Some activities across the U.S. marking the 17th annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which is a series of worldwide anti-Israel events spearheaded by the BDS Movement and rooted in antizionism and antisemitism, featured instances of overt antisemitism and expressions of support for violence against Israel.
As is typically the case, anti-Zionist campus group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was the primary organizer of IAW, spearheading most of the approximately 16 apartheid walls and 200 events that took place on college and university campuses and in broader communities. Allied groups, including the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) and the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) also helped organize events.
The BDS Movement officially designated IAW in the United States for March 13-27, 2023. A January 2023 statement from BDS asked people from broad cross-sections of society across the globe, including workers, churches and social justice movements, “to join IAW 2023 under the slogan People Against Apartheid.” While two weeks were designated for IAW, groups across the country have been continuously holding events since February. Some anti-Israel groups observe Israeli Apartheid Week under the banner of “Palestine Awareness Week” or “Palestine Liberation Week.”
Some 202 IAW events took place across the country, but were concentrated in California, Texas and the Northeast. These included 16 “apartheid walls” and 28 screenings of anti-Israel films.
In one notable case, an apartheid wall displayed by the SJP-affiliated Palestine Solidarity Committee at Harvard University equated a “Zionist state” with racism, colonialism and ethnic cleansing. ADL considers anti-Zionism, or opposition to Israel’s existence, to be a form of antisemitism. The apartheid wall also contained imagery of a train that, for some, was reminiscent of cattle cars used to transport Jews during the Holocaust.
In another instance, UC Berkeley’s SJP chapter (Bears for Palestine) displayed a pamphlet co-authored by the antisemitic organization If Americans Knew, which is headed by virulent antisemite Alison Weir, who has falsely claimed that Judaism gives “religious permission to kill a non-Jew in order to provide body parts to Jews.” She has also asserted that Judaism is “a ruthless and supremacist faith.” In 2015, the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace formally dissociated from Alison Weir, citing her history of propagating or being complicit in bigotry, including antisemitism.
The description of “Teach-In: Confronting Zionism,” co-hosted by the Palestinian Youth Movement and the George Washington University chapters of SJP and JVP, invited participants to learn how to “organize against Zionism and normalization on campus and in our communities.” The tactic of “anti-normalization,” popular with BDS activists, forbids dialogue with “Zionists,” or anyone who supports the existence of the state of Israel. This approach effectively excludes most of the Jewish community.
Support for Violence/Terror Against Israel
Some events have veered into rhetoric justifying or lauding violence against Israel, including Israeli civilians. This was exemplified by an IAW event at the University of Cape Town in South Africa which virtually hosted representatives from terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The event was promoted by at least one U.S.-based anti-Zionist activist, attorney Lamis Deek, who has been hosted on campus by SJP chapters.
In the U.S., expressions of support for violence against Israel at 2023 IAW events included:
- An apartheid wall erected by SJP at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, commemorated Ahmad Abu Junaid, a member of terror group Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, as well Sanad Samamreh, who stabbed an Israeli civilian in the West Bank (the Israeli was moderately wounded). The group also venerated Leila Khaled in an Instagram post. Khaled is a leader of terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and is well-known for her role in the hijacking of two civilian airliners, TWA Flight 840 in 1969 (bound for Tel Aviv from Rome) and El Al flight 219 in 1970 (traveling from Amsterdam to New York City).
- SJP and the Black Student Union at John Jay College in New York hosted an event with a poster featuring an image of Leila Khaled carrying a gun.
- George Washington University SJP’s apartheid wall prominently featured the slogan “Long Live the Intifada,” recalling the First and Second Palestinian Intifadas. The Second Intifada was one of the most violent and deadly eras of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, during which scores of Israeli civilians were targeted and killed by terror groups.
Other Themes and Items of Note
As in previous years, IAW 2023 featured activists making accusations against Israel ranging from apartheid and genocide to greenwashing (as well as colonialism and ethnic cleansing, as noted above).
Many prominent anti-Israel activists and academics made appearances as speakers, including those with a history of espousing odious and/or antisemitic language about Israel and Zionism. These included Palestinian activist and journalist Mohammed El-Kurd (Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania and University of Michigan), BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti (Harvard University), Rutgers University Professor Noura Erakat (University of Pennsylvania), author and activist Susan Abulhawa (Swarthmore College) and former JVP Deputy Director Rabbi Alissa Wisse (Swarthmore College).
Continuing a trend, intersectional justice was a priority for anti-Israel groups. In a few instances, groups representing marginalized communities in the U.S. participated in Israeli Apartheid Week. More often, organizers hosted events during which speakers attempted to draw parallels between the pursuit for racial justice in the U.S. and the Palestinian cause.