We must reject Israeli Apartheid Week

A statement from the McGill Students for Israel

We, McGill Students for Israel, strongly condemn Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) and the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a whole. Though IAW’s stated intent is to advocate for Palestinian human rights, their actions end up serving 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 – and legally – excluded from the civil services afforded to whites. They did not have access to the same medical care. They 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, they can run for government, and are, in fact, frequently elected to the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. Since the state’s inception, Arab women have had full civil liberties in Israel, unlike in some Arab countries, where they, legally, cannot vote, cannot run for public office, and, in at least one case, cannot even travel without male accompaniment.

Those living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are not citizens of Israel, and 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. At a recent event at Imperial College in London, 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 peace and a two state solution, two things that Israel has done and continues to do.

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 the Gaza War, which ended on January 24, 2009, there are no remaining Israeli settlements or soldiers on Gazan soil.  In 2006, Palestinians had the chance to elect a democratic government that would strive for peace with their neighbours; instead, they elected Hamas, 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 peace. Their fight to delegitimize Israel precludes discussion, serving only to further divide the two sides. In 2010, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario unanimously condemned the movement, and at the national level, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, and the NDP have all denounced it.

IAW’s efforts are not progressive, and are based on a dangerously distorted reality. Even as Zionists, we would never call Israel perfect. We believe that, like any nation, it does need to be held accountable. However, as a society, we must do better than Israel Apartheid Week.

Signed by the McGill Students for Israel.