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Mixed reactions to Israeli Apartheid Week events provoke criticism

Israeli Apartheid Week took place on campus last week as part of the 8th Annual international series of events of its kind.

Sussex Friends of Palestine Society (PalSoc) hosted the week, which involved speeches, discussions, plays and food, and described it as “an annual international series of events that aims to inform people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system. We seek to do this through public meetings, non-violent action and furthering the global Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign.”

In an attempt to mirror the activity of Israeli soldiers on the Palestinian border, a faux check-point was created in library square on Monday with people dressed as security guards to make an impression on those who passed.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) has condemned activity of this sort occurring across the country. They stated: “UJS has consistently opposed these fake security checkpoints as being intimidating against Jewish students.

“These stunts reduce what is a serious and complex situation between Israelis and Palestinians into theatrical provocations that can only ever prove divisive here on British campuses.”

A discussion was hosted on Tuesday entitled ‘Why Boycott Israel’, in which three Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists spoke about their experiences of the treatment of Palestinians by Israelis and the efficacy of a Boycott of Israeli produce and academic staff.

The second speaker asserted: “Israeli academic institutions help to reproduce the ideological underpinnings of the occupations and also the historical planks of Israel’s creation.”

One of the speakers was an Israeli citizen who had refused to serve in the army as a conscientious objector and had since become involved with Palestinian activism. She said: “I watched the news and I saw things that I couldn’t ignore.”

On both Tuesday and Wednesday a play entitled ‘Seven Jewish Children’, by Caryl Churchill, was put on by the Palestinian Society.

The play was written in 2009 in response to the military strike on Gaza which was taking place in the same year. The performance examined the way in which information is passed from generation to generation in light of national guilt over atrocities committed towards racial groups.

A clear parallel was drawn between the dichotomy of direct explanation and omission when explaining events of the holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The performance was followed by a short question and answer period. Some members of the audience voiced concerns about the nature of the play; one girl asked the director if he felt that the play was ‘anti-Semitic’ and expressed her belief that racism was inherent within the title.

On Thursday a talk took place entitled ‘Existence is Resistance’, in which Jordan Valley Solidarity, a non-governmental organisation working on Palestinian rights and environmental issues, discussed what life is like for Palestinians living under occupation.

The week was met by a degree of controversy amongst students and religious figures at the university. A chaplain Rabbi linking the university to the city, said: “The name of the events certainly has massive offensive implications.”

In response to some of these concerns, PalSoc emphasised that they are a group of students “united in the refusal of any form of racism, and in the promotion of values of justice, equality and peace. In the face of the exclusionary policies of the Israeli state we are compelled to support the plight of the Palestinian people against aggressive colonialism. We always welcome discussion and constructive dialogue, and hope to engage as many students as possible in this critical issue.”

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