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Israel Apartheid Week’s keynote address

Ali Abunimah speaks to the validity of Israeli apartheid

On Wednesday night Ali Abunimah, executive director of the website and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, discussed why he believed Israel to be an apartheid state and how the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel would be an effective tool for changing the status quo for the Palestinian people.

Abunimah spoke in the Bronfman building as the keynote speaker for Montreal’s Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), co-hosted by nine different organizations from the Montreal and McGill communities.

In making a comparison to the South African apartheid system, which rendered certain individuals second-class citizens, Abunimah outlined what he believed to be inequalities for Palestinians in terms of land rights and access to education.

“Palestinians living in Israel are able to vote and run for office but that’s where their rights end,” he said.

Abunimah described an incident in which state employees denied Arab-Israelis their land rights. “In Jerusalem we continue to see the systematic ethnic cleansing…where there is a house-by-house plan to expel Palestinians from their neighbourhoods and to put them in Jewish settlements.”

Abunimah also spoke to the treatment of people in the Gaza strip as creating an apartheid style inequality between Jews and Palestinians. In particular he focused on the December 2008 to January 2009 Operation Cast Lead attack on Gaza and the current restrictions on the movement of resources to the strip.

“Of the 640 schools in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead in 2008, 18 schools were completely destroyed  – eight of them being kindergartens – and more than 240 were damaged,” he said. “Not only was Israel content to bomb the schools in Gaza, but since then has not allowed construction materials to flow into Gaza to rebuild these schools.”

Abunimah went on to describe the BDS movement, and why he believes it is an important method of lobbying the Israeli government to change its policies towards Palestinians and Arab-Israelis.

“The three goals of the BDS movement are to end the occupation since 1967, end all forms of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and end the racist exclusion of Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes,” he said.

He went on to state why he believes that other methods of resolving the conflict have been ineffective. He stated that BDS is the only possible option considering the failure of peace initiatives thus far.

“For the past twenty years we’ve had something called the peace process…it has been nothing but an alibi for inaction…when told about the Palestinian condition politicians in Canada and the United States do not do anything because they don’t want to disturb the peace process.”

Opposition to IAW includes the McGill Friends of Israel, who posted articles on their Facebook page criticizing the event, including a statement released by the Prince Arthur Herald’s editorial board entitled “We All Must Condemn Israeli Apartheid Week.”

The Daily spoke with Brendan Steven, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Herald regarding Abunimah’s comments.

“Palestinians living in Israel are given the right to vote and to run for office,” Steven said. “Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East…anyone that claims that Israel is an apartheid state is anti-Semitic.”

An audience member questioned Abunimah about why he did not address the treatment of Jews in Arab countries during his talk.

“I support the full right of restitution to any property that was confiscated from Arab Jews who left the countries and went to live in Israel,” Abunimah responded. “I would like to see Arab-Jewish communities thriving again.”

Aaron Lakoff, an organizer of Montreal’s IAW, spoke after Abunimah’s talk about the goal of the events. Montreal’s IAW ends tomorrow.

“We are trying to open up spaces for dialogue in society and for debate on these issues. We are trying to do so in a pluralistic way,” he said. “I am Jewish and I am an organizer of Israeli Apartheid Week. There’s many Jews who were involved in organizing Israeli Apartheid week, not just in Montreal but across Canada.”