Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is hosting its fourth annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) this week, featuring events across campus through Friday.
This year’s conference focuses on technology and militarization in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to SJP member Munir Atalla.
“The changing political situation of the world and the technology that’s available to us affects the Israeli occupation,” Atalla, a senior, said.
SJP began the week with a presentation by Ramzi Jaber of Visualizing Impact on Sunday, which was attended by more than 30 community members. Jaber discussed how activists can use data visualization to share facts in a compelling way. Other planned events include film screenings, a discussion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) tactic and a conversation with Tufts professors about Palestine.
Atalla cited an event held yesterday, “Connecting Black and Palestinian Queer Struggles,” as the one he was most looking forward to due to its intersectional nature.
“It’s always a joy to be able to connect struggles,” he said.
As in past years, SJP members will also hold a to-be-determined direct action to promote their cause, according to Atalla.
“We usually try to supplement our educational programming with a direct action,” he said.
With a range of events, Atalla said SJP hopes to attract a broader audience to this year’s IAW.
“We try to up the reach of our programming every year,” he said.
In the first few years of IAW at Tufts, Atalla said the organizers faced more opposition than they do now.
“It was such a Zionist place,” he said. “The shift in the discourse has been monumental.”
Dylan Saba, a fellow SJP member and senior, agreed.
“Our first year that we did IAW, it was even controversial within the group,” he said.
Opponents of IAW took issue with the use of the word “apartheid” to describe the conditions of Palestinians living in Israel.
“We knew that using that word was going to be very controversial,” Saba said. “[But] we knew that if we were to not use that word simply to avoid controversy, then we are playing into the denial of that set of truths.”
Aviva Weinstein, a co-president of Tufts Friends of Israel (FOI), maintains opposition to the use of the term.
“‘Apartheid’ isn’t an accurate reflection of the reality in Israel,” Weinstein, a sophomore, said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in Israel. I’ve lived there for a year … It’s not the same kind of oppression that people experienced in South Africa.”
Atalla said that in past years FOI members and other IAW opponents attended events to directly voice their opposition.
“That strategy didn’t work for them,” he said. “They tend not to come to our events anymore.”
According to Tufts Hillel’s website, affiliated organizations such as FOI avoid partnering with groups that deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state or that support BDS.
“Hillel is not inclined to partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice intend to harm Israel or Jewish communities, organizations, institutions or individuals because of their political or ideological positions,” its policy reads.
While FOI Co-President Anna Linton affirmed the right of anyone to attend IAW events, she suggested that SJP’s approach could be unproductive.
“Bottom line, I do not support Israeli Apartheid Week,” Linton, a sophomore, said. “It is demonizing more than it is productive, and it prohibits any sort of conversation which is nuanced.”
Linton explained that FOI takes a proactive approach to promoting its view of Israel’s future rather than reacting directly to IAW.
“Friends of Israel is not interested in engaging in a back-and-forth, accusative, reactionary response,” she said. “Israeli Apartheid Week does not define the role of Friends of Israel on campus.”
Atalla, however, feels that it is important to present members of the Tufts community with a different perspective.
“People have already heard the other narrative. They’re marinating in it,” he said. “We’re asking people just to question what they’ve been taught.”
The rights of Palestinians is a personal issue for Atalla, who is a Palestinian Christian.
“I come from a history of displacement,” he said. “My grandparents were refugees.”
While Saba shares this connection — his father is Palestinian and his mother is American Jewish — Atalla noted that there are overall very few Palestinians on campus. He feels, however, that the work of SJP’s diverse members is important for the entire Tufts community.
“I think the strongest part of our group is that it attracts people from a wide variety of backgrounds,” he said. “I do this work as a Palestinian, but I also do this work as an American.”