Israel-Apartheid Week – a Jewish Perspective

Israel-Apartheid Week took place from the 4-11 March. This is a week of activism relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is in opposition to the Israeli use of force in the Occupied territories of Palestine.

The Oppidan Press asked Aviva Lerer, a Jewish, Zionist student to comment and reflect on this event and the issues surrounding it.  

When people first realize that I’m Jewish there are some pretty standard remarks. I’ve heard almost all of them, from the curious “Does your family do the whole Jewish thing?” to the blatant “If you’re Jewish, then why don’t you have a big nose?” and even the ridiculous “My second cousin’s best friend’s aunt is Jewish. Do you know her?” By the way, the answer to this is usually, “Probably”.

As a rule, I don’t get phased by such questions. I answer them as honestly as possible and with as much good humour as I can muster, thankful that such questions are the worst of my lot. Recently, however, one particular remark from a peer left me without a response: “Oh, Jewish? I guess that means you hate Arabs/Palestinians.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a proud Jew. I attended a Jewish school from play-school through matric, I have lived in Israel and have explored my family’s roots in pre-Holocaust Europe. These experiences have helped shape my identity, and I am proud of the histories and practices that make me who I am. One thing which grinds my gears, however, is the assumption that as a Jew, I am automatically a right-wing extremist where Middle Eastern politics are concerned.

Don’t get me wrong: I vehemently support the Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and will support the Israeli government in many of the political decisions it takes. This is as fundamental a part of who I am as my Judaism. But – and take note – I have constructed this identity through the amalgamation of my upbringing with first-hand exposure to the issues at hand.

Over several years, I have made the effort to engage critically with individuals with views opposite of my own, to experience the real life circumstances of Palestinians living in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, and to attempt to disengage myself from my background before reaching any conclusion. As far I am concerned, this active engagement is what differentiates me from many of the individuals who participate in dialogs and discussions with little or no real exposure to that they wish to discuss.

Therefore, when someone made an assumption regarding my political views based solely on my religion, I was insulted. I believe that much of the friction which exists between groups on opposite sides of the Israeli-Arab conflict is perpetuated by the simple lack of education, and I have tried to rise above that by engaging in a variety of resources and platforms. This is not always easy, however.

Given my religious and political background, I naturally face discomfort when navigating the topic of Israeli-Apartheid week. This week forces me to ask myself several questions:

Do I believe the content offered is one-sided and, to a large extent, propaganda?

Yes.

Do I find the week and the topics it addresses threatening to my personal belief systems? Never.

Do I wish that I (and the Jewish community at Rhodes) had the resources to offer alternative programming?

Definitely.

Is this probable?

Not likely.

But, beyond these realities, I must admit to one fundamental truth: that Israeli-Apartheid Week is a legitimate platform for individuals on campuses to engage critically on issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I may not support the ideas promoted by the week nor will I support certain (read: most) speakers or items on the agenda as truly accurate representation of the realities I have seen first-hand. But I wholeheartedly support the week as a tool to encourage dialogue and further exploration of topics beyond the conclusion of the week.

I would simply like to conclude with the following request: that as critical and open-minded students, and given South Africa’s historical narrative in which words such as ‘apartheid’ have significant socio-political connotations, we should go the extra mile when engaging in such pressing international issues. Issues are often more than what is initially presented, and individuals interested in these issues should not only be weary of the jargon used by activists for a cause but actively seek to educate themselves from a variety of sources.   

See the Muslim Students Association’s perspective here.
Words: Aviva Lerer

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