“Israel – Worse Than Apartheid?” was written on the whiteboard of an American University classroom yesterday during a “Discussion on the Israeli Apartheid Analogy,” part of AU Students for Justice in Palestine’s roster of events for Israel Apartheid Week.
Being an SJP-organized event, opinions in the room tended to be favorable toward the pro-apartheid analogy preference, the clear exception being one Schuyler Polin, an Israeli-American, who will serve in the Israeli Defense Forces when he graduates from AU.
The event started off rather amicably, but tensions did rise between Polin and the rest of the group as they discussed the validity of the apartheid analogy, Israeli identity cards, the wall separating Israel proper from the territories, racism, the future identity of Israel and more.
Right from the start, Polin argued that the apartheid analogy was dangerous, saying, “This is no longer focused on ending the occupation but the deconstruction of Israel. That’s exactly what it’s calling for.”
Polin argued that the apartheid analogy depended on the right of return. If all Palestinians were allowed to return to their previous homes in Israel proper, Israel would no longer be a Jewish state.
Members of SJP disagreed, instead saying that Israel could not continue to be a democracy while also remaining Jewish. The two identities together were an “oxymoron,” as AU student Damian Fontanez said. Students argued that Israel’s identity would have to change for the sake of human rights. After all, South Africa was still South Africa after the end of apartheid, said Sammi Abdul-Ghani Al-Iryani, who is from Yemen.
“When you talk about apartheid, you’re talking about the lived reality of Palestinians on a day-to-day basis,” Al-Iryani said.
Noora Said, a Palestinian and a student at AU, echoed those concerns, saying she has had to live with the wall while living in the West Bank.
Students also focused on discussion of the difference between social apartheid and legal apartheid. While students were in agreement that Arab Israelis (which SJP member Emily Floyd described as “an offensive term”) faced racism in Israel, students couldn’t reach an agreement on whether Israeli policy discriminated against non-Jews.
Students for Justice in Palestine will continue to hold Israel Apartheid Week events over the next few days.