Ali Abunimah KO’s Jonathan Tobin in ‘Democracy Now’ debate

This morning, there was a segment on Democracy Now about the recent recommendation of an Israeli government commission that Israel’s West Bank settlements be deemed legal, deemed an “authoritative document” by Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau. DN hosted a debate between Jonathan Tobin of Commentary Magazine and Ali Abunimah. The flaws in the report have been fully discussed on Mondoweiss: It flies in the face of the virtually unanimous consensus on international law; it rewards Israel for continuing the Occupation for so long that it no longer is deemed an “occupation”; and it so obviously leads to the conclusion that Israel is one apartheid state that it has drawn the condemnation of dedicated Zionists like Shimon Peres and Jeffrey Goldberg. While the DN hosts asked pointed questions about the committee’s recommendation, the most interesting aspects of the debate arose when Tobin preferred to talk about broader issues and Ali met him head on.

Essentially, Tobin agreed with the report, but said it was immaterial, because the real issue was Palestinian intransigence. Tobin resorted to the well-worn distortions of hasbara, such as Palestinians wish to focus on the illegality of settlements so that “Jews can be thrown out willy-nilly”; “Palestinians have to start dealing with the reality that Jews aren’t going away”; “Palestinians don’t wish to share”; peace is not possible “if [Palestinians] focus on fantasies about throwing the Jews out.” He repeatedly tried to conflate “Jewish life” with the “Jewish State,” using the terms as synonyms, insisting that one cannot have one without the other: “Palesitnians won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish State, the legitimacy of Jewish life, anywhere in that country.”

Ali would have none of it. He answered that “this isn’t a question of Jews.” It is about the “assertion that Jews have the right to superior rights than the indigenous Palestinian people.” The debate became most heated when Tobin falsely claimed: “what we heard from [Ali] is the Palestinian fantasy that some day Israel is going to be destroyed. . . they are talking about the destruction of Israel.” Again, Ali pointed out the deception, arguing that advocating for “equality” is not equivalent to urging “destruction.” This being DN, Amy Goodman pressed Tobin to identify where Abunimah had talked about destruction, and Tobin of course had no coherent answer. At one point, he even said to Ali: “don’t try to lie your way out of it.” One more highlight of the debate was when a question was posed about Shimon Peres’s criticism of the commission recommendation on the ground that it would lead to an untenable demographic situation. This is the classic “liberal Zionist” response. Let’s not appear to be too greedy because it could come back to haunt us. Again, Ali would have none of it, refusing to see any reasonable conciliatory position in Peres’s statement. Instead, he asked how Palestinians could ever recognize an entity that views their “mere reproduction” as a “mortal threat.” Ali’s intense focus on the call for equal rights regardless of ethno-religious-national status, and his confrontational challenge to Tobin’s dishonest mischaracterizations of “equal rights” as advocacy for destruction easily carried the day. Well worth watching.

About David Samel

David Samel is am attorney in New York City.
Posted in Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, Media, Occupation

{ 41 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Amar says:

    Disgusting level of deception and dissimulation by Tobin. He knows what he says is mostly false and outright lies but is simply hoping to appeal to the largely ignorant masses (ie U.S. public) who would not know better. The nerve to refer to the defunct League of Nations, which certainly did not allocate the entirety of Palestine to the Jews to build settlements anywhere they pleased. The United Nations which is the current authoritative body had passed many resolutions re-affirming the illegality of the settlements in line with international law. A couple ones here where even the U.S. is signatory:

    UNSC Resolution 465 (1980) of 1 March 1980 [Adopted unanimously at 2203rd meeting]

    Accepts the conclusions and recommendations contained in the report of the Commission of the Security Council (on settlements); determines that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

    Strongly deplores the continuation and persistence of Israel in pursuing those policies and practices and calls upon the government and people of Israel to rescind those measures, to dismantle the existing settlements and in particular to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem. Calls upon all States not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in the occupied territories; and requests the Commission to continue examining the situation relating to settlements, to investigate the reported serious depletion of natural resources, particularly water, with a view to ensuring protection of those important natural resources of the territories under occupation.

