Talia Dekel, Maimoon Azmi, Katie McCants and Nico Bauch toured Canadian campuses as Wordswap talking about Israel. Photo by Michael Swan

Israelis combat Apartheid Week with words

  • March 8, 2013

A week before Israeli Apartheid Week is set to send Canadian universities into their annual turmoil over the Middle East, a group of young Israelis are storming campuses armed with a capacity for conversation.

The young Israelis, not all of them Jewish, have been sitting at tables in student centres, inviting students to talk to them about life, culture and politics in Israel. They know a week after they leave, campus activists will stage noisy demonstrations calling for Canadians to boycott, divest and apply sanctions to Israel. Some will accuse Israel of genocide. There will be posters that depict Israeli soldiers as Nazis. There will be Hamas flags and slogans.

Katie McCants, a 28-year-old Hebrew University masters student of mixed black and Jewish heritage, said this image of Israel just doesn’t compute for her.

Since she moved to Israel five years ago from the U.S., she has been living in a vibrant, democratic society that grapples with its problems and imperfections and aspires to high ideals. At 24 McCants volunteered for the Israeli Defence Force and dedicated herself to protecting all Israelis – Muslims, Christians, Jews, Arabs, Bedouin, Russian, etc.

“(As a soldier) I also got to go into Arab communities to tell them it was important to us that their lives are protected,” McCants said. “We see the value of life.”

Nico Bauch, a 29-year-old German convert to Orthodox Judaism, wishes non-Israelis could see “this exceptional ability to take people in and welcome them.”

“Israel is not perfect. Canada is not perfect,” said Maimoon Azmi, a 33-year-old Druze Muslim from a village near Mt. Carmel. The young lawyer spoke of elements in Israeli society that discriminate against Druze and other minority communities, but a country that values all its citizens. Azmi attributes discrimination to warped attitudes held by a minority of individuals. The country as a whole accepts and protects all its minorities, he said.

“We (Druze) want to be in Israel,” said the former Israeli Defence Force officer who now works in the Israeli civil service.

On Israeli university campuses, students protest against Israel’s military policies and it’s relations with Palestinians, said Talia Dekel, a 28-year-old who grew up in London, Ont. and New Zealand before moving to Israel for university.

“It was very difficult to take, that criticism that is always launched at us every time we do something to defend ourselves,” she said. “It’s not necessarily true that anti-Israeli activity doesn’t happen on Israeli campuses.”

Israel is the one country in the Middle East where that kind of protest is allowed, she said.

The young Israelis touring Canadian universities call themselves Wordswap. They hope quiet conversation can demonstrate an alternative to flag-waving, chanting and screaming.

The Wordswap group is being sponsored and hosted by a couple of Christian Zionist organizations — the Canadian branch of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and Stand With Us Canada. The Evangelical groups organize demonstrations to support Israel, lobby on Israel’s behalf and lead tours of Israel for Christian supporters.

Christian Zionism has been strongly condemned by the Latin Rite Patriarch of Jerusalem and other traditional Christian Churches of the Holy Land.

“We call upon all people to reject the narrow world view of Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others,” said a 2006 statement issued by His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem’s Latin Rite Patriarchate, along with the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

“With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire building,” said the statement.


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