Students for Justice in Palestine — the well-funded student group that brought the play “I Heart Hamas” to the University of Pittsburgh in 2010 — will be bringing Israel Apartheid Week to the Pitt campus from Feb. 26 to March 3.
The Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh is hoping to head off its impact.
Israel Apartheid Week is an annual series of events held in various cities and campuses around the world. The aim of IAW, according to the event’s website, “is to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.”
This is the eighth year of the international event. On some campuses, it has been marked by condemning Israel as a racist, colonial and oppressive state. Students are told that Israel should be boycotted, and even destroyed.
“The purpose of [Apartheid Week] is to draw analogies between South African apartheid and their (the SJP’s) interpretation of Israel democracy; and, it’s a time when genocide is discussed,” said Aaron Weil, executive director and CEO of the Hillel JUC.
“They will have speakers, street theater and movies, all designed to portray Israel as an apartheid state involved with committing war crimes and genocide — the usual topics you would imagine.”
In an effort to re-focus attention on Israel’s commitment to peace, Hillel JUC is joining about 75 other university groups nationwide in Israel Peace Week, which began Feb. 20, and will continue through Feb. 25.
University groups hosting Peace Week present an array of programs and activities aiming to counter the negative messages of the Apartheid Week that will follow it.
About 60 area college students prepared for peace week earlier this month by attending a Shabbaton hosted by Hillel JUC. The second annual Shabbaton of its kind was called “Find Your Voice, an Israel Shabbaton,” and drew students from Penn State University, West Virginia University, Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve, the Ohio State University and Allegheny College.
The program featured both social events and educational discussions to help students learn how to talk about Israel in order to present it in an accurate light, and raise positive awareness about the Jewish state.
Speakers at the Shabbaton, which was separate from Peace Week, included Sharon Singer, director of public affairs and social media at the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia, and David Bernstein, executive director of The David Project.
“Israel education is a challenge on American campuses,” said Carly Adelmann, director of student life at Hillel JUC. “In talking about Israel Apartheid Week, people don’t have enough information to say, ‘This is something you should not condone.’ ”
In sponsoring the regional Shabbaton, Hillel JUC partnered with The David Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group begun in 2002.
During Peace Week, Hillel plans to have members of 25 various student groups at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University wear pro-Israel T-shirts, encourage students to support Israeli products, and provide flyers to help people “think about Israel in a way apart from what they hear on the news,” Adelmann said.
Leaders of Hillel are hoping that Peace Week will go a long way in diffusing the message of the SJP that will follow during Apartheid Week. Countering the work of the SJP may not be easy, though.
“SJP has been in the past very well organized,” Weil said. “It is a well-funded organization that receives a lot of community support. The Unitarian Church in Oakland is a big supporter. They are an organization we need to pay attention to and be concerned about. We need the support of the Pittsburgh Jewish community if it is not interested in seeing Pitt turn into a campus like University of California at Irvine, or Berkeley (where anti-Zionism is rampant).”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)