Winnipeg Jewish Review  
Site Search:
Home  |  Archives  |  Contact Us
Features Local Israel Next Generation Arts/Op-Eds Editorial/Letters Links Obituary/In Memoriam

Chatterley Makes Presentation on IAW at Conference in T.O. sponsored by Advocates For Civil Liberties

by Catherine Chatterley, February 16, 2010

Dr. Catherine Chatterley delivered this presentation at a conference entitled When Middle East Politics Invade Campus, sponsored by the Advocates for Civil Liberties, held in Toronto on February 16, 2011.

Audio of the presentation is available on CISA’s blog

The History and Purpose of Israeli “Apartheid” Week (IAW)

I would like to provide a brief outline of the history and purpose of Israeli “Apartheid” Week (or IAW) and the connection it has to a larger global political strategy to delegitimize and dismantle the Jewish State.

IAW is a Canadian invention. The first event was held on one campus—at the University of Toronto—from January 31-February 4, 2005. The following year it included Montreal and Oxford; in 2007, it grew to 8 cities; in 2008, to 24 cities; in 2009, to 38 cities; last year, to over 40 cities; and this year, IAW will be held in over 55 cities worldwide.

While the event is new, the ideology at the heart of IAW is not. The accusation that Zionism is racist and imperialist by nature has existed since the establishment of the State of Israel. The Soviet Union was the leading proponent of this conception of Zionism and it drew on the long history of left antisemitism identifying Jewish nationalism and capitalist imperialism with Judaism and the Jewish bourgeoisie. Within this tradition, Jewish nationalism was seen as divisive and reactionary, opposed to progressive politics, and based upon an artificial ethnic-religious construct that elevated Jews above other peoples. Within a year of the establishment of the State of Israel, Stalin began to see Zionism as a serious threat to the Soviet Union and its interests. Zionism was perceived to be working in tandem with American imperialism, both in the Middle East and as a conspiracy inside the USSR. From 1949 until his death in 1953, Stalin engaged in a full assault on the Jews of the Soviet Union, who were then considered “bourgeois nationalists,” “rootless cosmopolitans” and a Zionist fifth column.

The Six-Day-War in June 1967 was a crushing defeat not only for the Arab armies, but also for the USSR and its international prestige. From this point forward, Soviet anti-Zionist rhetoric regularly used Nazi analogies, accusing Israel of behaving like Hitler, practicing racism, fascism, and genocide against the Palestinian Arabs. In a re-deployment of classic European antisemitic tropes, the Zionists were accused of having a controlling influence in the Western media, industry, and banking, and were accused of working with the United States to advance their interests against those of international communism.

In his most recent history of antisemitism, entitled A Lethal Obsession, Robert Wistrich discusses the historical development and distribution of this Soviet anti-Zionist ideology in explicit detail, and illustrates how its strategy to isolate and delegitimize Zionism precipitated the 1975 UN Resolution 3379, which stated that “Zionism is a form of racism and racist discrimination.” Another Resolution that same year, number 77, stated that the “racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being.” And again, that year, the non-aligned countries released a Political Declaration and Strategy to Strengthen International Peace and Security, which condemned Zionism as a “threat to world peace and security and called upon all countries to oppose this racist and imperialist ideology.” Two years earlier, a UN Resolution 3151 had condemned “the unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism.”

UN Resolution 3379 was finally annulled in 1991, the same year that the Soviet Union collapsed, but its echoes were heard again at Durban I, the World Conference Against Racism, held from August 31 to September 8, 2001 under UN auspices in South Africa. Charged with discussing a number of controversial subjects including slavery and reparations, much of the conference was dedicated to the so-called racist crimes of Zionism. Iran and Syria inserted six references to Zionism as a form of racism into the draft documents produced before the official conference, which were eventually removed from the final documents. It is important to note that, at this supposed anti-racist conference, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion—arguably, the most libelous, antisemitic text in history—was distributed to delegates by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee of South Africa.

Four years after Durban I, in 2005, Israeli Apartheid Week was born in Toronto. That July, 170 Palestinian civil society organizations released an official call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (better known as BDS) against Israel until it complied with International Law. This document clearly stated that the call by Palestinian civil society was modeled on the example of the South African struggle against Apartheid:

“We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace. These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by: 1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and, 3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.” (source:

Given the fact that Nazism  fails as a comparison to Israel in the minds of most of us in the West (not so in the rest of the world however), pro-Palestinian activists developed a deliberate strategy to delegitimize the State of Israel by comparing it to racist South Africa instead. Those of us who attended university in the late eighties and early nineties know how powerful and effective the anti-Apartheid movement, including its calls for divestment and boycotts, was on Canadian campuses. By 1983 the United Nations had twice condemned South Africa at the World Conference Against Racism, and a significant movement was pressuring investors to disinvest from South Africa and from companies involved in its economy. By the end of the 1980s, 25 countries, including the US, Canada, and the UK, had passed laws placing trade sanctions on South Africa and forbidding corporations in their jurisdictions from doing business with South African companies. South African apartheid finally collapsed in 1993 and the international campaign dedicated to its delegitimization, including well-organized campus activism, was thought to be the major catalyst in its dismantlement.

