OTTAWA—The controversial Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which began Monday, has been marked by condemnations from Canadian officials denouncing the comparison between Middle East ethnic tensions and South Africa’s former policy of racial segregation.
The week of events, in its sixth year, is part of an international campaign taking place in more than 40 cities and university campuses around the world this year.
The IAW website states that the week of lectures, films, performances, and demonstrations aims to “educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system.”
The event urges boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel to press for an end to what the organizers call “Israel’s apartheid policies toward Palestinians.”
While IAW organizers describe their event as a “struggle for justice, equality, and peace,” two statements from federal elected representatives and a resolution unanimously supported by the Ontario legislature tell another side of the story.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff issued a statement on Monday condemning IAW “unequivocally and absolutely.”
“Criticism of Israeli government policy is legitimate. Wholesale condemnation of the State of Israel and the Jewish people is not legitimate,” he said, noting that apartheid is defined as a crime against humanity in international law and IAW is a deliberate attempt to portray the Jewish state as criminal.
“The activities planned for the week will single out Jewish and Israeli students. They will be made to feel ostracized and even physically threatened in the very place where freedom should be paramount—on a university campus.”
Mr. Ignatieff called IAW “an attempt to heighten the tensions in our communities around the tragic conflict in the Middle East.”
Conservative MP Tim Uppal plans to introduce a motion before the House of Commons this week to condemn IAW.
His motion seeks to affirm that the House is concerned about “expressions of anti-Semitism under the guise of ‘Israeli Apartheid Week,’” and that it “explicitly condemns any action in Canada as well as internationally that would equate the State of Israel with the rejected and racist policy of apartheid.”
IAW “promotes the one-sided, intolerant, and unbalanced position that Israel is a racist state,” Mr. Uppal said. “This has created a public opinion environment where Jewish students who happen to also support Israel are subject to condemnation and opprobrium.”
These sentiments are shared by the Ontario legislature which unanimously passed a resolution brought forward by MPP Peter Shurman last Thursday condemning IAW.
In a statement, Mr. Shurman stated that the use of the term “apartheid” in relation to Israel “borders on hate speech” and diminishes the suffering of the victims of true apartheid in South Africa.
“Public debate in Ontario should be informed, respectful and fair to all who seek to express an option. Those behind the events of Israeli Apartheid Week assume untenable, unilateral positions and offer no reasonable room for discussion,” he said.
The IAW website lists 13 cities across Canada this year hosting events on college and university campuses, including Edmonton, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, London, Montreal, Ottawa, Peterborough, Sudbury, Toronto, Vancouver, Waterloo, and Winnipeg.
Jason MacDonald, a spokesperson with Ottawa’s Carleton University, said Carleton does not take a stand on one side or the other. “Nor do we ban free speech. Rather, it is the university’s role to provide a forum for, and encourage, open debate and discussion on a range of issues, including difficult ones.”
“Our safety department, members of the department of student affairs and others are aware of the activities taking place this week and will address any issues that arise,” he said.
He noted that Carleton ensures that groups hosting events “are clear on the rules and expected behaviour when on campus,” adding that Carleton’s goal is to ensure a campus “free of harassment and intimidation.”
In reply to a request for comment from the University of Toronto, Laurie Stephens, director of media relations and stakeholder communications, provided a statement by university president David Naylor.
Citing freedom of speech as a core value for any university in a democratic society, Mr. Naylor said that “younger members of our community will eventually enter a world in which heated arguments occur and careless or inflammatory rhetoric is not uncommon. We do them no service to shelter them from those realities.”
However, “we shall not hesitate to intervene if there are concerns about safety, or if speakers migrate from advocacy to hate-promoting speech,” he said.
In past years some students have opted not to go to class during IAW, and threats and dangers encountered by Jewish students have included swarming, confinement, racial slurs, and physical assault, according to the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students.