    UNSC Resolution 267 (1969) of 3 July 1969 [Adopted unanimously at 1485th meeting]

    Reaffirming the established principle that the acquisition of territory by military conquest is inadmissible, deplores the failure of Israel to show any regard for the resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council; censures in the strongest terms all measures taken to change the status of the city of Jerusalem; and urgently calls once more on Israel to rescind all measures taken by it to change the status of Jerusalem and in the future to refrain from all actions likely to have such an effect. Determines that in the event of a negative response or no response from Israel, the Security Council shall reconvene without delay to consider what further action should be taken in this matter.

    • ColinWright says:

      “Disgusting level of deception and dissimulation by Tobin. He knows what he says is mostly false and outright lies…’

      Tobin IS attempting to defend the Israeli position. What choice does he have?

      I’ve yet to see anyone manage to defend Israel without resorting to a ‘disgusting level of deception and dissimulation.’ It goes with the territory.

      Go ahead. Try to argue that my house is your house and not my house. You’re going to have a hard time doing it without lying.

      • Amar says:

        Its not that he’s defending his cause or people or even using some underhandedness in going about it, but the blatancy of the lies that are casually spewed. Quite clear his audience are not those who have even a faint knowledge of the mid-east, its people or history. Unfortunately, its not just him, but most Israeli officials and Zionists do the same, incl their PM.

        Go ahead. Try to argue that my house is your house and not my house. You’re going to have a hard time doing it without lying.

        Yes, but usually you end up looking stupid when the original house owner pulls out a deed for his property. This is the thing, they can lie and say anything with impunity. I know of no other liars as blatant as the Zios, unfortunately.

    • Disgusting level of deception and dissimulation by Tobin. He knows what he says is mostly false and outright lies but is simply hoping to appeal to the largely ignorant masses (ie U.S. public) who would not know better.

      Except he was voicing these opinions on DN!, not your regular corporate controlled, racist media.

      • David Samel says:

        I agree, Phil. I was rather surprised that Tobin agreed to appear on DN. Often DN cannot get someone with his perspective. Was he ignorant that DN might ask critical questions and not let his BS go unchallenged? Or did his ego lead him to believe he could survive this debate? He seemed awfully uncomfortable.

    • RE: “The nerve to refer to the defunct League of Nations…” ~ Amar

      MY COMMENT: The strategy is to ultimately claim that Transjordan was part of the League of Nations Palestine mandate, and therefore today’s Jordan represents the Palestinian state.

      SEE: “The War of Lies” , by Uri Avnery, gush-shalom.org09/06/12

      [EXCERPTS] Thirty Years ago this week, the Israeli army crossed into Lebanon and started the most stupid war in Israel’s history. It lasted for 18 years. About 1500 Israeli soldiers and untold numbers of Lebanese and Palestinians were killed.
      Almost all wars are based on lies. Lies are considered legitimate instruments of war. Lebanon War I (as it was later called) was a glorious example.
      From beginning to end (if it has ended yet) it was a war of deceit and deception, falsehoods and fabrications.
      THE LIES started with the official name: “Operation Peace in Galilee”. . .
      . . . The simple fact is that for 11 months before the war, not a single shot was fired across the Israeli-Lebanese border. A cease-fire was in force and the Palestinians on the other side of the border kept it scrupulously. To everybody’s surprise, Yasser Arafat succeeded in imposing it on all the radical Palestinian factions, too. . .
      . . . NINE MONTHS before the war, Sharon told me about his plan for a New Middle East. . .
      . . . His design for the region, as told me then (and which I published nine months before the war), was:

      To attack Lebanon and install a Christian dictator who would serve Israel,
      Drive the Syrians out of Lebanon,
      Drive the Palestinians out of Lebanon into Syria, from where they would then be pushed by the Syrians into Jordan.
      Get the Palestinians to carry out a revolution in Jordan, kick out King Hussein and turn Jordan into a Palestinian state
      ,
      Set up a functional arrangement under which the Palestinian state (in Jordan) would share power in the West Bank with Israel.
      Being a single-minded operator, Sharon convinced Begin to start the war, telling him that the sole aim was to push the PLO 40 km back. . .

      ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to zope.gush-shalom.org

      • Shingo says:

        Drive the Palestinians out of Lebanon into Syria, from where they would then be pushed by the Syrians into Jordan.
        Get the Palestinians to carry out a revolution in Jordan, kick out King Hussein and turn Jordan into a Palestinian state,

        Barak admitted this too.

        This goal, he said, was effecting geopolitical change by banishing Fatah to Jordan, where it would unseat the Hashemite regime and create a Palestinian state. In that way, he continued (echoing a widespread but unfounded conspiracy theory ), Sharon hoped to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

        link to haaretz.com

  2. Mooser says:

    It’s pretty clear, isn’t it! Whether it’s a one-state or two-state solution, we can’t leave it to the Israelis to administer. What will it take? The UN? NATO? The US? Private NGOs? The US Army of Liberation?
    No matter what the solution is, who is going to see it doesn’t become “final” in some way?
    Who has the resources and the will to do it? (Oh, administering agencies personnel, you might be there for a while, so your best bet is to install your family at some kind of hotel…)

  3. Clif Brown says:

    Those in power, who daily oppress and try to expel as many Palestinians as they can, appeal to the world’s sympathy by claiming that those who who have no power want to throw them out. It confirms that Israel doesn’t exist in the real world.

    The flag of Israel and the uniforms worn by the IDF should all have a flame icon to stand for the holocaust, because a major idea in the state and its supporters since WWII has been that it is impossible for Jews to be oppressors by virtue of the fact that they were so terribly oppressed. No other oppression can compare, no other oppression deserves the name. Jews have a unique right conferred by way of a colossal wrong.

    But it’s pure delusion, as is all nationalism. When those who hold the delusion voice appeals based on it, the absurdity comes through loud and clear. Why did so many Slavs have to die a few decades ago? Because Germany needed living room, wasn’t it obvious? To the Germans it was.

    • Miura says:

      …a major idea in the state and its supporters since WWII has been that it is impossible for Jews to be oppressors by virtue of the fact that they were so terribly oppressed.

      I fear a different lesson has been learned and anything ‘short of Nazi extermination‘ of the Amalek can be passed off as kosher:

      …we are still left with the chilling remark of Aryeh Caspi—a Haaretz journalist who died recently and prematurely—that, unfortunately for the Palestinians, so long as the state’s policy toward them is less than genocidal, anything else is morally justifiable.

      • Mooser says:

        “impossible for Jews to be oppressors by virtue of the fact that they were so terribly oppressed.”

        I’ll have to show this to my wife. She doesn’t understand I beat hell out her son to teach him never to be a bully.

  4. ColinWright says:

    “Palestinians don’t wish to share”

    I’ve always found that position singularly infuriating. How can a group that refuses to content itself with 78% of the land seriously talk about how others are unwilling to ‘share’?

    Dude needs to give me his bank account info. I’ll drain four-fifths of it — and when he squeaks about me taking the last fifth, accuse him of not being willing to ‘share.’

  5. Bumblebye says:

    Abunimah calls for equality for all, and Tobin insists that means destruction of the Jewish State.
    Equality = Destruction. Where else (or when else) in the world might that apply?

  6. Roya says:

    If giving equal rights to all will destroy a state, is that state really worth keeping?

    • Abu Malia says:

      @ Roya “If giving equal rights to all will destroy a state, is that state really worth keeping?

      Well, to ask the question is to answer it!

