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A twitter debate on Israel/Palestine and racism

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This past weekend saw a spirited and sometimes angry debate on twitter over racism, Israel/Palestine, and BDS (Phil referenced it briefly here). The discussion was touched off by a critique of BDS from The Nation‘s Ben Adler, which was responding to Kiera Feldman’s report on the Park Slope Food Co-op boycott vote. In his article Adler wrote:

And Israel’s destruction is indeed what BDS seeks. Calling for a Palestinian “right of return” is, as Feldman acknowledges, calling for the demographic abolition of Israel as a Jewish state. A lot of people have fled persecution over the years. I have no right of return to the Eastern European countries where my ancestors feared pogroms, nor do Israelis. Native Americans cannot reclaim the land in Brooklyn that the Park Slope Food Coop currently occupies.

The ensuing exchange lasted for nearly 26 hours, with many chiming in (including me tweeting under the Mondoweiss account).

Below are snippets from the discussion (see Adler’s twitter page for the full discussion).  

Ben Adler’s tweets on BDS

Storified by Mondoweiss · Mon, Apr 02 2012 11:42:13

The Problems With BDS | The Nation Adler
For the record, when one (eg @badler) refers to Palestinian bodies as "demographic" threats, that’s racist. More serious response to come.Kiera Feldman
@kierafeldman how exactly is referring to a demographic reality that would end Israel as a Jewish and democratic state racistBen Adler
@kierafeldman Israel is a Jewish state. It’s not the same as calling, say, Latinos a demographic threat to the U.S.Ben Adler
@kierafeldman can you tell me what Israel would be like for the 6 million Jews there if they lived with 8 million Palestinians?Ben Adler
@Mondoweiss if you think believing that Israel should be allowed to exist within the Green Line as a Jewish state makes me a racist, fineBen Adler
@badler please explain y that isn’t clear? Do U think it’s right that U can move 2 Israel 2morrow, but a refugee forced out in 48 cant?Mondoweiss
according to @Mondoweiss if you support Israel’s right to exist you "support racism." So he must see racists everywhereBen Adler
I support Palestinians having their own state alongside Israel. @mondoweiss opposes Israel’s right to exist. but HE’s calling ME racistBen Adler
@Mondoweiss Looking fwd to your posts saying I have right of return to Hungary, Russia, Lithuania & calling anyone who disagrees a racistBen Adler
As someone who wants Israel to disband settlements and withdraw from West Bank, I find ppl like @mondoweiss who demand 1 state v unhelpfulBen Adler
Is there a stupider analogy than "it wd be racist to oppose latinos in US for demographic reasons so it’s racist to oppose right of return"?Ben Adler
so I guess @mondoweiss is an anti-filipino bigot for not boycotting Saudi Arabia over their immigration policy Adler
@kierafeldman @Mondoweiss can i see your pieces calling for boycotts of the Gulf states for their racist immigration policies?Ben Adler
By @mondoweiss’ logic, Israel can’t have a different founding purpose than U.S. Funny how he’s never said that about, say, Saudi ArabiaBen Adler
I’m not calling @mondoweiss an anti-Semite for wanting Israel’s Jews to be ruled by Hamas. Bc I’m not a mud slinging hack like he isBen Adler
@kierafeldman @JoshuaHol but that’s precisely my point! convince bernie sanders to introduce a bill cutting off Israel … 1/2Ben Adler
@kierafeldman @JoshuaHol …. 2/2 that would generate more influential discussion that a losing vote at a food coop not to buy 6 productsBen Adler
.@badler But that’s my point, you refer to people wanting to "abolish Israel as a Jewish state," demographics is a racist argument.Remi Kanazi
@Remroum for the record, i think if birthrates created arab majority within israel they could democratically alter it’s Jewish natureBen Adler
.@badler You’re excusing mass ethnic cleansing. People have a right to return. It’s NOT immigration, they were expelled from their homes.Remi Kanazi
@Remroum there’s a diff btwn allowing immigration policies to shape demographics and ethnic cleansing of ppl already there.Ben Adler
@Remroum just bc filipino guest workers in Saudi aren’t refugees from 60 yrs ago doesn’t make those ethnocentric policies non-racistBen Adler
.@badler Who is commending disgusting Saudi policy? Object & work against both. That’s the point. Stop deflecting.Remi Kanazi
@Remroum what exactly are you doing to change Saudi policy? Where are your posts calling Saudis & anyone not boycotting Saudi racists?Ben Adler
.@badler If Saudis or Filipinos called for boycott, I would sign on. Palestinian civil society, the oppressed, called for boycottRemi Kanazi
@badler It’s not "disrespectful" 2 point out what demographic fear means. It’s not progressive to say ‘but my demographic fear is DIFFERENT"Kiera Feldman
@kierafeldman it’s simply dishonest to equate demographic fear wrt Israel to anti-Latino sentiment in US. It’s not abt fear of Arabs … 1/2Ben Adler
@kierafeldman … 2/2 but rather any non-Jews. It’s not inherently more racist against Arabs than, say, Swedes.Ben Adler
@kierafeldman of course I’m not denying presence of horrible anti-Arab racism in Israel. Like you, I want to stop supporting thatBen Adler
.@badler Isnt racism when u say it’s ok to treat different groups differently? Would u deny right of return 4 any other refugee group?Kiera Feldman
@kierafeldman Yes and so do you, unless you’re moving out of your house so a Native American can move in.Ben Adler
.@badler Calling for justice for one dispossessed people doesn’t preclude justice here. BDS works w/First Nations groups here too you knowKiera Feldman
@badler I’m just saying if u want 2 call yrself progressive u should own up to the fact that yr definitions of citizenship are anything but.Kiera Feldman
@kierafeldman A) I don’t "Want to call myself progressive." I call myself a liberal and I’ve been writing for lib mags for years …Ben Adler
@kierafeldman … I’ve written FAR more than you about immigrant rights, civil rights, voting rights in U.S. where I live …Ben Adler
@kierafeldman Yes, I do apply a different standard of citizenship of Israel than US. Just as you apply diff stand to Saudi v IsraelBen Adler
@MaxBlumenthal @mondoweiss Ben’s asking good questions, should read Omar’s book and meet more Palestinians. @badler :-)Tiny Dancer
@DianaValerie @MaxBlumenthal @mondoweiss I would love to meet more Palestinains. I’m waiting for my junket invite!Ben Adler
@youngcollier hahah. remind me never to write about the middle east again. they think im a terrible person bc of this: Adler
Hoping tonight’s episode of Mad Men is more awesome than last week’sBen Adler

Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Executive Editor of

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32 Responses

  1. Shmuel on April 2, 2012, 2:15 pm

    Israel is Jewish and democratic because it is Jewish and democratic, and I am a liberal because I am a liberal.

    You can’t argue with that sort of logic. Seriously, you can’t.

  2. clenchner on April 2, 2012, 2:35 pm

    Was it racist of Arabs in Palestine to oppose Jewish immigration in the 20s? Was it still racist of them to oppose allowing Jewish refugees to escape Germany in the 30s? Was it racist of them to oppose allowing Jewish concentration camp survivors to come to Palestine after WWII?
    Actually no. Communities have a right to craft demographic policies that serve their own national interest. Even if it harms the interests of outsiders.
    That said, man oh man how I wish perestroika had happened after the signing of an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty.

    • Pamela Olson on April 2, 2012, 2:59 pm

      If Latinos (or anyone else) were immigrating to the US under the banner of an organization with a declared intention to drive us out of our homes and take over our land, of course we would have a right to resist that. If they succeeded in driving us out of our homes and taking over our land, we would have a right to return.

      It’s all so devilishly simple.

      Israel had the back luck of being one of the last Western projects of mass expulsion, just at the point when such things were becoming gauche. And its only real defense is, “But other people did it and got away with it in the past! Why not us? I’m not racist, you are! Saudi Arabia sucks! Waaah! Screw it, I’m gonna watch Mad Men.”

      • pabelmont on April 3, 2012, 9:22 am

        Pamela — also one might mention that (some) Israelis claim a form of justification or “birth certificate” for Israel in UNGA 181 which proposed two countries, EACH with a mixed population, and without discrimination and CERTAINLY without expulsion of Arabs by Jews.

        (Others correctly identify Israel’s birth certificate as the barrels of many guns. And a few still profess to discern an internationally meaningful “birth certificate” for Israel in ancient Jewish myths and/or long-term Jewish ambitions and yearnings.)

