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Boycotting Israeli Apartheid in Toronto

Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid
Date Published: 
February 01, 2007

The landmark conference “The Struggle Continues: Boycotting Israeli Apartheid,” held in Toronto from October 6-8, drew over 600 activists together around one challenge: How can we move global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel forward? Organized by the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA), the conference centered around the coalition’s central demands: an end to the Israeli occupation of all Arab and Palestinian lands, the release of all Arab and Palestinian political prisoners, full equality for all citizens of Israel, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled from 1947 to the present day. International guests included Jamal Juma’ from the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign in Palestine, Salim Vally from the Palestine Solidarity Committee in South Africa, Betty Hunter from the Palestine Solidarity Committee in the UK, and Jonathan Rosenhead, Professor Emeritus at the London School of Economics and member of the British Committee for Universities in Palestine. Robert Lovelace, Co-Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, closed the conference with a powerful comparison of the experience of colonialism in Canada and Palestine. The initial call for boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns came from over 170 Palestinian organizations in July 2005. The fact that such campaigns are Palestinian-led has provided strategic focus for international solidarity work and was stressed throughout the weekend. Large plenary sessions addressed the nature of Israeli and South African apartheid, the global campaign of BDS, the lessons from the South African anti-apartheid movement, the Israeli lobby, and the repression of Palestinian solidarity work in Canada. Smaller workshops developed strategies and cultivated networks around topics of labor, campus, media, research, community organizing, faith-based groups, and lobbying. In addition to analyzing the parallels between apartheid South Africa and apartheid Israel, conference organizers pointed to parallels between the Palestinian experience and the experience of the indigenous population of Turtle Island. The pass-cards and Bantustans that were used in South Africa were actually inspired by the policies of the Canadian settler state towards the indigenous population. The conference reiterated CAIA’s stand in prioritizing support and solidarity with indigenous resistance. Concretely, this means that the anti-apartheid movement should be at the forefront of solidarity efforts with indigenous struggles. The main outcomes of the workshops are as follows:

    Research: CAIA will establish a research committee to conduct detailed and accurate research into Israeli apartheid and Canadian complicity. The research committee will look at producing working papers on particular themes, longer pamphlets and booklets, and an online wiki page.
    Labor: Around 80 workers and trade union activists attended an exciting labor discussion that reflected on the role of labor in the South African anti-apartheid movement and opportunities for collaboration with the Palestinian labor movement. A cross-workplace labor caucus was formed that will carry anti-apartheid work forward in the coming months. In addition, caucuses for the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Ontario teachers met during the conference. These caucuses will investigate the possibilities of bringing rank-and-file union activists from Palestine to tour Canada, and hold a labor solidarity conference aimed at workers in Canada. Jamal Juma’ informed the workshop that Palestinian unions would soon make a public call for unions to boycott the Histadrut, a pro-apartheid, Israeli “trade union federation.”
    Media: The media session focused on the importance of explaining the issues of Israeli apartheid to journalists, other media professionals, and particularly community radio. A network of anti-apartheid media activists was launched at the conference that will continue to meet in the coming months.
    Community: The community workshop stressed the importance of linking with other local communities—such as migrant communities—in their struggles against the Canadian state. The workshop also stressed the strategic importance of locally based neighborhood work, and the need to address the Arab and Palestinian communities around issues of poverty, racism, and police harassment. Out of the conference the first neighborhood committee, Parkdale for Palestine, was launched as an immediate step in working at the local level.
    Campus: The campus workshop discussed the experiences of the South African anti-apartheid movement on campuses as well recent reports from Palestine-solidarity student activists across Canada. Out of the workshop, a cross-campus student network was formed representing groups in Ontario that will work towards a coordinated Israeli Apartheid Week in February 2007, as well as launch a boycott and divestment campaign on campuses.
    Lobbying: In a session on lobbying, prominent lawyers, community representatives, and General Secretary of the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Betty Hunter, addressed how to make lobbying work effective. There was an emphasis on the importance of seeing lobbying work as an adjunct of building a powerful campaign at the grassroots level.
    Faith Communities: The faith workshop stressed the importance of strengthening links between BDS activists and different faith-based groups. Different mechanisms were discussed to facilitate members of CAIA accessing and speaking to faith groups. Participants also noted the importance of confronting the “balanced” approach of some faith groups that conflates the colonizer and colonized.
    Art and Culture: The art and culture workshop heard performances from well-known Torontonian performers who led a lively discussion on ways to develop a cultural boycott of Israeli apartheid. The workshop developed a network that will continue to meet, develop a “code of ethics” for artists, and look at promoting the boycott of Israeli state-funded cultural events.

Inclusive movement It was clear throughout the conference that the success of the anti-apartheid movement will not come from a handful of people, but from a broad effort that allows groups and individuals to take their own initiative, utilize their own creative energies, and organize themselves. The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid sees its responsibility as providing the resources to help strengthen the efforts and initiatives of the different networks that are forming throughout Toronto and Canada. One of the very important principles underlying the work of CAIA is the notion of non-sectarianism and “putting the movement first.” The conference was therefore marked by broad-based participation from a variety of groups. CAIA will continue these efforts at being a pluralist movement that brings together different groups and individuals who may have disagreements about tactics, strategy, and the specificity of analysis, but see the overall goal of challenging Israeli apartheid as being above these differences. Jamal Juma’ ended the conference by emphasizing that this global movement would succeed as it had in South Africa. “We promise you we will not give up,” he said. “We will stand firm on our land; Israeli apartheid will fall.” __________________________________________________________ For a full conference report and to support CAIA work please visit or email [email protected]