The end of February and the move into March marks an important time on the campus calendar, and it is not the celebration of the burgeoning spring season. No, this is the time of year when the anti-Israel activists dust off their mock checkpoints and papier mâché guns and prepare to irritate their fellow students with endless flyering. This is Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW).
I have written previously that the whole awful shebang belongs in the sick bucket, and I stand by it. Those behind IAW, closely tied to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, have no interest in furthering debate on Israel and Palestine, or indeed in helping Palestinians. IAW is quite clearly an exercise in demonising Israel, based on a premise that is completely false. Like any other country, there is much to criticise about Israel’s politics, but Israel is not, and never has been, an apartheid state. Besides, there is both right and wrong on both sides of this conflict; campaigns like IAW, which seek to reduce a highly complicated situation to a battle between goodies and baddies, are highly disingenuous.
But like it or loathe it, the whole bogus roadshow pitches up at campuses across the world like clockwork every year, with different timings for different countries. This week there are events happening in Ireland and France; last week it was Britain’s turn. Except, this, IAW’s 13th year, is slightly different. Instead of the usual tradition of being offered free rein to use campuses as a playground for anti-Israel hyperbole, some activists found their events were blocked.
IAW events at Central Lancashire, Exeter and University College London were cancelled. Many are blaming universities minister Jo Johnson, who prior to IAW sent a letter to the head of Universities UK calling for a crackdown on anti-Semitic incidents on campus, and citing IAW events as a possible cause for concern. In the letter he reminded Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, of the government’s adoption last December of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. The definition has been subject to much criticism, and has been accused of outlawing criticism of Israel, as it highlights ‘targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity’ as anti-Semitism. Although the statement adds that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic’, and the government also added a similar caveat.
But Johnson’s concerns are not unfounded. Anti-Semitism is a real problem on British campuses. Recently, Holocaust denial leaflets were found on four different campuses, including Cambridge, and swastikas were painted at Exeter. Moreover, most Jewish and pro-Israel students spend IAW feeling intimidated on campus, or avoiding it altogether.