        Now, today, after all its crimes against the Palestinians, Israel has the nerve (and gall and chutzpa) to say, “Well, on second thoughts, we wanted, actually, a Jewish State, not merely a Democratic state and not merely a refuge for Jews, and we want it REALLY BIG, too, and we assume that all the world joins with us in the idea that we DESERVE to have a “Jewish State” (meaning: vastly predominantly Jewish population) on a REALLY BIG territory.

        But the world already said, UNGA 194 (1948) that there was a RoR for peaceable refugees. So, the world has already NOT AGREED, Ya Yahoudi, and persists in not agreeing! And the Fourth Geneva Convention (and UNSC and ICJ) have attested that the settlement project violates international law, so that Israel is not entitled (today — in the absence of a peace treaty) to occupy the post-1967 lands.

        When is Israel going to learn to play well (or at all) with the other children?

    • Shmuel on April 2, 2012, 3:13 pm


      Neither Arab opposition to Jewish immigration in the ’20s, nor Zionist opposition to Palestinian ROR are immigration issues. The former was rooted in opposition to an openly declared colonialist project (entailing organised, externally imposed demographic change), and the latter is an attempt to deny the land’s native inhabitants (and their descendants born abroad as a direct result of their parents’ or grandparents’ ethnic cleansing) the right to return to their country (see the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

      Were it merely a matter of immigration policy, Israeli policy would be still be racist. But it is in fact far worse than that. Israel’s current “demographic policies” vis-à-vis the Palestinian refugees are in fact a sort of maintenance phase of ethnic cleansing. Israel has every right to negotiate the feasibility and modalities of possible return, but denying the Palestinian ROR in order to safeguard the state’s “Jewish character” – achieved through ethnic cleansing, discriminatory immigration, etc. – cannot possibly be reconciled with democratic, liberal or progressive values. It is a racist position.

      • clenchner on April 2, 2012, 3:56 pm

        Shmuel, can you believe we grew up and for decades no one was talking about the ‘Jewish character’ except nutters? Israel is to Judaism what Ahmadinijad is to Shia Islam.

      • Shmuel on April 2, 2012, 4:33 pm


        I grew up hearing “medinah yehudit” (Jewish state) and “yehudit ve-demokratit” (Jewish and democratic) until it came out of my ears. I was just out of high school when the “Basic Law: The Knesset” was amended to ban parties that “negate the Jewish or democratic character of the state” (not the exact wording of the law, but the terms in which it was discussed), and remember arguing with one of my yeshivah teachers about the contradiction between “Jewish” and “democratic” (I accepted his pat answer, but didn’t like it).

        It’s the Palestinian ROR no one was talking about in Jewish, Israeli circles. I didn’t hear about that in any serious context until I was 34 years old – and that’s only because I went looking for trouble.

    • Cliff on April 2, 2012, 7:07 pm

      Newclench said:

      Communities have a right to craft demographic policies that serve their own national interest.

      Palestinians are not foreign to the land. Your brethern are.

      There was a tiny amount of Jews in the land and the rest flooded Palestine and eventually USURPED the indigenous population.

      That is what happened. Not the other way around.

      The context is completely different. Palestinians are not recent immigrants. You are.

  3. Krauss on April 2, 2012, 2:57 pm

    Weiss covered the way you can outright racist and nativist stuff like “demographic abolition” under the cover of Zionism. And Beinart even tweeted his approval of Adler’s piece on his twitter feed.

    That should give some here pause.

    • Cliff on April 2, 2012, 7:08 pm

      When has Beinhart had to defend his views in a meaningful debate?

      Not with other Zionists. But with Palestinians and anti-Zionists.

      He is a privileged American Jew and is happy in his Zionist bubble, only wanting his Zionism to be given a makeover.

      • dahoit on April 4, 2012, 11:01 am

        A privileged South African American Jew.A real conundrum there,as when did he leave South Africa,when the ANC took over?
        How do these intellectual frauds become pooh bahs of debate?
        Nevermind.(hey,that fits!)

