UK students battle ‘Apartheid Week’
“A falafel ball along with a fact?” Ariel, 20, a Jewish student at University College London (UCL), asked Ali, who is from Bahrain. When Ali took Ariel up on his offer, Ariel told him about Israel’s varied population, the Arab judges in Israel’s courts and minority rights in the Holy Land.
“I had no idea that Israel was a country that has religious freedom and gay rights,” said Ali afterwards, while waving goodbye to Ariel. “Until today, I heard of Israel mostly in connection with apartheid and the murder of Palestinians – and he made me think a little differently.”
The last week has been especially difficult for those who are pro-Israel in the United Kingdom, as pro-Palestinian organizations announced “Apartheid Week”, a week that is full of anti-Israel activities and harsh vilification. UK campuses have also hosted speaks who call on thousands of students to support a boycott of Israel. To counter this, Jewish students set up stands in support of Israel throughout campuses and handed out public diplomacy pamphlets.
“It’s not an easy matter defending Israel,” recounted Ariel, who studies economy at UCL. “We do with a sense of a great mission, as well as because we are fed up with being attacked.”
Ariel set up the pro-Israel stand along with Joseph Stool, a 22-year-old Jewish student at nearby Kings College. “We are studying at very anti-Israel universities,” Joseph explains. “On one of the buildings at UCL, a Palestinian flag hangs permanently because the local student council identifies with the Palestinians.”
Joseph says that there are more than a few anti-Israeli professors at his university and that “20 of them recently signed a petition calling for an academic boycott of Israel.”
Ariel and Joseph set up the stand at the very entrance of the university “so that no one would miss us,” laughed Joseph. Other activists working with them hand out pamphlets, and one of them even hung an Israeli flag on his shirt, stopped professors who teach there and started debating the issue with them. Other students passing by stopped, tasted some falafel and listened to information on womens’ rights and the LGBT community in Israel. One of them recounted that a week earlier he had heard from a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement activist that “since women are denied rights in Israel, the army forces them to serve in its ranks. Now I understand that this is not true.”
There are others who are less than impressed by what the pro-Israel activists have to say, such as the students who pass by singing anti-Israel songs. One student even called Ariel and his fellow activists “child-killers”. But the screams and insults don’t discourage those at the pro-Israel stand. “We are determined to show everyone that Israel is a peace-loving nation,” said Joseph. “They have become very extremist here and only want to spread hatred. We are here to change the situation.”
Meanwhile. Israel scored a victory against the BDS movement in Spain when the city of Aviles announced Saturday that it was cancelling its decision to officially support the BDS movement, following a Spanish pro-Israel organization called ACOM, with the help of the International Legal Forum (ILF), initiated a lawsuit claiming that the BDS movement in principal is against Spanish law.
Over 25 Spanish municipalities have adopted the BDS movement’s position as official policy. ACOM turned, in December 2015, to the ILF for assistance in dealing with the problem, and among other actions, a lawsuit was filed against the city of Aviles. The latter told the court last week that it requested to annul its decision regarding the boycott.
Aviles’ announcement to the court stated that “Aviles’ legal counsel considers the BDS movement to be illegal as it threatens people’s right not to be discriminated against.”
The ILF said that this precedent will serve as a deterrent in Spain and in Europe regarding municipalities adopting policies that boycott and delegitimize Israel.