Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) hosted “Israeli Apartheid Week,” an annual series of events dedicated to labeling the State of Israel an apartheid state.
The name of the event, which is held across college campuses around the world, caused controversy across DePaul’s campus. More than fifty university members signed an open letter which claimed the events drew a “baseless parallel between Israel and South Africa” that was “not only inaccurate, but also, inexcusably offensive, as it minimizes the criminal suffering endured by those victims of the true apartheid.”
In the midst of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), SJP’s president, Jasmine Abdel-Razik defended their use of the word “apartheid” saying it was “the reality of the situation.” But then Abdel-Razik softened her opinion by expressing her wishes for peace amongst SJP and DePaul’s Israeli group.
Two days prior on SJP’s Facebook event page, a student asked why it was called “Israel Apartheid Week,” to which SJP responded, “It’s because the week is dedicated to exposing Israeli Apartheid.”
Abdel-Razik, who was not responsible for writing SJP’s response, said, “When I saw that question I didn’t know how to respond because I was like, ‘you know what, I kind of agree with you'”. Abdel-Razik said she wanted to make clear that despite her role as SJP president, her opinions were her own. “I just feel like the truth comes out so you don’t always need to expose it, you just need to advocate and live with what is happening,” she said.
“We aren’t even talking about politics anymore,” Abdel-Razik said. “It turns into very childish … there’s two different sides and we’re talking about how using the term ‘apartheid’ is offensive,” she stopped a moment before continuing, “the dialogue just hasn’t worked.”
Steven Resnicoff, a professor of law and a co-director of the College of Law’s Center for Jewish Law & Judaic Studies said, “When the students refer to ‘apartheid’ they don’t have any idea what it means or legally means.”
The Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court defines apartheid as “inhumane acts committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
“There is nothing wrong with difference of opinion in policies but people should be careful in the words they use, not just to slander people and create hatred,” said Resnicoff. “Why don’t they want to have an open dialogue without shutting people out and shutting people down,” Reisnicoff said.
Abdel-Razik said, “We want to be able to have an open dialogue. We want to be able to have an open face-to-face. “It’s not fun to be an organization and have an enemy on campus, and that isn’t a position anyone wants to be in,” Abdel-Razik said. “I don’t see what we’ve done wrong besides saying it like it is,” she paused and said, “I guess it’s a stubborn thing.”
“If you fight so many times to fight something you aren’t going to fix an issue,” she said. “Especially in Palestine, there is so much going on that you can’t really afford to attack the other side and especially being a student group, that’s not what we want.”
Abdel-Razik said SJP had many meetings prior to IAW to discuss whether or not they felt using the word “apartheid” was appropriate. However, she added, “But you know, it’s an international week and it’s power in numbers and it is exposing the other side.”
“Using the term ‘apartheid’ isn’t an attack on people with Jewish identity,” Abdel-Razik said. “It’s looking at the institution and identifying the different policies at the walls that are being built across the entire country,” she said. “It’s not just a security wall it’s people that are separating kids and people are having children at checkpoints. It’s not Hillel’s fault that this is happening,” she said.
“It’s offensive to anyone,” Leah Karchmer said. “It draws a baseless parallel to Africa.”
Karchmer, a freshman and a double major in peace, justice, and conflict studies, as well as religious studies, is the co-president of Israel Advocates, a political student organization formed in January to reach out to students that identify with Israel rather than Judaism and to separate politics and religion from Hillel, DePaul’s Jewish organization.
This article was originally published in The DePaulia in print and online.