Here is an exchange at KPFA in California between Noam Chomsky and Ali Abunimah and Jeff Blankfort touching on BDS and the Israel lobby. Actually, Chomsky declined to engage with Abunimah and Blankfort, so host Khalil Bendidb interviewed Chomsky on an earlier show, then on this show he asked Abunimah and Blankfort to respond.
I find it somewhat uncomfortable.
Chomsky is a giant, and Abunimah and Blankfort are friends of this site, and there is a sense of a torch being passed here, or of the older left not being suited for the new conversation about Israel/Palestine. Chomsky is defensive and a little brittle here; at his worst moment, he compares BDS to breaking a store window during the Vietnam War upheaval. It feels good, it doesn’t achieve anything, he says. I don’t follow the analogy. It is very hard to quarrel with Abunimah’s logic about BDS–Palestinian civil society has asked for it, the cultural targets are organizations such as this dance troupe that is burnishing Israel’s global image, even as Palestinian dancers can’t get out of the goddamn territories–or Blankfort’s belief in the Israel lobby, that American establishment Jews, empowered in D.C. and the media, have a particular and large responsibility for pushing the special relationship. Hey, I write about that all the time here.
That said, I find I have some emotional sympathy for Chomsky as someone from the Jewish world who is still attached to the ideals of Zionism. His attachment is latent in this conversation. Though I’ve never been a Zionist, and was never called by Israel (I grew up in a very Jewish academic family with little community involvement, and then happily assimilated for 30 years) I acknowledge that in the 50s, 60s and 70s, there were leftwing Jews who felt called by Israel in an idealistic way. They didn’t know about the Nakba, or they accepted the lies. My great puzzle here is how we help American Jews climb down from that old feeling. Chomsky is still obviously attached to the idea of Partition, to preserve a redeemed Jewish state. He says that there is world consensus for Partition. Abunimah responds that Chomsky has never worried about world consensus in other situations. Good point. But Abunimah is less convincing when he says that Partition or Re-Partition is a bloodier process than the road to One State. I don’t know; the future all looks bloody to me. It feels as intractable as the slavery question felt before the Civil War. And as I have said before on this site, Partition has "worked" in many places around the world. (Would I have been for Partition in the U.S. before the Civil War? Sometimes I think, Yes; if I were 54 when the question was posed, I would have accommodated evil/secession rather than sent my children to fight it. I don’t trust intellectuals who support just wars they wouldn’t volunteer for.)
The problem with the two-state solution is that Partition wouldn’t have worked in India/Pakistan if India had been allowed to gobble up Pakistan. While the Jewish lib-left maintained its deliverance ideals of Zionism-and-the Jewish state in the American power structure, Partition was destroyed by a militarist-expansionist Israel (that Chomsky nobly opposed every step of the way); and today Abunimah can rightly say that the Nakba never stopped. How do we stop it now, and reinstate Partition? Or, how do we help Jews climb down from the idea of a Jewish state, and assure them they can still talk English in West Jerusalem, even if they can’t move there?
Listening to this conversation, I recall something Norman Finkelstein said a year or so back. Let us not have inquests in which people are asked, Are you now or have you ever been a Zionist? Perhaps he said that out of love of his mentor, Noam Chomsky.
For my part, I would just say that the anti-apartheid movement for Israel/Palestine should be an inclusive one; and more important, it is crucial that this debate leave the leftwing chambers and begin in the American mainstream now. I want Michael Ratner’s appalled discoveries about the reality of one-state with apartheid conditions that he has conveyed on this site recently to be openly discussed in both the Jewish left and the American mainstream. There’s no way forward till you deal with the reality.