  4. DICKERSON3870 on April 2, 2012, 4:01 pm

    RE: “I have no right of return to the Eastern European countries where my ancestors feared pogroms, nor do Israelis.” ~ Ben Adler

    CHRIS HEDGES, 3/05/12: (excerpt)…The Israeli poet Aharon Shabtai, in his poem “Rypin,” translated by Peter Cole, examined what power, force and self-worship do to compassion, justice and human decency. Rypin was the Polish town his father escaped from during the pogroms.

    These creatures in helmets and khakis,
    I say to myself, aren’t Jews,
    In the truest sense of the word. A Jew
    Doesn’t dress himself up with weapons like jewelry,
    Doesn’t believe in the barrel of a gun aimed at a target,
    But in the thumb of the child who was shot at—
    In the house through which he comes and goes,
    Not in the charge that blows it apart.
    The coarse soul and iron first
    He scorns by nature.
    He lifts his eyes not to the officer, or the soldier
    With his finger on the trigger—but to justice,
    And he cries out for compassion.
    Therefore, he won’t steal land from its people
    And will not starve them in camps.
    The voice calling for expulsion
    Is heard from the hoarse throat of the oppressor—
    A sure sign that the Jew has entered a foreign country
    And, like Umberto Saba, gone into hiding within his own city.
    Because of voices like these, father
    At age sixteen, with your family, you fled Rypin;
    Now here Rypin is your son.

    SOURCE –

    • pnkfloid on April 2, 2012, 8:18 pm

      Thanks, Dickerson. From whatever discipline, you always find the right gem.

  5. annie on April 2, 2012, 7:01 pm

    following a lot of this on ‘real time’ i was actually astounded at alders tweets. that he could reveal this level of myopic-ness and shifty/twisty word games to make his ‘pts’. all about ot scoring and he wasn’t bashful about his immaturity, he just splayed it all out there for the world to see. i was surprised he was writing for the nation i suppose because i hold then to a higher standard, or did. it just goes to show what kind of stuff gets published nowadays under the guise of ‘balance’.

    anyway, i wonder if one day he will look back on this exchange and read it like others do or if he will just grow into a fullblown unabashed self identifying ‘liberal’ neocon.

    • dahoit on April 4, 2012, 11:06 am

      Since Vandenhuevel took over the Nation,it’s become a farce.I also get the Washington Report newsletter by one Lou Dubose.It also sucks and has become nothing but a shill for the democrats as the Nation has, a complete mockery of their mission to inform.And look at the Guardian,a once stalwart defender of right,which has now joined the neolibcon ranks of traitors.

  6. GreatLeo on April 2, 2012, 9:21 pm

    When Adler writes “Native Americans cannot reclaim the land in Brooklyn that the Park Slope Food Coop currently occupies”, he is deliberately choosing his words in order to confuse the issue. Native Americans do have the right to return to Brooklyn and live as equals with all other Americans. They even have the right to purchase the Park Slope Coop. His beloved Israel refuses to give similar rights to Palestinians.

  7. talknic on April 3, 2012, 1:57 am

    “I have no right of return to the Eastern European countries where my ancestors feared pogroms, nor do Israelis.” ~ Ben Adler

    He’s either a liar, ignorant or NOT a refugee. Next he comes with this Hasbara bullsh*te someone ought point him to the German legislation granting RoR even for non-refugees (i.e., those who have taken citizenship elsewhere) AND their lineal descendents

    His Hasbarrow overfloweth

    • on April 4, 2012, 12:40 am

      Wait, so Jews who fled Poland (by the millions) after a systematic government sponsored campaign of ethnic cleansing now have a right of return??

      • Shmuel on April 4, 2012, 2:16 am

        Wait, so Jews who fled Poland (by the millions) after a systematic government sponsored campaign of ethnic cleansing now have a right of return??

        Those who left after ’58 do have that right (as do other refugees from the Communist regime). Many thousands of Israelis have applied for Polish citizenship on this basis – although very few (if any) have actually chosen to return to Poland. Others may enter Poland as tourists, apply for residency and citizenship – just like anyone else. Israeli immigration and naturalisation laws deny even that to Palestinian refugees.

      • on April 4, 2012, 5:15 am

        AFTER 1958!!! Wow, that’s marvelous! So, let’s see–in 1958 21,000 Jews remain out of 3.8 million in 1938. If Israel killed 94% of Palestinians would you be praising their efforts to repatriate a few hundred survivors?

