Thursday, February 24, 2011

Conference held to counter Israeli Apartheid Week

SHERI SHEFA, Staff Reporter
Thursday, 24 February 2011
TORONTO — The tensions between Zionist and anti-Israel students on North American campuses are a reflection of the larger issue of anti-Zionism and antisemitism that is rampant in mainstream society, said Boston University’s Richard Cravatts, one of the speakers at a conference last week titled “When Middle East Politics Invade Campus.”

The conference was moderated by Jonathan Kay, the National Post comment pages editor, and organized by the Advocates for Civil Liberties, a group that aims to counter unbalanced, anti-Israel messages on university campuses. It was planned as a response to the annual series of anti-Israel events on campuses worldwide, called Israeli Apartheid Week, held every March since 2005. Cravatts, director of Boston University’s publishing and digital media program, and author of Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel, delivered a lecture titled “The War Against Israel On Campus” to more than 300 people at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Toronto.

Cravatts borrowed an idea from Melanie Phillips, author of The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle Over God, Truth, and Power, in which she explains that “the Palestinian cause specifically has been inverted in a morally incoherent way so that the aggressive Arab states have been turned into the victims of the Zionist Jews of Israel.”

Cravatts said that Israel’s image has been “hijacked” by Israel’s enemies “who are trying to reshape the narrative of what Israel is and represents.”

He said student groups put up posters on campuses that display “carefully crafted images that help the world come to the conclusion that the Palestinians are the victims – not the victims of their own misdeeds, not the victims of the rest of the Arab world that refuses to let them ever have a state and has kept them dispossessed and homeless – it’s Israel’s fault.”

He said anti-Israel protesters have also resorted to equating Zionism with Nazism.

“Israelis now are regularly called the new Nazis – that they are now perpetrating on the hapless Palestinians the same behaviour that was perpetrated on the Jews by the Nazis.”

He said that it’s challenging for students to combat anti-Israel sentiments on campus, because professors are incorporating their biases into their course syllabi.

“This is why campuses are fertile ground for anti-Israel activity and why you students have such a fight on your hands… because it is clearly departments of sociology, anthropology and humanities who are driving this discourse against Israel.”

Cravatts insisted that the tensions on campus are important, because university students today are being shaped into the politicians, ambassadors and policy makers of the future.

“We don’t want them coming out of college thinking that Israel is the main impediment to world peace,” he said.

“We have to say that if you’re going to say stuff like this, we have the right to correct you. We have the right to stand up. We’re going to make trouble, and I think we have a moral commitment to do that.”

Sara Akrami, a second-year political science student at York University who emigrated from Iran five years ago and is an Iranian human rights activist, spoke on a panel of students about the tensions on campus between anti- and pro-Israel groups.

“I think part of the tension on campus is because some of the clubs promote violence, and it is very unfortunate that these types of clubs have been ratified by the York Federation of Students and [student] money has been used at times for these clubs,” Akrami said.

“It is very disappointing that the university uses [student fees] in order to bring speakers who support terrorism,” she said, referring to the lecture given at York last November by former British MP George Galloway.

Afroza Mohammed, a fourth-year sociology student at York, also spoke on the panel about what she has witnessed on campus over the past four years from the eyes of a “neutral student” who is “not involved politically, culturally, religiously, emotionally, and has no stake in this conflict.”

Despite that, the conflict on campus has affected her education at York, she said, because she and other students have been “forced to surrender our student space and have that space turned into hate space,” and their “concerns for safety have been neglected during the Israeli Apartheid Week.”

She said student rallies that pit one side against another “don’t make me feel safe or make me feel that York is a tolerant and accepting university.”

Noah Kochman, speaking as a former chair of the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students, said Jewish students need to be “smart, strategic and open-minded” when it comes to handling the tensions on campus.

“Many of our battles are long-term battles.”

He said Jewish students should exert their influence by immersing themselves in student unions to play their part, and the rest of the community also needs to get involved and “step up.”

In a video greeting, Israeli judge Hadassa Ben Itto, best known for her book The Lie That Wouldn’t Die: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, warned the gathering that public opinion is forming based on the information available, which sometimes is “biased and tainted by lies.”

She said that she’s disappointed that some universities “are at the forefront of spreading distorted information, questioning the legitimacy of Israel, while lending a forum to a dictator guilty of incitement to genocide, promoting boycotts, presenting a one-sided biased picture, expelling by force speakers who try to set the record straight or just present a different set of facts.”

She added that “holding the planned apartheid week next month at any university is outrageous,” and that the organizers of the event “prove that they know nothing about Israel, nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but more than that, they know nothing about apartheid.”

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