Kaye: During ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ in Montreal, fighting fire with facts
When your beliefs and values come under attack, it’s natural to want to respond with the same degree of aggressiveness. Yet during “Israeli Apartheid Week,” Montreal’s pro-Israel student community took a more measured approach.
This year’s Israeli Apartheid Week events in Montreal — part of a worldwide initiative from March 18 to April 8 — is taking place at Concordia University, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université de Montréal, and McGill University, as well as other community venues in the city. The themes of this anti-Israel showcase are “In opposition to apartheid and occupation,” “In solidarity with Palestinian resistance,” and “In support of social justice struggles everywhere.”
As Jewish and pro-Israel students, we try not to fight fire with fire when it comes to Israeli Apartheid Week. We avoid direct and hostile confrontations, because that behaviour doesn’t reflect our values and isn’t an effective pro-Israel strategy. It doesn’t set a good example for our fellow students.
Some of this year’s most jarring Israeli Apartheid Week events included “#StopJNFCanada: Greenwashing, Trees, and Colonialism in Palestine,” “Pinkwashing Workshop,” and “Palestine Contingent in the Mass Demonstration Against Racism and Xenophobia: Here and Elsewhere.”
By depicting Israel as an anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-environmentalist state, these Israeli Apartheid Week events spread mis-education on Montreal campuses. But just as we do during the rest of the year, Jewish and pro-Israel students responded to miseducation with education. We work with an Israel Fellow from The Jewish Agency for Israel, Ben Ravid, to offer genuine dialogue about Israel on Montreal campuses. Ben is one of the hundreds of Israeli emissaries who serve for one to three years on university campuses around the world. Their goal is to empower student leadership and create Israel-engaged campuses.
I constantly keep Ravid updated about the discourse surrounding Israel at McGill. We work together to plan events, craft statements, and determine how to respond to anti-Israel incidents in order to create a safe environment for pro-Israel students. One of our major focuses is creating educational events about Israel such as a biweekly series, “Food for Thought,” in which we cook an Israeli dish and hold a discussion about relevant news event or Israeli culture in general. Recently, Food for Thought hosted Consul General of Israel for Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces David Levy as a guest speaker.
While we bring students together to immerse themselves in the rich mosaic of Israel’s culture, Israeli Apartheid Week and other anti-Israel initiatives try to drive students apart. One tactic the anti-Israel side has increasingly used in recent years to make Israel a divisive issue is intersectionality: the linking of all forms of “oppression,” and in this case, anti-Israel groups’ recruitment of minority or marginalized populations like women, blacks, and the LGBT community to support the Palestinian cause and support BDS against Israel. As the president of J Queer Montreal, a Jewish LGBT organization, I’m keenly sensitive to the intersectionality phenomenon.
The usage of the intersectionality strategy to poison the discourse on Israel also hits home for me because I’m minoring in gender studies, and that department at McGill co-sponsored the pinkwashing workshop during Israeli Apartheid Week. By accusing Israel of “pinkwashing,” the workshop’s premise claimed that Israel presents itself as LGBT-friendly and progressive in order to downplay the country’s negative behaviour.
But rather than only seeing intersectionality as a threat, the pro-Israel student community in Montreal also views it as an opportunity to reinforce our belief that we can’t fight fire with fire during instances like Israeli Apartheid Week. Instead, we fight fire with the facts.
The “In support of social justice struggles everywhere” theme for this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week showed the danger of intersectionality’s attempt to build broad coalitions against Israel by falsely claiming that the Jewish state suppresses the rights of minorities and marginalized populations. When facts are twisted, our pro-Israel community sets the record straight. We’re proud to point out that in reality, Israel is the only Mideast country that protects women’s rights and LGBT rights, and that Tel Aviv is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities.
We must teach our campuses about the reality on the ground in Israel. Having made aliyah with my family when I was nine, and subsequently living in Israel for a decade before enrolling at McGill, I know that reality firsthand. I’ve witnessed and immersed myself in Israel’s tolerant and accepting society.
Anti-Israel sentiment is a major challenge at McGill throughout the year, not just during Israeli Apartheid Week. When one student group outlaws BDS, the anti-Israel side often finds other ways to promote boycotts of the Jewish state. The McGill Daily student newspaper also displays persistent bias against Israel, including a recent editorial headlined “Canada is Complicit in the Occupation of Palestine” as well as a piece which claimed that McGill is “rewarding hate speech” by awarding an honorary degree to Hillel Neuer, who heads a watchdog organization that documents anti-Israel bias at the United Nations.
Yet in my experience, we’ve never directly counteracted anti-Israel activities on campus. Often, we’ll vigilantly watch anti-Israel events to see what information they’re relaying to students and which students are participating. Based off our observations, we determine what kind of events we believe the Jewish and pro-Israel communities should be hosting.
In this way, our pro-Israel strategy during Israeli Apartheid Week is the same strategy we employ year-round: fighting fire not with fire, but with facts.