said. In addition, CAMERA launched a website designed to help students combat IAW.

Other organizations, including the David Project, have chosen to take a different approach this year in response to IAW. “We’ve realized that giving BDS and Israeli Apartheid Week a megaphone by providing publicity they wouldn’t have had on their own is not in our best interest,” David Project Executive Director David Bernstein said in a recent interview with New Voices earlier this week. “Our strategy has changed and shifted as we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work on campus.”

The David Project, long known for its use of aggressive tactics on college campuses, surprised many in the pro-Israel community with a recent “white paper,” which details a new diplomatic strategy. Bernstein said that many pro-Israel organizations are on board with the new strategy. However, he said, “There are some organizations — and I’m not gonna name them here — which try to directly take on the detractors. We think that’s a big mistake and it only serves to amplify their voices.”

Yesterday, J Street and J Street U released a joint statement that began, “As in past years, J Street and J Street U are dismayed and troubled by the counterproductive rhetoric ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ (IAW) brings to campuses across North America.” In response to IAW, J Street U at the University of California, Los Angeles is holding two events, including guest speakers Uri Zaki of B’Tselem USA and Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now.

A group within UCLA Hillel will also spend next week promoting Save a Child’s Heart, an Israeli-based international humanitarian project, which helps children from developing countries. “The goal [is] to show that we are focusing on the support of human rights,” Hillel spokesman Ronen Weiss said. “We want to focus on the positive and not the negative.”

While the pro-Israel organizations are ready to retaliate next week, it’s no clear what exactly they’ll be retaliating against. A comprehensive and public schedule would be a good place to start.

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