A wasted week. A wasted opportunity

An entire week that could be used to generate honest and genuine discussion and curiosity is poisoned by hate and prejudice. A week echoing with constant propaganda is hardly conducive to an environment where real discussions can happen. A week that is never about listening to each other but rather to see who can shout the loudest and argue the longest. A week tainted by racist rhetoric, hurtful slurs and vile graffiti.

A week where students literally refuse to go to campus due to the verbal and emotional abuse that can spring up at any moment. A week where history is selectively chosen by each party involved to support their own narrative. There is no collective goal to compromise on an opinion and a debate. For the one side it’s all about humiliating and dehumanising your opponent and ensuring that others see it too; while the other side seeks to show that their opponent is delusional, poorly-educated and ignorant. Welcome to Israel Apartheid Week.

This year, Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) will be held throughout South Africa in the first week of April 2019. It is a week where organisations and individuals denounce the alleged apartheid being practiced in Israel and the West Bank. For many Jewish and Muslim students alike, this event is a stain on the university calendar, a deeply stressful time when the call to “fight for your side” further deepens the rifts between already divided communities.

Where did civil society go so wrong? How did a week of hate and perverted “activism” become such a widespread attraction? And why is such behaviour encouraged, and perpetrators of violence or hate not called to account by the institutions concerned?

Imagine.

A week where students and people around South Africa and the globe attempted to understand each other’s opinions and arguments instead of being there, solely, to break them down and force their views on all that oppose their own. A week where honest conversation could flower on every university campus and institution around the country and the globe.

There is no purpose for the week as it stands. If the goal was to actively engage in honest debate and discussion, then it would certainly be an attraction on South African campuses. It would provide a space where people can comfortably speak their minds and expect no vicious remarks in return, an environment where knowledge can be disseminated without the goal of manipulating others or demonizing anyone or anything.

How is this week aiding the Palestinians and the Israelis? It isn’t. The awareness that is being raised, if any, is being painted over with images of hate and confrontation. We need to be real about the actual impact of this week in South Africa. Is there even a point to having it when the only result is more anger and tired University security staff. There needs to be a change.

IAW 2019 started off quietly at the University of the Witwatersrand. The week was filled with scenes of dialogue and conversation with numerous students from various backgrounds on campus. Both SAUJS and the PSC experienced productive events which ran smoothly and continued uninterrupted throughout the week.

Neither side spent much time with each other and the expected propaganda war that has become synonymous with IAW continued without much incident. However, the relaxing nature of the week was quickly overshadowed by worries of what Thursday would bring. Over the last few years of IAW at Wits University, Thursday usually contains the most confrontation, and usually violence, between the opposing sides. This chilly Thursday afternoon was no different and saw the flaring of tension between the two groups, with a series of highly confrontational shouting matches taking place outside the SAUJS marquee.

There was one argument too many and a member of the BDS broke rank and attempted to assault a member of SAUJS. Security staff immediately separated them and the BDS member even attempted to assault a security staff member before being pulled away by a fellow student. Numerous videos were taken of the scene that had erupted, with multiple university staff and students watching from the side-lines. SAUJS posted them on their social media accounts and have since been viewed thousands of times.

Following the altercation, a tense ceasefire ensued. SAUJS leadership asked their members to disengage, as the environment had become too hostile for debate and productive discussion. Both parties lingered around each other for another or so before the crowd drifted away in different directions. Yet another IAW that ends in harassment and violence. Another wasted week. When will the senseless hostility end?

This week has been and is still filled with students who label themselves activists. it is for this reason that I believe that the term has been perverted. Genuine activism is an integral factor in holding governments responsible and ensuring policies are fair. It reveals the injustices being perpetrated in society and takes a stand against the relevant parties involved in a call for change and accountability. There is nothing wrong with having opposing views and being passionate about this discussion.

However, that raw emotion needs to be aired in the right way where people don’t feel so threatened by it as to abandon any prospects of a discussion in the first place. We need to advocate for a space where people who genuinely want to play a meaningful role in solving this crisis can articulate their ideas and experience debate that will allow them to better understand the nuances of this conflict and the possible avenues to a solution. We can be activists and not resort to violence at the same time – these aren’t complementary qualities.

IAW should become IPAW – Israel Palestine Awareness Week. A week where a sense of camaraderie emerges not out of the similarity of opinions but rather out of the collective goal to try find a solution to the bloody conflict that infuriates so many of us. We don’t need to break each other down to build a bridge towards the peace process. We need as many people as possible to get on board with the idea of eradicating senseless bigotry and encouraging participation from all sectors of society to help pave the way for a future solution.

Ari Goldberg

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