Israeli Apartheid Week divides Queen’s clubs

St. Lawrence College Certificate Program

Queen's Certificate in Law

Palestinian and Israeli groups on campus at odds over week’s demonstrations

Students reenact Israeli-Palestinian checkpoints at University Ave.
Photo: 

At the corner of University Ave. and Union St. on Tuesday, “soldiers” patted down students in a demonstration designed to imitate checkpoints run by Israeli defense forces.

Students in opposition to the event, meanwhile, stood to the side to explain their discomfort and concerns. 

The demonstration was part of the Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) organized by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), a student club on campus. 

It was one of several public demonstrations throughout the week, such as an apartheid wall and a “Die-In” in CoGro’s fireside lounge on Monday. While members of SPHR say the demonstrations are intended to educate students on racism towards Palestinians, members of Israeli groups believe the events oversimplify complex issues. 

At Tuesday’s checkpoint, students at the intersection were asked to go on their knees before they were patted down, questioned and finally allowed to go through a set-up barrier. 

According to a statement provided to The Journal by SPHR, the week “seeks to raise awareness about Israeli apartheid and encourage support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.” 

“It is important to emphasize that this is not a religious issue but a political issue between the Nation State of Israel and the colonized, Stateless Indigenous people of Palestine,” it reads. 

“Palestinians are not victims, but vital and productive people who just want to live their lives and prosper like anyone else, but have little to no control over their lives as subjects to a racist settler-colonial Nation state.” 

In the statement, the group wrote that while many people enter discussions with misinformation and racial prejudice, the recognition of Palestinian human rights is a good starting point for conversation. 

“The world must wake up to the threat of apartheid and all of its manifestations, no matter where they surface. Apartheid is a recognized offence to international law. It is a crime.”

They cited statistics from April 2015, when 96 fixed checkpoints were in the West Bank, including 57 internal checkpoints and 361 surprise flying checkpoints. 

“For the year 2014, OCHA [the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] counted an average of 358 physical obstructions a month. The obstructions prevent the crossing of any vehicles, even in emergencies,” they wrote. 

Adi Rittenberg of Israel on Campus (IOC) says the week has turned into a demonization of Israel that doesn’t recognize the other side’s faults. 

Rittenberg, ArtSci ’16, said the IOC first learned about the week when SPHR posted details about the week’s events on Facebook. 

After the IOC ensured that the concerns of the Jewish community were met, including ensuring safety at potentially inflammatory demonstrations, she said IOC turned its focus towards establishing a counter-narrative. 

“We knew that we didn’t want the week cancelled. We wanted them to have their voice and we wanted them to be able to express their opinions,” she said.

Their main concerns were misrepresentation, oversimplification of complex issues and unnecessary theatricality, she said.

“A lot of students were coming up to me, and I saw some students crying, because you kind of feel powerless,” she said. 

She said many students felt that if they corrected information they believed to be incorrect “you’re seen to be sabotaging or you’re limiting [the demonstrators’] freedom of speech.”

Rittenberg added that she’s “happy to admit” that Israel isn’t perfect, so long as SPHR acknowledges that the issue isn’t one-sided. 

“If it’s just a screaming match, it’s just a screaming match. Nothing’s going to come out of it, that’s all it’s going to be.” 

She said the IOC found support and help in the AMS, particularly through Clubs Manager Jennifer Williams. A member of the Clubs Office has been present at all events to ensure safety. 

Williams confirmed to The Journal that the AMS sanctioned the SPHR events and spoke with IOC to ensure that events complied with their clubs policy and the Student Code of Conduct.

The AMS also worked with the SPHR to reduce the disruption caused by events. For example, they positioned the mock checkpoint far enough from the sidewalk to allow students to pass by freely if they didn’t wish to engage. 

“The use of real or fake weapons was not permitted at any time. Modifications were also made to the “Die-In” activity in the Fireside Lounge, such as restricting the demonstration area,” Williams wrote in an email.  

Williams added that any student wishing to voice concerns about the week was welcome to visit the Clubs Office for the remainder of the week and afterwards. 

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.