This, then, is the successful model chosen by Pro-Palestinian activists today to dismantle so-called “Zionist racism” in the Middle East. By framing Israel as a racist apartheid state, boycott, divestment, and sanctions become an entirely appropriate and morally correct plan of action. If Israel can be characterized as the new South Africa, it will have fewer and fewer supporters, and it will begin to face coercive criticism from its former allies in the West. This is precisely the stated purpose of IAW—to “contribute to [the] chorus of international opposition to Israeli apartheid and to bolster support for the BDS campaign in accordance with the demands outlined in the July 2005 statement.” The general goal of IAW is to “provide solidarity with the Palestinian struggle by exerting urgent pressure on Israel to alter its current structure and practices as an apartheid state.”

If the goal were actually education and informed discussion about the history and nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict, IAW programming would incorporate competing points of view and would resist the political temptation to indoctrinate students. All subjects central to the conflict would be on the agenda if IAW was actually interested in investigating this very complex, seemingly intractable problem—subjects like the many wars fought by Arab armies against Israel, the historical and contemporary arguments of Arab nationalism, the Islamization of the conflict itself and the dominant Islamic interpretation of Israel, the terrorism directed against Israeli civilians, the role of Saudi Arabia and Iran in Middle East politics, the increasing role of antisemitism in this conflict, the nature of the Hamas Charter, and, the very real question of whether or not anyone in the region actually wants to accept the existence of a Jewish State in the Middle East.

No—like the original anti-apartheid movement, the goal of IAW is explicitly and unapologetically political, and yet the rhetoric of IAW is left open enough to incorporate: 1) critics of Israel who still support a two-state solution based upon the return to pre-1967 borders; 2) those who support the dismantling of the current Jewish State and its replacement with one (highly theoretical) secular democratic state; and, 3) those who support the destruction of Israel by any means necessary. Unfortunately, all three camps are included amongst supporters of IAW and the BDS campaign and therefore the lines are often blurred between harsh criticism of the State of Israel, outright condemnation of its continued existence, and calls for its eradication. This is a serious problem, and one that appears to be designed quite consciously by IAW and the BDS movement.
The Israeli Apartheid Week website ( claims to be playing “an important role in raising awareness and disseminating information about Zionism, the Palestinian liberation struggle and its similarities with the indigenous sovereignty struggle in North America and the South African anti-Apartheid movement.” It is important to realize that IAW is not only about the Palestinians—the supporters of IAW see themselves as part of a larger resistance movement promoting solidarity “across borders in [a] global struggle against racism and oppression.” There is a concerted effort by organizers to build alliances with other communities, with indigenous peoples, and with the disenfranchised in general.

Last year’s statement in support of IAW by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) makes this strategy clear: “Whereas student and youth movements played a key role in ending Apartheid in South Africa, IAW is currently one of the most important tools to educate people about the nature of Israel as a colonial apartheid system and to build on the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement . . . We also take this opportunity to salute our sisters and brothers from around the world who are also struggling against racism, colonialism and oppression. From the landless peoples' movements of South Africa and Latin America, to the indigenous sovereignty struggles of the original nations of the Americas and Australia, to struggles of racialized and migrant communities the world over: our struggle is one and the same, a struggle for human dignity that will no doubt, one day, be victorious.” (source:

So, what are the implications of this political strategy to mark Israel as a racist apartheid state? First, IAW makes a clear alliance between the just struggles of common humanity to alleviate real human suffering. Then, this benevolent alliance of humanity is set up against the evil forces that create and maintain injustice and suffering, which in this context are labeled Zionism and Israel. So, just as in the protest movement against South Africa, we have the creation of a polarized, Manichean context between evil, racist Israel (and its supporters) and the rest of humanity. The difference, of course, is that South African apartheid was actually a vicious white supremacist ideology that had no supporters on university campuses. Today, students on campuses are learning about Zionism and Israel—and thereby also about the Jewish people—from events sponsored by an organization that conceives of them as racist and imperialist. Another theme at work here, which some people may not recognize is the classic antisemitic opposition between “the Jews” and common humanity, both powerful imaginary abstractions. In the antisemitic imagination, “the Jews” conspire against the interests of common humanity, against all that is good and just, for their own selfish, particularistic interests. The demonization of Zionism replicates this exact dynamic and places Zionists outside the boundaries of humanity, just as Jews were placed outside Christian humanity, proletarian humanity, and so-called “Aryan” humanity over the centuries. This is a clear case of dehumanization and it should concern all people, especially those supposedly committed to anti-racist work.   
IAW is a very smart political strategy on the part of pro-Palestinian activists. Students care about racism and human rights—and so they should. As a result, they can be easily and actively mobilized against those labeled racists and human rights violators, for whom there is little sympathy in our contemporary culture. IAW relies on the lack of public and student knowledge about Zionism, Israel, and the very complex history of the Middle East, and it also depends upon widespread ignorance about the system of Apartheid and the history of South Africa. It is relatively easy to make a comparison if people are ignorant about the examples being compared. It is also helpful if the nature of the discussion is highly emotional—it feels like apartheid—instead of scholarly, which is my general impression of the quality of events sponsored by IAW. This is the successful model adopted by pro-Palestinian activists since Durban I (2001) and it demands a thoughtful, engaged, coordinated intellectual response. What we need is high quality academic programming on university campuses that both unpacks and counters the Israel Apartheid propaganda that we see on our campuses and actually engages with the difficult, contested, some might say tragic, reality of the conflict. I would suggest that it is fundamentally irresponsible to allow IAW and its supporters to re-define Zionism as a racist form of European colonialism when in actual fact it is an emancipatory movement for Jewish self-determination—one that developed a new urgency and legitimacy with the wholesale systematic annihilation of Jewish Europe by a real form of racist European imperialism, better known as National Socialism.

