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Students Clash Over Israeli Apartheid Week

A banner hung by the Rabb steps for The Israeli Apartheid Week was taken down multiple times after being put up by Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine (BSJP). A sign in support of Israel and rejecting the use of the word “apartheid” hung opposite BSJP’s banner. This sign was hung by students, including Yuval Derry ’16 and Doron Shapir ’18.

BSJP hung their banner for the first time Saturday, March 19 around noon, with permission from the university. According to club leaders, it had been taken down by 7 p.m. that evening and was found on the Boston/Cambridge shuttle. The banner was again taken down on March 24, as the group’s Facebook page explained.

“If there is one thing that reminds us why Palestine solidarity activism is so necessary at Brandeis University, it is this level of intolerant active opposition to the cause of Palestinian freedom and equality that we have seen for the past couple of days,” said a post on BSJP’s Facebook page.

The banner opposite BSJP’s, which read, “No matter how many people believe in a lie, it doesn’t make it true,” listed the names of Palestinians with prominent positions in Israeli society. Under many of these pictures was written “Apartheid?” The students who created the banner question the use of the word apartheid to describe the relationship between Jews and Palestinians in Israel and Palestine.

“The banner that our opponents have placed to the left of the Rabb Steps implies that there is no apartheid under Israeli rule because of anecdotal personal achievements by individual Palestinian citizens of Israel,” Iona Feldman ’16 wrote. “We reject this premise.”

Israeli Apartheid Week seeks to call attention to “the multitude of systemic oppressions that the Palestinian people live under due to the actions of the Israeli state,” explained Feldman in an email to The Brandeis Hoot. “From the very beginning, Israel’s existence as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’ was only possible at the expense of Palestinian freedom,” he wrote.

To some students, the use of the word “Apartheid” prevents dialogue between opposing parties.
“I am trying to outreach and work with Palestinians towards reaching understandings regarding stopping the violence and getting closer to peace,” Shapir told The Hoot. He is an Israeli citizen and former member of the Israeli Defense Force and feels that Israeli Apartheid Week prevents important dialogue.

When Shapir and his friends saw BSJP’s sign, he said, “We felt urged to respond, say our truth. We chose a way that presents the people the ability to ask the question—Is there a real apartheid in Israel?”

“I am not saying that everybody should be FOR ISRAEL, not at all—but if you are FOR PEACE, there are certain actions that you can do that would improve peace—dialogues, meetings, learning, traveling, learning languages—alienating people is just not one of them,” Shapir wrote.

Shapir condemned the removal of BSJP’s banner and other posters, reiterating his focus on dialogue.

BSJP has held an Israeli Apartheid Week before, but has never had their campaign directly challenged in the same was as it was this year. This year, however, many of their posters listing destroyed Palestinian villages have been taken down. Brandeis, BSJP believes, is hostile to criticism of Israel and zionism.

“The speed at which they were taken down is particularly telling of this university,” they explained of their posters.

Brandeis has held strong ties to Israel since its establishment in 1948. In 2011, former President Fred Lawrence visited Israel to “develop opportunities for collaboration in science, connect with Israeli alumni and friends,” according to the university’s website. There are multiple academic forums for the study of Israel, including the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and the Brandeis-Israel Research Initiative.

Israeli Apartheid Week coincided with the visit of students from Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Brandeis suspended their partnership with the university in November of 2013, ending a 10-year partnership, after students there held a demonstration involving Nazi symbols and anti-semitic rhetoric. Students at both Brandeis and Al-Quds have been working to reinstate the partnership since its suspension.

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