Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Responding to Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah, who runs the cheerily named Electronic Intifada website (makes you wonder if your computer will explode in your child's face if you go to the site, doesn't it?), has involved himself in a discussion taking place on Peter Beinart's Open Zion page at the Daily Beast.  I've been following, and commenting on, the site for several months and don't recall seeing Abunimah make an appearance in the comment section; I'm assuming that he's not going to be posting any columns there as he's outside even the wide latitude that Beinart gives to writers there.  Abunimah's work (and fundraising) has been nicely critiqued at

The Open Zion column in question was Hannah Weisfeld's BDS And Anti-Semitism Revisited, in which Weisfeld (a British Jew active in Yachad, the UK's equivalent of J Street) attempts to defend the BDS movement from charges that it is inherently anti-Semitic while condemning certain instances in which blatant anti-Semitism has been manifested in the movement. Let's leave aside for the moment that her premise is, as the Brits would say, rubbish.  The BDS movement starts from the principle that the Jewish people have no right of national self-determination and insists on the fictional "right of return" which has no basis in international law but would conveniently eliminate Jewish statehood.

Abunimah chose to involve himself in the comment section because Weisfeld's previous post on the topic was based on information from Ali's online nemesis, Avi Mayer at the Jewish Agency for Israel. (Anyone who is on Twitter who wants to keep abreast of issues should follow @AviMayer.  He is the one who broke the story on the anti-Semitism spread on social media by Greta Berlin, the now discredited former head of the now even further discredited Free Gaza Movement.)  When challenged by this writer in a comment post with the basic question ""Do the Jewish people have a right of self-determination in [at least a portion of] their historic homeland?"  he responded by linking an article he had written in 2010 . Normally I don't link to hate speech, but this is worth reading for an insight into the extremist anti-Zionist argument couched in human rights terms; people like Abunimah realize that the language of liberalism reads much better than the jargon of jihad, even if the end goals are the same.

My response to his article is posted on the site, but I wanted to share it here as well.  If Ali wants to respond, I'll post it.

"Your article is a very clear renunciation of the right of the Jewish people to our own national self-determination.  And of course it is also riddled with errors of history and fact.
Let's start with your deliberately pejorative phrase "settler-colonial Zionist forces".  They of course were not colonialists in any way; they were not carrying the flag of the countries from which they were fleeing, but rather seeking to escape them by returning to their people's homeland. Quite different than the Arab immigrants into the Mandate who came for improved economic opportunity. And they were not "forces"-- they were individuals, mostly peasants and working class but some middle class.  Trying to recast the Jewish people's return to their homeland as similar to the European practice of turning Africa and Asia into outposts of empire, ruled for the benefit of the home office, is a common rhetorical trick that you and other anti-Zionists employ. It doesn't go far with any audience that is familiar with history, which means that it's wasted on most readers of this site.
You also refer to the "fundamental rights of millions of Palestinian refugees". Those "rights" of course, do not actually exist. Individual refugees, under international law (which is made by treaties, not unilateral decisions of the UN GA, much less those of UNRWA) have rights upon the settlement of a conflict. Perhaps the only point on which we will agree is that this conflict is not anywhere close to settled.  Descendants of such refugees do not have similar rights anywhere in international law.
Nor was Palestine, at any point prior to the British Mandate, an "indivisible homeland". Since the existence of the Judean kingdoms and then the Roman province of Judea, there is no map of the region that shows Palestine as an individual entity. Nor is there any mention of a people--aside from the Jews-- that consider themselves indigenous to the region until modern times. Need I remind you of the use of the term Naqba to describe the separation of the Arabs of the British Mandate from what they saw as their countrymen in Syria (under French Mandate)?
Yet while you insist that the modern self-recognition of the Palestinians must be somehow applied retroactively to all of history, you exclude the Jewish people-- the only ones who are uniquely indigenous to that area and whose presence for 3 millenia is literally engraved into that land-- from the same consideration.
By the way, I'm sure you recall that when Arafat gave that 1974 speech from which you quote, the PLO Charter called for the expulsion of all Jews whose families arrived after 1917. I know that's an inconvenient fact which you would prefer to leave unmentioned.
The comparison to Northern Ireland is fallacious. There is no "northern Irish" people seeking their own national self-determination. But the reference to Ireland is relevant. If someone who is Irish living outside the Irish Republic wished to return to that part of his people's homeland which is independent, he can immigrate to Ireland-- and the country has laws that provide automatic rights of citizenship for those whose parents or grandparents were Irish subject to certain requirements.  Similarly, Israel provides citizenship rights to members of the Jewish people, and a future Palestinian state should of course provide such rights to Palestinians wherever they may be residing.
Your call is very clear-- remove the Zionist (eg Jewish) character of the state of Israel. This will of course result in the same phenomenon seen throughout virtually all of the Arab world-- institutionalized apartheid against Jews who will be subject to the dhimmitude under which they lived prior to their expulsion, and the tyranny of the Islamic majority against the infidels as we have seen in Iraq, in Gaza and now developing in Egypt.  Show me a Middle Eastern Arab state that treats all of its Arab citizens with equal rights before you start trumpeting promises that your 24th Arab majority state would do the same for its Jews."


  1. It's always interesting to see Arabs and Muslims refer to the Jewish return to Palestine as colonization. Do they have any inkling of their own history?! Unlike Jews, who peacefully and legally acquired every inch of land they had in Palestine all the way up to 1947, it were the Arabs-Muslims who - in the most direct sense of the word - colonized the entire Middle East, from the 7th century and on. If you look, for example, at Basra in Iraq or Kufa in Egypt, these were towns that were originally built as garrison towns for the invading Arab armies. They were then settled by the families of the Arab soldiers - the very definition of colonization.

    It's a shame that anti-Israeli propagandists are so successful at the "war of words" against Israel. They don't have a shred of truth or history on their side. Nor do they care for the truth.

    But that's not a surprise. They use the same propaganda tactics as their spiritual leaders, who brought us WWII...

  2. Dr. Mike -

    You do an excellent job here. I am awed.