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Abunimah highlights ‘turning point’ boycott conference

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I’m just back from the boycott-divestment BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania, and will have a lot to post on it in days to come. I must begin with Ali Abunimah’s keynote speech Saturday, at which he emphasized the diversity and positive tone of the conference. He spoke to a hall jammed with over 300 people from countless different backgrounds. There was a great feeling of openness in the hall. Abunimah’s report is here

The conference went off without a hitch and if there was one thing I took away it was Max Blumenthal’s comment that pro-Israel groups had scheduled events at the same time as the conference not so much to smash the conference or counter its message as much as to keep young people from wandering into the conference and getting hooked. The crowds were so big, the mood was so positive, the ideas so uplifting, the spirit of it so large– I sensed that this movement will only be gaining more adherents in months to come.

Apres nous the deluge. It is coming. And the message is inarguable. It is about human rights, human dignity.

Helena Cobban echoes the thought in an email she shared:

This conference was, I think, a turning point for the Palestinian-rights movement in this country and marks its coming together in a clear and focused way that it never has done before. I was so proud to be a part of it.

Helena Cobban
Helena Cobban

Cobban writes about the conference here:

The conference was an outstanding success! Everyone involved in organizing it– and most of us who spoke at it– have all been extremely busy; so I’m really sorry that we don’t have much more, and richer, reporting on the events out already. But expect more great reporting of the conference to come out over the coming days.

You can see the video of Ali Abunimah’s fabulous keynote address, Saturday night, here. That and Susan Abulhawa’s extremely moving and scrupulously well-documented introductory address were really the two high points of the conference.

I will get Susie Abulhawa’s speech up when I get a hold of it. Meantime, Naomi Zeveloff’s report on Abunimah’s speech in the Forward:

A prominent Palestinian rights activist said Saturday night that the recent fury around the first national conference advocating a boycott of Israel, being held at the University of Pennsylvania, signifies that the Mideast conflict is at an “end game.”

“This insane hysteria about the conference tells us something about the moment we are in,” said Ali Abunimah, a co-founder of the Electronic Intifada news site, in his keynote speech at the conference. “In terms of the battle of ideas, we are in the end game.”

And Sarah Smith’s in the Daily Pennsylvanian:
“I reiterate the spirit in which we came together: we stand against all forms of bigotry,” Abunimah said….

He likened Jewish settlements to Jim Crow settlements and compared the BDS struggle to that of the African-American struggle for civil rights in the United States. Audiences applauded him for making these connections.

“I like when he likened the Palestinians with other struggles,” said Adam Akkad, a participant who traveled from Washington. “Struggles for equality benefit from each other.”

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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26 Responses

  1. pabelmont on February 6, 2012, 12:00 pm

    Phil, I hope you can also go to the J-Street conference. I’d like to see comparison. You tell us that (UPenn ?) Jewish folks were attracted-away from the BDS conference to other events. Well, but the BDS-consciousness is “out there” even among fair-minded Zionists (i.e., among Zios who believe and say that pre-1967 Israel “would have been enough” and is, in fact, enough, “so end the occupation” and that sort of thing).

    As to J-Street, I’d like especially to see whether (and if so how) humane concerns for Palestine and outrage at Israel’s government’s (and its army’s and its settlers’ and some of its rabbis’ ) awful thoughts and horrific acts get softened, diluted, watered-down, erased at J-Street, and whether it happens at the direction of leadership or from grass-roots. OR, BETTER YET, J-Street joins BDS!

    • soysauce on February 6, 2012, 12:19 pm

      J Street has no interest in doing anything that will be effective ending injustice against the Palestinians. Its only interest is to save Israel from “the demographic threat” of maintaining the occupation. In their view, BDS and the UPenn conference are “a convenient mantle for thinly disguised anti-Semitism.”

      Palestinians don’t need allies like this. If that makes me a rejectionist, so be it.

      • seafoid on February 6, 2012, 12:25 pm

        JStreet and the rest of the pro Israelis are going to reduce the concept of antisemitism to nothing. Like that boy who pretended he had a wolf problem . And you know what happened.

  2. NimaShirazi on February 6, 2012, 12:22 pm

    I tried posting this over on Ali’s blog, but the “spam filter” is making that impossible. Thus…

    Sarah Smith’s conference coverage for The Daily Pennsylvanian this weekend left something to be desired and, unfortunately, made clear her proclivities and agenda. While her reporting tried to appear objective, her deliberate framing betrayed her subjectivity (or that of her editors).

    For example, in her wrap-up of Ali’s keynote, Smith wrote:

    “According to Abunimah, Israel was working to maintain its majority Jewish population. ‘Too many babies for the wrong type threaten Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,’ he said. He claimed that Israel has laws forbidding Palestinian citizens of Israel from living in Israel with a Palestinian spouse of Gaza or West Bank origins…

    Israel is also demolishing Palestinian houses, Abunimah said.”

