It's that time of year again, when our institutions of higher learning take a week out of their busy schedules to celebrate anti-Semitism. Oh, I know it's officially called "Israel Apartheid Week," and it has been expanded to two weeks, but really, whatever you choose to call it, it's nothing short of absurd. Originally started in 2005 by the Arab Student Collective at the University of Toronto, a number of Canadian and American academic institutions have chosen to blindly follow along with it.
According to the IAW Web site, the aim of the week is to bolster worldwide support in achieving full equality for Arab citizens of Israel; dismantle the barrier wall that divides Jerusalem and the West Bank; and boycott Israeli products. Here in North America, of course, people have the right to free speech; however, the extremist nature of this event serves not to enlighten the uninformed, but to promote hatred and intolerance on our college campuses.
Contrary to the myth that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were deported by Israel in 1947, the majority of the Arab exodus was not only voluntary, but the result of orders by Arab leadership (so that those who left could return to a land without Jews). For those who did not leave, what terrible atrocity did the Israeli government perpetrate upon them? They stayed and were granted citizenship. This includes equal voting rights, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, free speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. That hardly resembles the apartheid policies of South Africa.
If apartheid means the racial segregation or discrimination of one group over another, then perhaps it is the rest of the Middle East -- and not Israel -- that's practicing apartheid. In Islamic countries, non-Muslims are not treated the same as Muslims; they are granted a lesser status, that of the dhimmi.
Islamic law breaks society down into two distinct groups: believers and non-believers. Non-believers face suppression of religious beliefs, often cannot hold positions of authority and have little protection under the law. If we view the Middle East based on the same standards as IAW views Israel, then the conclusion must be that Islamic countries in the Middle East also practice apartheid.
Another serious bone of contention related to IAW is the 8-meter-high separation wall constructed by the Israeli government between Jerusalem and the West Bank. Those opposed to the wall see it as an oppressive barrier that demeans Palestinians. Yet to Israelis, it has been the reason for a radical reduction in suicide bombings and in deaths.
IAW organizers are also pushing for a boycott of Israeli goods. Such proposals have been opposed by scholars, politicians and even Nobel laureates. They have been called "profoundly unjust," and according to Oxford professor Brian Klug, based on a false analogy with South African apartheid. Facts have been intentionally misrepresented to present Israel poorly.
And herein lies the problem. The true goal is not about resolving injustice; rather, through the selective use of omission, the week's activities are aimed to disseminate propaganda and promote intolerance. What is really nothing more than a Middle East regional conflict has been dragged to North America in an attempt by pro-Palestinian extremist groups to systematically spread hatred -- not just against Israel, but against all Jews.
While things may be quieter this year, north of the boarder, intolerance escalates. Recently, members of the provincial parliament in Ontario voted unanimously on a motion to denounce IAW 2010. The safety of Jewish students and professors has become a very real concern.
Our universities need to be more responsible -- responsible for fostering intellectual debate and higher thinking, not promoting hatred. Make no mistake: Israel Apartheid Week is not about enlightening the world about the troubles of the Palestinians. And it's not about the right to free speech. It is a fully accepted and organized celebration of hatred, intolerance and anti-Semitism.
Patrick Mascoe is a teacher in Ottawa, Canada. He runs a tolerance-education program that unites Muslims and Jews, which has been publicly recognized by the Daniel Pearl Foundation, Yad Vashem and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.