Why NYU-SJP held Israeli Apartheid Week

Amith Gupta is an International Institute of Law and Justice scholar at the NYU School of Law. He is an organizer with NYU Students for Justice in Palestine. This article was originally published in Washington Square News

Over 100 students and community members participated in a series of  NYU Students for Justice In Palestine events, known as “Israeli Apartheid Week.” In addition, 41 individuals volunteered for NYU-SJP’s burgeoning campaign to support NYU divesting from corporations complicit in Israeli human rights abuses. Thus far, 119 NYU faculty have called for divestment from such corporations.

Attacks on NYU-SJP’s event series have become increasingly bizarre. But there is an underlying theme: apologists for Israeli aggression are running out of excuses.

Putting the Willie Horton scandal to shame, Benyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s re-elected prime minister, rode into office using racist scare tactics about the dangers of “Arab voters” in order to appeal to Israel’s most fascist elements. Ironically, the same voter base whom Netanyahu denigrated in order to win the election is often exploited as proof of Israel’s supposed diversity when the country is accused of apartheid, as it was in a United Nations report.

While it is true that Israel reluctantly granted citizenship to some Palestinians — namely, descendants of the minority of Palestinians who remained in present-day Israel after Israelexpelled the rest in 1948 — they are subject to at least 40 different discriminatory laws and barred from owning property in significant portions of what is now the state of Israel.

But Israel treats most Palestinians far worse. The vast majority of Palestinians are notconsidered Israeli citizens. Instead, they live under Israeli military occupation, under the perpetual threat of indiscriminate attack, torture, land theft and other crimes; or in exile as refugees and in perpetual danger.

That is why NYU-SJP joined universities, churches, mosques, community centers and others in commemorating Israeli Apartheid Week. That is why the term “apartheid” has been used to describe Israeli policy by figures including anti-apartheid hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and a slew of other international rights organizations, legal bodies and authorities. If anything, it is an understatement.

That is why NYU SJP is following the footsteps of the movement against apartheid in South Africa by supporting campus divestment campaigns against corporations complicit in Israel’s ongoing abuses.

It is why hundreds of New Yorkers listened with open minds and hearts as an NYU graduate student from Gaza, Jehad Abusalim, described how the Israeli army murdered three of his friends with indiscriminate bombardment throughout Gaza this summer, and was was forced to check if his entire family had been killed every day for 50 days. It is why the community came to hear journalist Joe Catron tell us how he had witnessed Israeli troops targeting hospitals and schools in Gaza as it violated ceasefire agreements.

That is why Cherrell Brown spoke to our community about the parallels she had noted between Ferguson and Palestine, where she visited upon invitation from solidarity activists. “Like in Ferguson, they are afraid of how people will respond to their oppressors,” she said. “We were being collectively punished [in Ferguson] because the police had shot Mike Brown, just as Hebron [a Palestinian city under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank] is experiencing collective punishment for what their oppressors have done to them.” She continued, “We know St. Louis police are being trained by Israeli soldiers. They are using the same weaponry, as some of the tear gas being used in Ferguson is from Israel. And so we must work together, and share our stories and our collective resistance.”

Israel’s atrocities in Gaza; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to kickstarta U.S. war with Iran; his collaboration with Republican warhawks to undermine the sitting U.S. president; his overt rejection of what passes for “peace” in Israel; his race-baiting electoral win; Israel’s role in NSA spying programs; and its close collaboration with heavy-handed American police have created a public relations nightmare for a state that normally holds shameful levels of support in the United States. It appears that serious changes to the decades of injustice Israel has imposed upon its victims are on the horizon.

Toothless negotiations between the powerful and the powerless, empty dialogue initiatives and the intimidation of activist groups whitewash the blatant inequality between Israel and its Palestinian subjects, and will never lead to changes.

Change will only occur with endless Palestinian-led international efforts to organize political resistance to the inequality which NYU SJP is proud, unashamed and unapologetic in joining.

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