|Members of Israel’s minority communities come to Rutgers as part of the event “Get Me, Get Israel.” Courtesy Rutgers Hillel|
An event last week comparing Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens to South Africa’s treatment of blacks under apartheid marked the latest in a series of anti-Israel programs at Rutgers University that some local Jewish leaders have characterized as an anti-Israel campaign targeting the school.
The Rutgers event took place in concert with “Israel Apartheid Week” events at numerous university campuses. While some Jewish leaders are alarmed at this trend, others are of the opinion that, try as they might, anti-Israel groups are not making headway in their efforts to delegitimize Israel in the U.S. And Rutgers Hillel last week mounted its own campaign to highlight Israel’s diversity.
The anti-Israel event, called “Israel, the Apartheid Analogy, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement,” held March 1 on Rutgers’ Douglass campus as part of “Palestine Awareness Week,” was sponsored by a group called BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice. BAKA has organized other events highly critical of Israel, including January’s “Never Again for Anyone” program featuring a Holocaust survivor critical of Israel.
Area Jewish leaders expressed outrage at what they characterized as a false and offensive comparison between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa, and pledged to help pro-Israel students at Rutgers combat what they believe is a deliberate campaign of disinformation.
“It is hateful and egregious to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa,” said Allyson Gall, New Jersey area director of the American Jewish Committee. “There are over 1 million Arabs in Israel who have the right to vote, to serve in Knesset, who have freedom of religion and free speech. When Jimmy Carter used the word apartheid in his book, there were African-American leaders here in the U.S. who called him to tell him using this word was wrong and he should not use it.”
She added, “When they throw around the word ‘apartheid,’ then I know they are not just pro-Palestinian, they are anti-Israel, because they are dead wrong.”
Leonard Cole, an adjunct professor at Rutgers who teaches at the Newark campus in the division of global affairs, decried what he sees as an anti-Israel “drumbeat” on campus and called on the university to condemn it.
Citing six separate anti-Israel events at the University’s New Brunswick campus in November/December and referencing last Tuesday’s event, Cole said, “There is no right to prohibit such an event, but neither is there prohibition of the president of the university or other university officials from condemning hurtful or outrageous or untrue statements or claims that come out of these events.”
In apartheid South Africa, according to Alan Elsner of the Israel Project, a non-profit organization that provides information about the Middle East, blacks had no right to form political parties, to vote, to live in certain areas, or to freely associate with whites, and South Africa’s government enforced this discrimination.
In Israel, he pointed out, all citizens including Israeli Arabs have the right to vote, to speak, to assemble, to form political parties, to freely associate, and to live where they wish.
The differences mean “there is not any valid comparison” between Israel’s government and South Africa’s during apartheid, said Elsner.
“I’m not saying Israeli democracy is perfect, but show me another country in the Mideast where minorities, women, and gays have the same rights as they do in Israel,” said Elsner, who worked as a reporter in South Africa during apartheid.
Jake Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, says his organization is working to “organize a movement to counter the BDS movement.” To that end, his and other area organizations including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Jewish Federations of North America are organizing a conference at Rutgers June 1.
“The events on Rutgers campus are disturbing, but are a wake-up call to the rest of the Jewish community to remain vigilant and respond effectively, with a united front, and to do all it can to ensure that Israel remains a viable nation,” said Toporek.
BAKA Treasurer Michael Dunican, a Rutgers senior majoring in Middle East studies, told The Jewish Standard that BAKA organized the event “to spread awareness.” Regarding the charge that the apartheid analogy is false, Dunican said, “The response that the analogy is false won’t do. Diversity shares the same root as diversion and the issues we raised have not been addressed.”
Dunican added, “[Anti-Defamation League National Director] Abe Foxman recently made the statement that when these things happen at Rutgers, the BDS movement is gaining momentum.”
Foxman in fact told Ha’aretz this week regarding “Israel Apartheid Week” events: “There are 3,500 colleges and universities in the U.S. If it happens in 40 or 80 campuses, it’s upsetting, troubling, but it’s not dangerous…. Overwhelmingly, students either don’t care or they are pro-Israel.”
Foxman also said, “The only difference is that after the communications revolution, when something happens in Rutgers, the whole world knows. The communications revolution gives them a megaphone way beyond what they are and whom they represent.”
Ken Stern, director of the Division of Anti-Semitism and Extremism at the AJC, agrees.
“They’ve pushed this for 10 years, and not one college campus has divested [from Israeli investment],” said Stern. “I don’t see Israel apartheid week as it’s played out in the U.S. to date as having been effective in achieving the goal of delegitimizing Israel in the eyes of the average person.”
Stern noted that the effort to de-legitimize Israel on college campuses has gained traction in Canada, and said there is a real danger in larger global efforts to delegitimize the Jewish State.
Meanwhile, Rutgers Hillel hosted its own series of events to coincide with “Palestine Awareness Week,” highlighting Israel’s diversity. A Feb. 28 event, “Israel at Heart,” featured Ethiopian Jewish Israelis and a Darfuri man who found refuge in Israel, all of whom made the case that “Israel is not an apartheid state,” according to Hillel Director Andrew Getraer.
Last Tuesday’s event, called “Get Me, Get Israel,” featured an Israeli Arab woman who has organized Israeli Arabs to do a year of national service to Israel and two Israelis who are members of the country’s LGBT community.
“They talked about the importance of seeing Israel not as a highly politicized country but as a diverse and accepting country,” said Raffi Mark, a sophomore at Rutgers majoring in American Studies who grew up in Wayne and who helped organize Hillel’s events.
Asked if he had any response to these events, Dunican said, “Regarding the event[s] with gay and Arab Israelis, at our event we had a Palestinian speaker and three Ashkenazi Jews.”
Heather Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.