  7. Blake says:

    League of nations did nothing of the sort. Unbelievable at how dishonest these Zionists are. Utterly shameful.

  8. Every time the rock is lifted and the consequences of zionism are exposed to the glare of the light of day, worms start wriggling and scurrying for cover, trying to camouflage their position.

  9. Eva Smagacz says:

    Conversation reminds me of discussion I had with a friend of mine who became a Jehovah Witness. ( this is not invitation to theological discussion!!! ).

    We were discussing human soul, and getting nowhere, untill I realised that for her, the word soul did not aligned with dictionary definitions at all.
    Soul was not a spirit, immortal part of being, non-material part of us, our consciousness. Soul meant something entirely different to her and to her church – it meant physical, material body.

    And so we had no vocabulary in common, and we talked completely cross purposes, with each of us convinced that the other cannot yield from our position.

    So if you want to talk to Tobin, you need to start with his vocabulary:

    Non-Jew property rights = discrimination against Jews
    Protesting stealing = protesting sharing
    Seeking Justice = Refusing Peace
    Pacifying natives = Protecting Jewish civilians
    Not taking East Jerusalem off the discussions even before they start = preconditions
    Remembering history = teaching Hate
    Resistance = Agression
    Having babies = Demographic threat
    Voting in free elections = supporting terror

    I could go on but it’s getting late: there is no discussion because there is no common language to facilitate that.

  10. Dexter says:

    This conversation literally demonstrates how delusional, paranoid, and desperate Zionists are…it’s literally like trying to debate a 5 year old child!

    Tobin, an American, telling us HE has rights in Palestine…get da f_ck outta here!

  11. to simply say that tobin is telling lies underestimates the difficulties of overcoming zionism. When tobin says abunimah wants to ‘destroy’ israel, from tobin’s point of view, he is telling the truth: the only ‘israel’ tobin can imagine is one where Jews dominate everything. For Jews to be equal to muslims, christians, etc. would not be ‘israel’ for somebody like Tobin.

    Zionists have a sense of entitlement, and other assumptions which they never question, without which the whole philosophy could not be maintained. Zionists think palestinian resistance to ethnic cleansing is ‘terrorism’, because their philosophy tells zionists that they are entitled to the land they are stealing.

    Abunimah was as eloquent explaining zionist double standards as one could possibly be; but with tobin you can see that he was up against a very difficult zionist mindset.

  12. Shingo says:

    Notice how Tobin kept going back to the argument that the Jews were not going anywhere? How is it that he had to adopt this position if he believed that Israel’s argument had any legal grounds?

    On one hand, he attacks Abunimah for not respecting the partition plan of 1947 (wanting one state), but regards Palestinian opposition to Jewish settlements outside of Israel’s border as a refusal to recognize the Jewish syate and Jewish rights to all of Palestine. These guys are so full of contradictions that it actually becomes difficult to debate them becasue of the sheer number fo refutations one has to make when arguing with them.

  13. thetumta says:

    There is no two states, never has been! Rather you like it or not, there will be one state, Israel or Palestine and it’s going to be ugly. The process has started in Syria(Iran) and Egypt. Be patient and watch it play out. Russia and China will be drawn in. It’s about to get very interesting unless you get arrested for commenting here!

    Hej!

  14. mymarkx says:

    Saying that the Palestinians are unwilling to share, shows that even Tobin admits that the land belongs to the Palestinians. You can’t share something that isn’t yours.

  15. RE: “This morning, there was a segment on Democracy
    Now
    about the recent recommendation of an Israeli government commission that Israel’s West Bank settlements be deemed legal. . . The flaws in the report have been fully discussed on Mondoweiss: It flies in the face of the virtually unanimous consensus on international law. . .” ~ David Samel

    MY SNARK: “G_d’s law” takes precedence over international law, and G_d gave most of what is today called the Middle East to the “Jews”. Just ask any fundie!

