Israeli Apartheid Week a success despite attempts to shut it down
Statement from the Israeli Apartheid Week UK organising committee:
The 13th annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) was successfully launched on more than 30 university campuses across the UK over the past two weeks. Students were determined to ensure open debate and critical perspectives on Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians were present on university campuses. A series of panels, seminars, workshops, film screenings and cultural events highlighted Palestinian history, narratives and the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
This year’s IAW took place as Israel intensifies its colonisation. Already in 2017, Israel has announced plans to build thousands of new illegal settlement units in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and has continued with its demolition of Palestinian homes and villages on both sides of the Green Line.
Hundreds of students, faculty and community members around the UK took part in impressive IAW events which examined UK government complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights including the UK-Israel arms trade and advocated for BDS until Israel complies with international law. Veteran campaigners against apartheid in South Africa and Dream Defenders, part of the Movement for Black Lives toured campuses focusing attention on commonalities between struggles against institutional racism and state sanctioned violence.
Organisers were faced with a discriminatory and coordinated censorship campaign to shut down IAW. Although professing support for freedom of expression, some universities placed draconian restrictions on IAW events, including last minute ‘risk assessments’, imposition of external moderators, securitised pre-registration processes, and even potentially unlawful cancellations. Students were not given clear information about these restrictions, and in one case, only learned of the university having cancelled their event when they read about it in the newspaper.
These restrictions created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation on university campuses and was clearly targeted at specific events, communities and perspective. Even if some disagree with the analogy between Israel and apartheid South Africa, students have the right to discuss such issues in an atmosphere free of censorship and discrimination. Campaigns to silence the Palestine solidarity movement and shut down BDS activism echo Israel’s much longer militarised silencing of the Palestinian narrative and the attempts to erase Palestinian history and decades long resistance against Israel’s settler colonial project.
Freedom of expression is at stake here not only for campaigning around Palestinian rights, but social justice campaigning more broadly. The attacks on Palestine campaigning must be situated within today’s overall current political context which facilitates discrimination towards marginalised groups.
As long as Israel’s system of oppression against the Palestinian people continues, students will also continue to organise to end military, diplomatic and institutional support for it. No amount of external meddling to shut down or censor IAW events will work – we will continue to uphold the right to campaign on university campuses and advocate for justice and freedom.