The Best answer to Israel Apartheid Week? IDF Diversity Week…writes Gabsy Debinski

February 27, 2014 by Gabsy Debinski
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It’s a showdown. Israel Apartheid Week vs IDF Diversity Week; the irony is palpable.

Gabsy Debinski

Gabsy Debinski

Campuses across the US and Europe are abuzz with anti-Israel charades to mark the annual ‘Israel apartheid week.’ Colleges boasting top students and renowned for their academic excellence have abandoned rationale and dialogue for a foray of ugly, inciteful protests.

In our state of geographical isolation down under, it is easy to underestimate the extent of this anti-Israel campaigning and the damage caused by apartheid comparisons. But let’s not be mistaken; the effects of Israel-apartheid week plaguing student campuses around the US and Europe are lethal for Israel’s credibility and image.

Student blogs have told of mock checkpoints, separation walls and anti-Israel symbols across British and French campuses. Meanwhile back at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles), which boasts the largest enrolment figures in the state of California, the Undergraduate Students Association Council put forward a resolution calling for divestment from five American companies that are supposedly used by Israel to breach Palestinian human rights in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the TOI these companies include Caterpillar, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Cemex and Cement Roadstone Holdings. After an all-night meeting the UCLA student council rejected the motion by a narrow vote of 7-5. But this was only after university funds and resources were wasted on this defamatory campaign.

Israel-apartheid week, and its ensuing hoo-ha, has not changed. The same allegations of an ‘apartheid wall’ separating Jews from Palestinians and calls for boycotts of companies that support Israel pervaded this year. While the tactics are the same the responses are not. Pro-Israel students are hitting back with a renewed sense of anger and activism which shows that social media really is the new frontline for fighting back against political threats.

The comeback is all about #Rethink2014. This grassroots initiative has grown exponentially in the last 48 hours. What’s its aim you ask? To debunk the unfounded claims of Israeli apartheid and launch the voices of young European Jews who are sick and tired of being passive.

In just a few days the Rethink2014 FB page has received over 3,200 ‘Likes’ and has over 500 Twitter followers (link here). The campaign is all about adding your own response to one small phrase: ‘I oppose Israel apartheid week because…’

So what are you waiting for? Get on their Facebook and Twitter pages and tell the world why you oppose Israel apartheid week. Remember to hashtag: #Rethink2014 and #ZionestFedAus.

This campaign has indeed gone ‘viral.’ It is a credit to the young people who feel motivated, empowered, strong and feisty enough to come together as individuals and as a group to respond.
We may be far away, but this should not prevent us from contributing to the war of words that is being waged across the ocean.

Now juxtapose this campaign with another launched this week; IDF DIVERSITY WEEK which “celebrates the differences that unite Israeli soldiers.”

While students across Europe and the US are busy preaching hate the IDF is continuing its outstanding efforts to integrate minorities into the army and wider society. In spite of vile claims of Israel’s racism and rejection, remarkable stories of diversity, friendship and unity within the IDF are popping up on social media, reminding me of why Israel is a true beacon of hope in the most hostile of regions.

I implore you to visit the IDF Blog where stories reflecting the army’s diverse culture abound. It is surely the best response to those who recklessly throw around the ‘a’ word.

Here are some interesting facts that I learnt on the website about diversity in the IDF:

1. At military swearing-in ceremonies, soldiers may pledge an oath of allegiance on whatever holy book they desire; the Old Testament, Christian Bible or Koran.

2. The IDF gives special privileges to minority soldiers to help them meet religious requirements and other needs. The military respects all religious holy days equally and provides additional ‘religious’ leave to soldiers of all faiths and religious backgrounds.

3. Israel is one of 24 countries that embraces and encourages gay people to openly serve in the military. Sexual orientation does not stand as a barrier to receiving promotions or joining elite units. Just this week the IDF was ranked 9th most gay-friendly army in the world.

4. The Equality Amendment to the Military Service Law (added in 2000) states that “the right of women to serve in any role in the IDF is equal to the right of men.” Over 1,500 female combat soldiers are drafted each year and the army is constantly trying to improve its opportunities for women. 92% of all positions are currently open to women and Major Oshrat Bachar recently became the first woman to command a combat battalion.

5. Druze men and women are not compelled to serve in the military but have the highest draft rate in Israel, with 82% of Druze males joining the IDF because they want to contribute to the country they love.

Israel is a nation of immigrants and the IDF epitomizes this ethos of embracing diversity. Testimonies from Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, Africans, Arab Israelis, heterosexuals and homosexuals who have served in the IDF prove this entirely. Read and share these 16 stories of diversity in the IDF  for the sake of truth and integrity.

So, if you need somewhere to start on your contributions to #Rethink2014, try this:  ‘I oppose Israel apartheid week because… Israel is a melting pot that not only tolerates diversity, it embraces and encourages it.’