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Naomi Klein: Arguing for justice is not a call for revolution

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Naomi Klein responds here to Eran Shayshon of the Reut Institute, writing that her criticisms of Israel are beyond the pale of legitimacy. I hope that Reut will post this response to its study, as we posted Shayshon here.

Is that really the best an entire think tank can come up with to support the claim that I am out to destroy Israel and should be stripped of my free speech rights? 

First, I have to say that I find it hilarious that in points one and three, Eran Shayshon resorts to quoting an article I wrote for my student newspaper when I was 19. I’m almost 40 so it’s oddly flattering. As I said the last time this article was dug up, I don’t respond to this kind of slime: "The article in question was written when I was in first year university. I look forward to the follow up exposé revealing that, in that very same year, I wrote college essays about books I had not actually read.” 

 As for the quote from my Ramallah speech, I did not advocate for a particular political solution but for a wide spectrum of debate on the subject. Here’s the quote in context:

"I don’t really think that Obama is FDR, but I can tell you this: he needs us to make him do it. He needs that mass movement, that global mass movement, putting pressure on him because boy is he getting pressure from the other side. And when he takes this tiny little tentative stand – ‘no more [Israeli] settlements [in the Occupied Palestinian Territories]’ – suddenly this is a crazy progressive position. How about no settlements? We need to move the bar. We need to put really radical positions out there. How about a one state solution? How about a no state solution? Let’s get out there and make a lot of noise and build a mass movement for peace and justice in a way that is totally unapologetic, that doesn’t cater to the racists. That doesn’t apologize for itself. That knows that it is within the greatest traditions of anti-racism whether they are in South Africa in the liberation struggle, or whether they are in the Jewish community." 

I fully stand behind the statement; it’s why I like this website so much.

Shayshon claims that I have written that Israel should face BDS tactics “not because it is the only state which deserves it, but because it is the only state where such punishment would ‘actually work.’” For this, he points to an op-ed I wrote in the Guardian. Please do follow the link. You’ll see that the article didn’t say that Israel is the only country that should face these tactics, it said this: “Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the strategy should be tried is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work.” 

Plenty of countries fit this description, and I have supported boycotts in other national contexts when they have been called for and when they had a chance at being effective, starting with the South African anti-Apartheid campaign in the eighties.

Shayshon has clearly been poring through my public statements but he appears to have missed this interview I gave to Democracy Now! in the midst of the Toronto International Film Festival uproar. It directly addresses the “double standards” accusation: 

“To just give you one example, imagine that this year the Toronto International Film Festival had decided to have a cinematic spotlight, a cinematic homage, as Ha’aretz described this program, on the city of Colombo, with the full blessing of the Sri Lankan government, overwhelmingly Sinhalese-dominated, not a single Tamil director, just as there’s not a single Palestinian director in this spotlight. Now, Toronto has a huge population—a huge Tamil population, very active. They would have been protesting outside, because it would have been perceived as a sort of a whitewash in a year that the Sri Lankan government rightly stands accused of war crimes. 

For some reason, Israel is supposed to be the exception, and we are accused of singling out Israel. But, in fact, what we’re doing—and when you look at the people who have signed our letter, like Howard Zinn, Harry Belafonte, Eve Ensler, these are people who have devoted their lives to applying human rights standards across the board. They’re not singling out Israel. What they’re saying is, we insist on applying the same standards that we apply to every other country to Israel, as well. And just as we wouldn’t celebrate another country that stands accused of war crimes, we don’t believe it’s apolitical to celebrate Israel.”

Shayshon may also be aware (who knows) that I am currently supporting a campaign using BDS-style tactics against my own country, Canada, because it has flagrantly violated its Kyoto Protocol commitments, increasing emissions by 35 per cent. You can view a recent clip from a speech in which I compare Israel and Canada here.

The rest of his points are even thinner. To support the slanderous claim that “Klein frequently presents Israel as being systematically, purposefully, and extensively cruel and inhumane” not to mention “evil,” all he’s got is that first-year university op-ed. And to support the claim that “Klein frequently describes Israel as a colonial country born in sin” all he’s got is a bland quote from me saying that Israel "can only properly be understood in the context of the history of colonialism." Yet he concludes from this that: “The obligation to dismantle such as a state naturally derives from this logic.” This is crazy talk. I can (and do) say the same things about my own country, about the U.S., about Australia…. The purpose is not to call for the dismantling of those settler states but rather to recognize historical truths and to argue for justice and reparations for indigenous people in all those lands.

By the way, if comparing Israel to earlier settler states is to call for its dismantlement, someone needs to quickly tell Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren. Here’s what he said to the New York Times back in September:

 “States are often created with great upheaval and pain, and Israel is no exception. The great excitement and challenge of living in Israel is that it is a work in progress. It’s like living in this country in 1776.”

As an aside, I found it harrowing to see Shayshon overtly make the claim that to “open the 48 files” is to deny Israel’s right to exist. He is literally saying that the enemy is history, study it at your peril. I hope others will address in greater depth the profound danger of this war waged on collective memory.

As for me, nothing Shayshon managed to dig up in any way supports his claim that I stand for a “rejection of a political solution that maintains a separate State of Israel” or an “abdication of the Zionist principle promoting the Jewish people’s right for self determination.”

In truth it is my belief in self-determination — for Palestinians and Israelis — that underlies my decision not to advocate for a specific political outcome (though I do have preferences, as we all do) but rather for principles of anti-racism and adherence to international law.

I look forward to the results of further frantic Googling.


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