    Note how everything is framed as “according to”, “he claimed”, and “Abunimah said.”

    These are not controversial suggestions – these are documented facts, yet Smith passes them off as mere “claims” made by Ali without any supporting evidence. But the evidence was demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt, not only in Ali’s speech itself, but during conference workshops and every single day in the Israeli press.

    Writing that Ali “claimed” that there are discriminatory laws in Israel clearly attempts to dismiss the “claim” as unsupported by evidence and elicit eye-rolls from anti-Palestinian readers. But what Ali said is a fact. Sadly, Smith didn’t report that.

    One wonders if Smith would ever consider writing a sentence like “Millions of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and others were exterminated in the Holocaust, according to Alan Dershowitz, who claimed Nazism was racist.” Framing and equivocating like that would be beyond the pale. But not when Palestinian lives and rights are discussed. Then everything becomes opinion and competing, impenetrable, counter-narratives. This is not only a disingenuous way to report, but it hides the facts from the audience behind frames of personal belief and disputable .

    At yesterday’s “Palestine in the Media” panel, Phil Weiss said, “The truth is serving this cause.”

    Meanwhile, reporters like Smith are subverting it.

  3. eGuard on February 6, 2012, 12:25 pm

    Ali Abunimah opens referencing a question put to Dershowitz, last Thursday. He said he had the quote not verbatim.

    The question was the last one of the evening. At 1:21:25 in the video, the question was, literaly: “If an Arab student comes up to me and says: ‘you took my land’, and I respond back, ‘yeah, but we support gay rights’, how does that add up?”.

    Indeed Dershowitz responded with the plain Nakba denial Abunimah noted.

  4. HarryLaw on February 6, 2012, 12:48 pm

    In my opinion the message must be keep it simple and all claims reasonable, the majority of people we need to convince are not immersed in the minutia of the conflict,indeed our opponents want to make the arguments complicated simply to put off the average person. The Palestinians arguments are irrefutable and backed up by International Law and General World opinion, The opposition can only smear and obfuscate, plenty of that on show this weekend, when ordinary people are presented with the facts there can only be one winner.

  5. Kathleen on February 6, 2012, 12:56 pm

    Phil thanks for this and all of the links. So glad it went to well. So much work going on so many new people getting involved.

    Mentioned on one of the threads here at Mondoweiss that Chris Matthews had Dr. Zbig and Richard Engel on last week to talk about the rising tensions between Israel and Iran. Chris Hayes had Amy Goodman on her round table on Sunday. A great deal said about this confrontation as well as the I/P conflict on Chris Hayes Sunday program.

    Washington Journal has had two recent guest on the last couple of weeks Mr. Singh and Mr. Asan Jain who repeated one unsubstantiated claim after another about Iran. Wondering if those who had been allowing fact based guest on their program like former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit Micheal Scheuer and former Bush administration official Flynt Leverett on years ago are no longer at CSpans Washington Journal

  6. tombishop on February 6, 2012, 1:57 pm

    If it is technically possible, Susie Abulhawa’s speech should not just include the audio, but the slide show that was with her speech. The combination was incredibly powerful!

  7. seafoid on February 6, 2012, 2:31 pm

    This insane hysteria about the conference tells us something about the moment we are in,” said Ali Abunimah, a co-founder of the Electronic Intifada news site, in his keynote speech at the conference. “In terms of the battle of ideas, we are in the end game.”

    Israel’s strength – the US Jewish link- will ultimately be its weakness since there is no point in a “Jewish” military state that has nothing to do with the values of Judaism . The further they oppress the Palestinians the further they turn away from their own religious values. The hasbara is already beginning to fall apart and hysteria can’t compensate. They can get any schmuck rabbi to sign off the torture and the demolitions

    but it stinks and they know it

    Israel is no good unless it’s built around permanent defensible values

  8. DICKERSON3870 on February 6, 2012, 3:01 pm

    RE: “Struggles for equality benefit from each other.” ~ Adam Akkad

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  9. seafoid on February 6, 2012, 3:28 pm

    Was there much security at the conference? I can imagine the Zionists regressing to the mean and taking people out as they have been doing for the last 100 years. Especially when the argument is being lost.

    • patm on February 7, 2012, 8:29 am

      “Was there much security at the conference?”

      I expect there was, seafoid. My concern was the cost of any extra security measures taken after the shameful Dur letter came out: i.e. Would the conference organizers be saddled with these costs?

      This was a ploy used by the Israel Firsters manipulating the board of governors at York University in Toronto a while back.

      Perhaps we’ll hear more about security this week.

  10. lysias on February 6, 2012, 4:13 pm

    OT, Hamas and Fatah reached a deal today, it seems. Palestinian Hamas, Fatah Reach Deal On Unity Government . That’s some turning point.

