By Sheri Shefa
February 7, 2008
Orna Hollander, executive director of Betar Canada, said the fact that IAW is gaining momentum shows that the Jewish community can’t afford to ignore it.
"The strategy has been… from an organized community end, to not lend credibility, to be quiet about it, not bring press around it… Four years later, I think we definitely learned that we can keep our heads in the sand, but it’s going to go on with or without us. [IAW organizers] very much control the PR and rhetoric on campus, and its time to stand up and take responsibility," Hollander said.
She said that the event’s organizers have been able to gain credibility because of their efforts to build coalitions on campus and throughout the community.
"For example, at Ryerson, you not only have the Coalition against Israeli Apartheid and the Students against Israel Apartheid, but you have environmental networks, you have black students’ associations… They’ve not only branched out with campus groups, but in community-based organizations that they can find support with as well," she said.
"This year, for the first time, there is a founding conference for high schools against Israeli apartheid – HAIA for short. That is something that we do need to be nervous about. Not only is there support on university campuses for this, they are sponsoring a conference exclusively for high school students."
Ben Feferman, the Hasbara Fellowships campus co-ordinator headed a program, sponsored by Betar, called Islamic State Apartheid Week.
From Feb. 5 to 7, students at York presented images and videos that depict human rights abuses such as stoning, honour killings, Muslim-only highways and executions of homosexuals in various Middle Eastern countries.
"We want to remove the connection that modern-day students have to the word apartheid and Israel and refocus it to the countries that we think really exemplify the definition of apartheid, being a policy of separation and segregation. Through a week which encompasses the themes of gender, sexual and political apartheid, we hope to get out a new message," Feferman said in advance of the event.
"As much as it is important to talk about the fact that Israel is a democracy, we really believe that we need to talk about the… atrocities that go on [in Islamic states]. People don’t talk about them because they are afraid to upset Muslims… and it is because of our obsessiveness with being politically correct that these countries are suffering because of it," Feferman added.
Jewish student groups say they’re also hoping to balance out the negative images of Israel on campus with positive ones.
Last week, in conjunction with the Canada Israel Experience and the Toronto Birthright Alumni Community, Zionists at U of T held an event at on the downtown campus called Israelis on Israel.
Four Israel Defence Forces soldiers who had spent time with Canadian youth in Israel as part of the birthright israel program answered questions to teach students about Israeli culture and life.
"We feel that one of the best ways to combat those hateful claims put forth by Israeli Apartheid Week is to bring forth those people who are being accused." Hollander said.