On Israeli Apartheid Week:Gray Matters

By Jacob Kraus, Noah West-Reich and Ronit Zemel

Many of you saw the tarp hanging between the Library and Old Main as a part of Israeli Apartheid Week sponsored by Macalester Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER). Our understanding is that SUPER decided to hold Israeli Apartheid week to show the current problems between Israel and Palestine. We, as Macalester students who try to see everything through an inquisitive and critical lens, also see the need to condemn the Israeli government for many of their current policies. We see the need for peace now more than ever, and we see the need to change the status quo in Israel and Palestine to ensure a stable and sustainable future for all in the region. However, we also see a complex and nuanced situation and we do not see holding Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) on our campus as productive in the struggle toward peace. We do not see Israeli Apartheid Week as constructive in building a space for inclusive dialogue. Last semester several student organizations—including SUPER, J Street U and the Middle Eastern Students Association—came together to plan Israel-Palestine Week under the auspices of the Shalaam Coalition. The week consisted of diverse guest speakers, movie screenings, student discussions and panels. Shalaam did not strive to represent any one standpoint, but rather to embrace the various perspectives held by students on this campus. Shalaam succeeded in portraying some nuance and complexity and in creating a place for this dialogue for the first time in Macalester history. SUPER’s representation of the “Apartheid Wall” on a plastic tarp is certain to reach a large percentage of the Macalester community because it occupies public space. The majority of students traverse the space underneath the Link every day on their walks across campus. It worries us that this representation of the “Apartheid Wall” further polarizes an issue that we, and this campus, know is too complex to be explained to us on a tarp. We could never claim to be scholars on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; we know that the situation is not black and white. It is gray. We feel IAW is a confrontational presentation of the issue without any context or nuance. We understand it is SUPER’s intention to represent the views of Palestinians, but we feel that using the word apartheid comes from a place of hate. The word may have a broader meaning, but it is most commonly associated with the former apartheid regime in South Africa. In apartheid South Africa, social services like education, health care and even beaches were segregated between Blacks and Whites, and Black citizens were provided inferior services. The situation in Israel is not the same. Arab citizens of Israel can vote, serve in the government, and go to the same schools as Jewish Israelis. Currently, there is an Arab Israeli on Israel’s supreme court and over ten Arab members of Knesset (the Israeli parliament). Indeed, there are forms of segregation and separation in Israel-Palestine, particularly in the West Bank, but a comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa is inaccurate and misleading. To equate the practices of apartheid South Africa with Israel, even unconsciously, is undermining the existence of Israel, a country that we, as Zionist Jews, love. Using such strong language could potentially alienate people and stifle dialogue. We cannot and should not take this word as a mere descriptive term. Regardless of your connection to Israel-Palestine, a nuanced conversation is not only valuable but also necessary to understanding the complexity of the issue. The tarp, while it represents one organization’s perspective, sends an antagonistic message to the Macalester community. Let us not take this message at face value. Let us live up to our inquisitive, intellectual reputation and complicate this one-dimensional and potentially hurtful message with our diverse perspectives. When we return from spring break we hope to continue the conversation fully and thoroughly. Look out for more opportunities to build a space for dialogue that advances peace and justice.