Antioch University, a one-building institution in downtown Seattle serving 900 students, has been holding Israel Apartheid Week for six years. This year, a tiny band of activists tried to put an end to it — and succeeded. Sort of.
Efrat Gilad, an art therapy student from Israel, said that when she saw posters for this year’s international week of anti-Zionist activism, she felt she was “going to die.” Gilad decided she would have to either fight back or leave the school.
“I couldn’t bear the fact that my university sponsors an anti-Israel event,” she said.
Gilad, who has been in the U.S. for four years, contacted a number of people to ask for help. She and a handful of students, aided by local Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs Northwest, approached the administration to express their discomfort about the events, which this year included a mock checkpoint, a lecture, and a film screening and discussion.
“We asked for an event that will balance the effects of the anti-Israel event,” Gilad said.
The administration responded positively, allowing the group to host an Israel Diversity Week May 28-30. Events include two presentations about Israel’s history and reality on the ground, and a film screening of “Israel Inside.” Furthermore, according to statements from StandWithUs, the administration said it would pull out of its sponsorship of Israel Apartheid Week and work toward a more inclusive “Israel Dialogue Week” in the future. However, the administration has received pushback from the supporters and organizers of Israel Apartheid Week, which includes vocal Palestinian faculty member Nada Elia and the library director, Beverly Stuart, said Gilad.
Shana Hormann, Antioch’s dean of students, is cheerfully optimistic about the future of dialogue.
“We’re in a university that tries to further critical thinking,” and to “strengthen the ability to hold the tension of multiple perspectives,” she said.
While Hormann did not comment on the future of Israel Apartheid Week, she said, “what is true is that the office of academic affairs will sponsor an Israel Dialogue Week.”
On May 28, about 50 people gathered to hear StandWithUs Northwest community liaison Hen Mazzig explain the history of Israel and describe the cultural diversity of the land. During the question-and-answer period, Mazzig encountered both respectful and hostile comments from audience members. One woman accused him of lying and faulted him for Zionist indoctrination, and told him he should be ashamed of himself.
“You are an oppressor state,” Elia told Mazzig.
Yet another asked, “Where does the hate come from?” to which Mazzig had no answer.
As tension mounted, Hormann stepped in to end the session with a round of applause.
“People are paying attention, and I am grateful for that,” Hormann told JTNews. “This is about academic freedom. This is about multiple perspectives…. Who are we as Antioch if we don’t take on what’s tough?”