Israeli Apartheid Week 2009
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Israeli Apartheid Week 2009

Israeli Apartheid Week 2009 took place in more than 40 cities across the globe. First held in Toronto in 2005, it has spread rapidly around the world. This year, in addition to the regular participating locations, a number of new cities in Europe, North America and South Africa joined, along with every major city and camp in the West Bank. IAW was also launched in Latin America, with events taking place in Caracas, Venezuela.

IAW occurred in the wake of Israel’s ruthless attacks on Gaza, and solidarity with its people was an important part of the week. Lectures, films, and art exhibits were held in various universities that focused on raising awareness about specific apartheid practices and Palestinian resistance to them. IAW activities also focused on building the global BDS campaign, with important workshops on divestment, consumer, and academic boycott strategies. Several BDS actions were carried out, including the launching of a new consumer boycott campaign in the San Francisco Bay area.

***image2***Two particular trends distinguish this year’s events. The first is the growing effort made to connect local and Palestinian struggles. While this has been a characteristic since the beginning, this year the indigenous peoples in Canada and people of color in the United States figured strongly into IAW. A second, more alarming trend was the repression of events in campuses in Canada and Europe, which reached a new high in 2009.

IAW has always focused on connecting struggles. With a shared history of apartheid, South African speakers have always played an important role in IAW, and this year was no exception. Nearly every event featured talks or films illustrating the relationship between South Africa and Palestine, and several prominent South African speakers were present at various IAW venues. In Canada, for instance, Ronnie Kasrils was a key speaker, appearing at several campuses. Kasrils, who was a key figure in the ANC’s military wing and has held various positions within the post-apartheid South African government, spoke about boycott, apartheid and the South African struggle.

Shared struggles were not limited to South Africa. IAW organizers in Canada, for example, noted that, “we believe that we cannot speak meaningfully about Israeli Apartheid without speaking first about the realities of apartheid here in Canada,” Nearly every university in Canada had events and talks that dealt with the situation of indigenous peoples in the country, who continue to fight against racist government policy and the ongoing theft or pollution of their land and resources. Indigenous community organizers, activists and scholars spoke at various venues on issues ranging from indigenous resistance and political prisoners to land and resource theft and community building. Often with Palestinian counterparts, speakers linked the repression of native communities with that of Palestinians across historic Palestine.

A similar trend was also present in the United States, where relationships are being formed between solidarity activists and local indigenous, black and immigrant communities. Organizers from communities of color were present in several cities, highlighting the joint struggles against discrimination and racism.

In Venezuela, the initiative for IAW came from the city’s popular quarters and the university. Main activities were held in place in two barrios in Caracas, and could be the embryo for a real grassroots popular solidarity movement. The closing day from barrio La Vega featured a concert by one of Venezuela’s best up-and-coming hip hop groups, La Familia Negra. (Click here to hear their BDS song for Palestine.)

***image1***However, As IAW becomes more high profile, Zionist supporters have stepped up their efforts at shutting down the event. This was most present in Canada, where IAW has become a highly visible national issue, and CAIA reported a steep increase in harassment, intimidation and physical violence against organizers and participants. Further, a number of groups attempted to shut down IAW events and smear activists by labeling the week as a whole “hate speech.” University officials, while admitting in private that IAW was in fact not hate speech, refused to issue any public statement on the matter. The University of Toronto administration, in cooperation with Zionist organizations, attempted to prevent students from using campus space, while at York University Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) were suspended and fined for a February Gaza demonstration.

Several Canadian universities also confiscated and banned a poster promoting IAW. At Carleton University, the administration banned the poster a month prior to the event, sending campus police to remove them from a SAIA information table. The University of Ottawa followed suit soon after.

IAW was not only threatened in Canada. At the University of Pisa, officials denied students space for activities. Organizers have argued that there is no precedent for this move, and that the denial of space on administrative grounds is rather an attempt to bar the event from the university campus.

Despite these attempts, however, IAW 2009 was a success. In terms of cities and activities, it was the biggest in IAW history. Packed houses characterized many of the events, which featured a wide range of scholarly experts experienced activists, many from Palestine, South Africa or indigenous communities. Thanks to the efforts of committed activists across the world, IAW has become a key event for Palestine solidarity.