Today, Israel is confronting a coordinated global strategy to weaken its connection to the West (including the Jewish Diaspora) by delegitimizing Zionism. Re-branding Israel a racist apartheid state that abuses human rights and violates international law, allows the delegitimization movement to demand boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israelis in all areas (from culture to sport to business to academe), to have Western courts issue arrest warrants for visiting Israeli officials, to pursue these officials in the International Criminal Court, and to justify antisemitism and anti-Israelism as legitimate forms of anti-Zionist or anti-racist resistance. If this pressure can build to the point of isolating Israel from its allies in the West, specifically from the population at large; if speaking out in defense of Israel is made the equivalent of defending apartheid, then the hope is that Israel will eventually collapse in isolation or be coerced into negotiations that make it vulnerable to dismantlement or actual destruction. This is the larger context in which IAW must be understood if we are to see it clearly for the political programme it is. 

In conclusion, I would like to suggest that I believe our approach to the problems under discussion must be self-reflexive, reasoned, and accurate to have the desired effect of re-establishing civility and intelligent academic discussion on the subjects of antisemitism, Holocaust, Israel, Palestine, and the conflict in the Middle East. The battle over Israel and  the Palestinians has transmogrified into a new Cold War in the West, especially on our campuses and between colleagues and friends.

My goal as a teacher and a scholar, and as Director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, however frustrating and seemingly impossible it may appear today—is to try to help rebuild the middle. The centre is always where human beings find compromise and this conflict is no different. We need to encourage intelligent discussion and debate that employs meaningful, ethical, and accurate language to describe what are truly difficult, complex, and contested histories. People need to take responsibility for their own personal feelings of rage and frustration and they must be encouraged to exercise self-control in multicultural public spaces. And, as academics, we must support a new consensus on academic and activist conduct for Canadian university campuses that preserves civility and safety and upholds the rigorous standards of professional academic enquiry.

The Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) is a registered charitable organization that relies on public donations to support its important work on campus and in the community. Please visit our website for more information:


<<Previous Article       Next Article >>
Subscribe to the Winnipeg Jewish Review
  • Royal Bank
  • Sobey's
  • JNF Canada
  • Fillmore Riley
  • Jewish Federation of Winnipeg
  • Winter's Collision
  • Bridges for Peace
  • Orthodox Union
  • Lipkin Family
  • Asper Foundation
  • Booke + Partners
  • Equitable Solutions
  • The Bob Silver Family
  • Accurate Lawn & Garden
  • Coughlin Insurance Brokers
  • Daniel Friedman and Rob Dalgleish
  • Munroe Pharmacy
  • Karyn & Mel Lazareck
  • Gislason Targownik Peters
  • Commercial Pool
  • Dr. Brent Schachter and Sora Ludwig
  • Artista Homes
  • Fetching Style
  • Ronald B. Zimmerman
  • Kathleen Cook
  • Ambassador Mechanical
  • Taverna Rodos
  • Safeway Tuxedo
  • PFK Lawyers
  • Evan Duncan
  • John Orlikow
  • Red River Coop
  • Myers LLP
  • MCW Consultants Ltd.
  • Holiday Inn Polo Park
  • Chisick Family
  • Canada Awakening Ministries
  • CdnVISA Immigration Consultants
  • Kowall Chiropractic Centre
  • Lanny Silver
  • Shinewald Family
  • Moses and Adam Levy and Family
  • Simmonds and Associates
  • Laufman Reprographics
  • Chochy's
  • Lazar Family
  • Ross Eadie
  • Shindico
  • Astroid Management Limited
  • Western Scrap Metals Inc.
  • Stephen N Rosenfield
  • Piston Ring
  • Broadway Law Group
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • Nick's Inn
  • Josef Ryan
  • Dr. Marshall Stitz
  • Fair Service
  • Roseman Corp
  • Derksen
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • kristinas-greek
  • The Center for Near East Policy Research Ltd.
  • Sarel Canada
  • Santa Lucia Pizza
  • Roofco Winnipeg Roofing
  • Center for Near East Policy Research
  • Nachum Bedein
Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.