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.