  11. wondering jew on February 6, 2012, 4:13 pm

    “in terms of the battle of ideas we are in the end game.”

    An interesting quote or an interesting idea.

    Currently there is at least one idea (herein spouted by one of the friends of Israel’s existence) that is not at an end game. Which is that the choice is not between the current inequality and a future perfect equality, but rather between the current inequality and a future different inequality. Neither the Egyptian revolution and its current stage, nor the Syrian revolution and its current stage, gives hope to “those who can see clearly” that the ideas in the neighborhood are going in any swift way to a future equality.

    (I do not support the Netanyahu policy of obduracy and believe in my heart, that a more flexible policy would lead to a better situation. But though we cannot wait for the “neighborhood” to reach its political maturity, before growing up ourselves, the argument of “look where we are living” is something that argues against the idealism of the one state idea, which is at the basis of the thinking of Abunimah.)

    • seafoid on February 6, 2012, 4:25 pm

      Jewish democracy is idealistic. Imagine what a Jewish democracy would look like. Imagine if everyone in Hevron was allowed to vote.

      YESHA is idealistic.
      The whole idea of the Jewish Sparta is idealistic. Like that is sustainable.
      The notion that actions are without consequence is idealistic. All those vetoes and then you need diplomatic cover and it’s not there .
      The Israeli belief in technology and Jewish exceptionalism is idealistic. How come Israel is such a mess ?

      The notion that the neighbourhood is rough and Israel is the villa in the jungle is idealistic. You have to make the connections between imperialism and local politics. The whole system is broken. Israel will have to be reformed and the Palestinians are at the heart of it.

      • patm on February 7, 2012, 8:44 am

        An excellent response to wj’s ‘poor us we’re the victims’ nonsense, seafoid.

        Thank you.

      • Chaos4700 on February 7, 2012, 9:17 am

        The notion isn’t merely idealistic — it’s blatantly racist.

    • Chaos4700 on February 7, 2012, 9:16 am

      By “friends of Israel’s existence,” are you referring to proponents of assassination and doing all many of nasty things “at the end of a bayonet” like ethnic cleansing? Just seeking a clarification here.

      • wondering jew on February 8, 2012, 7:01 pm

        The idea of a “one man one vote” Israel/Palestine has won the war of ideas Abunimah claims. And he may be right, when we divorce the war of ideas from the reality on the ground. But that is banishing ideas to the ivory tower. One man one vote has resulted in a mediocre reality in South Africa. The assertion that one man one vote will result in a utopia in Israel/Palestine is an idea without any basis. The reality of history and neighborhood is a reality which should be included in our thinking if our ideas are not to be mere wind in the air, but the actual basis for a future. It is not racist to be aware of history and the facts on the ground in the radius of a few hundred miles. To call it racist is the tool of a weak mind and a person who has no interest in ideas or the interplay of ideas and reality.

      • Hostage on February 8, 2012, 8:56 pm

        Prof. Lawrence Davidson has an article, “Should Israel/Palestine Merge?” which contrasts the views of Chomsky and Abunimah on the possibility of the two state or one state solution and the need for international pressure on both Israel and the United States for either solution to ever occur.

      • patm on February 9, 2012, 10:06 am

        Thanks for posting Prof. Davidson’s article, Hostage. He’s in agreement with the majority of us here in mondo’s comment section:

        “[Success in ending the occupation] will have to come in the form a two-front movement: one front building the worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and the second front concentrating on making support of Israel a national scandal in the US and therefore a domestic voting issue.”

  12. Hostage on February 7, 2012, 1:29 am

    I agree with 98 percent of the things Ali Abunimah said, but his response to the last question is simply a non-starter. He doesn’t have a mandate to speak for victims of serious crimes or have the necessary standing to waive their rights to a remedy in the form of criminal sanctions imposed on Israeli officials. The fact that the UN has failed to act, is absolutely no excuse for deliberate inaction on the part of the Palestinian leadership. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan was right when he criticized President Obama for not doing a thing about the IDF murder of a US citizen taking part in the Gaza aid flotilla.

    The State of Palestine has the necessary standing, as a result of the UNESCO vote, and it has the legal right to pursue remedies for its citizens through the ICC, e.g.

    Did anyone at the BDS conference address the issue of pursuing criminal sanctions? That would truly give everyone the opportunity to discuss an issue they would seemingly like to avoid.

  13. Justice Please on February 7, 2012, 6:24 am

    “Max Blumenthal’s comment that pro-Israel groups had scheduled events at the same time as the conference not so much to smash the conference or counter its message as much as to keep young people from wandering into the conference and getting hooked.”

    The enemies of universal freedom are afraid. Good!

  14. Kathleen on February 7, 2012, 10:30 am

    So great to see so many young people…movement real movement

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