Israeli Apartheid Week Update: Day 4, “York’s Complicity in Apartheid”

Last night’s IAW was “York’s Complicity in Apartheid: Art, Culture and Resistance”, held at York University. Ironically enough, York’s administration attempted to block the event’s occurrence by demanding exorbitant security fees, despite the fact no security incidents have occurred during the last 3 years of IAW events at YorkU.

Paul Kellogg from Athabasca university spoke about the similarities and differences between the current campaigns against apartheid in Israel with the social justice campaigns of the 70s and 80s which he was involved in as a student against South African Apartheid, and the dictatorships in Chile and Greece. During the question period I asked him what kind of arguments the establishment made attempting to dismiss the critiques of South African apartheid and I was astonished by his answer: apparently it was common to hear statements such as “South Africa is the Only Democracy in Africa”, or “South Africa is a beacon of stability in a region of instability”. In other words, very similar to the arguments used to dismiss criticism of Israeli apartheid.

However, according to Kellogg there is a key difference in how deep the ideological need for Europe and America to defend the status quo in Israel compared to South Africa. This differences arises from Israel’s relation the political project of “Zionism”, which is a secular political ideology which purports to be the solution to anti-jewish racism. Anti-jewish racism is a European problem, and it is the unfinished business of the trauma of world war 2 and the holocaust. So, European countries (which in this sense includes America) have an interest in supporting zionism because it appears to be a solution to that European problem. The problem is, Zionism is not actually a solution to anti-jewish racism as a social problem in European society and can’t be solved by exporting the scapegoated population elsewhere. Kellogg didn’t go into detail about why Zionism is not a solution to anti-jewish racism. Personally, I think Zionism has more in common with the Nazi policy of excluding Jews from European society by deporting them (60,000 of them to Palestine, actually) than with a genuine anti-racist program which would seek to remedy the social problem of racism by dealing with the sources from which it arises.

The other faculty speaker was John Grayson from the York University film studies program. He gave a presentation utilizing video art which consisted of a series of seven vignettes documenting York’s suppression and use of police violence against Palestinian solidarity work on campus. It proceeded, like Momento, in reverse order: beginning with an event in 2009, and ending with an event in 2004. Presenting the scenes in reverse order allows us to experience causality in a different way: rather than seeing things open towards an indeterminate future, we have already experienced the future of this past and therefore can reflect during each vignette on how it resulted in the previous one. I can’t recall all the events depicted, but the most moving one was the protest during which president Shoukri called the police and gave the police keys to a private room at York. The police came, arrested some lead figures from the event, and took them to the private locked room to beat them. The video did not show the beating explicitly (although according to Grayson, footage of that does exist), but it did reveal the police in all their “bully” and “macho” attitude. The vignette ends with the narrator saying simply: “That pretty much cemented my hatred for the cops”.

SAIA York gave a presentation as well, although it was really just a repetition of the presentation which SAIA U of T presented on Monday at the launch of their divestment campaign. The only real difference is that York is not currently invested in Lockheed Martin, although Lockheed Martin remains part of the YorkU divestment campaign because it also emphasizes the duty not to re-invest. I will write another post on the intricate logic of the divestment campaign, and how according to the Nuremberg principles institutions are required to divest from firms engaged in war crimes or crimes against humanity.

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