    SEE: : “Hagee Invokes Memories of George Wallace, Bashes Obama at Christian Zionist Summit” ~ Bill Berkowitz, 7/26/11

    (excerpts) Christians United for Israel, which claims some 700,000 members, and whose executive director says “represents the soul of the Tea Party,” recently concluded its sixth annual summit, which featured a satellite address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and an energetic and spirited Glenn Beck.
    In what can only be considered a disastrous choice of words to sell a message of unwavering support for Israel, Pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and the head of a multi-million dollar ministry, paraphrased Alabama’s segregationist Governor George C. Wallace when he told the assemblage of more than 5,000 at the close of the recent CUFI summit in Washington, D.C. that, “We gathered here with one message. Israel today, Israel tomorrow, and Israel forever.”. . .
    . . . According to Worthy News, Hagee “condemned President Obama’s suggestion that Israel revert to the 1967 borders to broker peace with its Arab neighbors.” Hagee declared that “President Obama has told Israel not to build homes in Jerusalem. He has no right or authority to tell the Jewish people what to do.”. . .
    . . . “The Jewish people are not occupying the land of Israel, they own the land of Israel,” said Hagee. “America should never pressure Israel to give up land for peace, not for any reason, not to anyone, ever . . .
    If the US Administration forces Israel to divide Jerusalem, God will turn his back to the United States of America. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is watching, America.”. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to talk2action.org

    • P.S. ALSO SEE: “A Serial Obstructionist”, By Rachel Tabachnick, ZEEK – Forward, 3/15/10

      (EXCERPTS)…Shortly after Vice President Joe Biden’s arrival in Israel, Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat were the headliners at Pastor John Hagee’s two-hour Christians United for Israel (CUFI) extravaganza at the Jerusalem Convention Center….
      . . . Monday’s CUFI production was based on the concept of “biblical Zionism,” or the belief that God mandates nonnegotiable borders of Israel , and any leader or nation who thwarts this divine plan will be cursed. Before introducing Netanyahu, Hagee stated, “World leaders do not have the authority to tell Israel and the Jewish people what they can and can not do in Jerusalem.” He added, “Israel does not exist because of a decree of the United Nations in 1948. Israel exists because of a covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. . . The settlements are not the problem.”
      In his books and sermons Hagee has promoted a “greater Israel,” that will reclaim all of Israel’s former biblical territory, stating “In modern terms, Israel rightfully owns all of present-day Israel, all of Lebanon, half of Syria, two-thirds of Jordan, all of Iraq, and the northern portion of Saudi Arabia.”
      At the Jerusalem CUFI event Hagee described Ahmadinejad as the Hitler of the Middle East who could turn the world upside down in 24 hours, words similar to those he made when lobbying for the attack on Iraq…
      …During a performance by singer Dudu Fisher, the God TV camera panned to the audience and centered on Joel Bell, leader of Worldwide Biblical Zionists. WBZ is currently building a center in Sha’ar Benjamin for “facilitating absorption” of Christian Zionists into the West Bank. It was established after a joint meetingheld in Texas of the Board of Governors of World Likud led by Danny Danon, and World Evangelical Zionists led by Joel Bell. Speakers included ZOA’s Morton Klein. . .

      ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://zeek.forward.com/articles/116518/

  16. Talkback says:

    We just witnessed a typical conversation. One side has the better arguments and the other side is twisting words and starting to tell lies about what the one side allegedly meant or wants.

    Best example: “equal rights for all” -> hasbara-word-twister -> “No rights for Jews”.
    I was only surprised it was not followed by an antisemitism accusation.

  17. George Smith says:

    Out on counts, perhaps, but not a KO. Ali Abunimah is a most effective and forceful spokesperson for peace and justice in Palestine, but I thought he greatly undermined his effectiveness when he broke in on Tobin’s diatribe about the “destruction” of Israel. The “debate” then descended into a barely intelligible simultaneous speaking match. Abunimah’s objection to the “destruction” meme was entirely justified, of course, but it would have been so much more devastating if he’d delivered it after waiting patiently for Tobin to finish. Up to that point, it should be pointed out, Tobin himself had waited patiently for Abunimah’s confrontational points to be made, even when he (Tobin) was not given a chance at rebuttal. The overall impression by the end was of a symmetrical catfight between two pugilists. And undoubtedly Tobin will, with some justification, claim that he was unfairly treated on DN.

    • Shingo says:

      Well said George,

      It never looks good when one speaker refuss to allow the other to finish. They come off looking weak, scattered and undisciplined. Finkelstein has often udnermined his own arguments by falling into this trap. Abunimah could so easily have made a stronger case by allowing Tobin to finish, and then destroyed his argument in a cal assertive manner.

      • Philip Weiss says:

        didnt tobin interrupt abunimah first?

        • mymarkx says:

          Yes, Phil, at about 7:50 in the video when Tobin interrupts Abunimah to say that Israelis are indigenous to the area, which is absurd. Ali Abunimah would never interrupt anyone unless they persist in trying to talk over him.

          Ali is a sweetheart–one of the most polite, patient, respectful, nonaggressive, and easygoing people you’ll ever meet, unless you try to step on him.

          I saw an article a few days ago about a jar of 180 gold coins unearthed by Israeli archaeologists. The coins are not in Hebrew, the area was being fought over at the time by Christians and Moslems, and it was called the Mamluk era, which doesn’t sound like a Jewish name to me. Of course the Old Testament says that there had been Jews there earlier, but on the basis of previous habitation we’d certainly have to give the US back to the Native Americans. Bulldozing houses to which Palestinians have held the deed and title for centuries, and moving in Jews from Brooklyn and Russia, is most definitely a foreign invasion and the newcomers can only truthfully be described as foreigners.

      • George Smith says:

        Just watched the video again. Tobin does indeed interrupt Abunimah briefly at ~7:50, but the melee really begins at ~10:20. I think an unbiased observer (I couldn’t claim to be one) would come away with the strong impression that it was Abunimah who started the overtalking match.

        But “who started” isn’t the point at all. We (anti-Zionists, peaceniks, activists–whoever “we” are) have all the reason on our side. The lesson is to let the Tobins have their say, then dissect their nonsense in a calm, dispassionate, utterly convincing way. This is Norman Finkelstein’s style when he’s at his most effective. It’s Abunimah’s usual style, too: this DN debate seems to me an aberration from his enviable ability to maintain personal comity while forcefully making his (often accusatory) points.

        I’m personally a terrible interrupter. I find it extremely difficult to restrain myself in exchanges with people like Tobin. I’m trying to learn to be a more effective spokesman for peace and justice–more like Abunimah usually is.

  18. ahadhaadam says:

    Quite entertaining watching a white American claiming to be indigenous to Palestine….

  19. Blake says:

    RIGHT OF RETURN is international law Mr Tobin.

  20. Talkback says:

    Conclusion and Recommendations of the Levy Report translated to english: link to pmo.gov.il

    By the way I like very much that they are arguing this way, because this could lead into a legal investigation that could totally deligitimize Israel.

  21. Larrysturn says:

    I was surprised as others to see Jonathan Tobin appear on Democracy Now with Ali Abunimah to discuss the meaning of the Levy Report. What was obvious was that Tobin separates the issue of legality from the reality on the ground and the process of peace. Abunimah focuses on the long held international opinions against legality and general opposition to the settlements and the oppressive culture of occupation.
    There are a lot of code words expressed by Abunimah, Tobin and even Peres who is quoted, that affect the prospects for one state or two states and the numerical realities which have been disputed by both sides. The Sasson Report that held sway since it was commissioned by Ariel Sharon is being supplanted by the Levy Report which gives Netanyahu and his coalition enough cover to continue to build and do his part in stymying peace.