      • Shmuel on April 4, 2012, 5:22 am


        How many ethnically-cleansed Jews have demanded the right to return to Poland and have been turned down? The fact is that Poland recognises the right of Jews stripped of their citizenship and/or forced to leave the country, to regain their citizenship and return if they like. If you know of cases in which this right has been demanded and rejected by the Polish authorities, please let us know.

        Jews ethnically cleansed from Poland by the Nazis had the right to repatriation after the war. Most, understandably chose not to exercise that right. Palestinians were never granted that right.

        Israel is still actively ethnically cleansing the territories under its control and stripping Palestinians of citizenship and residency rights.

      • tree on April 4, 2012, 6:52 am

        Terry sweetie, German Nazis were the ones who killed 3 million Polish Jews, as well as killing 3 million non-Jewish Poles during the same time period, while the Soviet Union had killed hundreds of thousands of Poles, most of them non-Jews, simply because they were Polish. Nazi Germany doesn’t exist anymore. Poland is the one that is allowing Polish Jews to repatriate if they wish. The action deserves commendation. You’re plainly just upset that your attempt at hasbara failed because of your ignorance. The fact is that Poland is granting rights to Jews (as it should) that Jews in Israel are refusing to grant to Palestinians, while Israel is at the same time continuing with more slow-motion ethnic cleansing.

      • Theo on April 4, 2012, 9:01 am


        You are simply ignorant or just spreading zionist hasbarah.

        In Germany there are about 200,000 jews, mostly from the old SU, who have absolutly no connection to that country.
        Many do not speak german and are old and drawing a retirement income HIGHER than the average german does, although they never paid a penny into that programme!!!

        You zionists spread all this stories so your citizens in Israel will not pack up and go back to Europe.

      • eljay on April 4, 2012, 9:08 am

        >> So, let’s see–in 1958 21,000 Jews remain out of 3.8 million in 1938. If Israel killed 94% of Palestinians …

        However, according to his previous comment:
        >> … Jews who fled Poland (by the millions) …

        So, although 94% of Poland’s 3.8 million Jews were killed by Germans, they still managed to flee Poland by the millions. The math is very creative.

  8. Justice Please on April 3, 2012, 5:27 am

    “@kierafeldman how exactly is referring to a demographic reality that would end Israel as a Jewish and democratic state racistBen Adler”

    Wow, that Adler guy is one stupid moron.

  9. Chu on April 3, 2012, 7:37 am

    “I’m a liberal b/c ,ya know, I wrt for liberal mags for a whole 2 yrs. Cant wait to see mad men as they explore how amercn jews were segregated in the 1960s. So awsme!” -I can see how twitter is such a poor means of communication. It really turns a debate into a caricature.
    A lot of his arguments, from the snippets, seem to want to turn the heat on Saudi Arabia or the US. Not convincing at all. Deflection seems to be cetnral to his repertoire.

  10. Theo on April 3, 2012, 11:48 am

    At Twitter there was a question if I can return to Hungary?

    Yes, you can, as many jews did. As matter of fact, there is a school teaching israeli children the hungarian language, because “that is their future home”!
    Israelis opened businesses in Hungary, and many jews have double citizenship moving back and forth between the two countries.
    I am sure Hungary would welcome jews if they come to become hungarians and go to work. Zionists and ultra orthodox jews better stay in Israel, they will not be happy there.

    • Theo on April 3, 2012, 12:04 pm

      I would like to add:

      Hungary did not hand out the jews during WWII until during 1944 the SS kidnapped the son of the regent Horthy, forcing him to resign. Under SS guidance a new government headed by Szálasi took over and only then were jews deported by Eichmann. Without this SS coupe most likely the hungarian government would have never agreed to the deportation.
      Contrary to the numbers flying around, a great number of the deported jews came home again, including the family of my oldest friend.

    • Danaa on April 3, 2012, 12:25 pm

      Theo, the same is true about Romania. People evicted or deported during WWII or during the persecutions of the communist regime that took over can claim Romanian citizenship.

      It is true that every Israeli who can arms themselves with a second citizenship. Unfortunately, too many of those Israelis who do become dual citizens and start to reside in places like Hungary and Romania and Germany still bring with them the total arrogance, selfishness and disregard for others that they imbibed growing up in Israel. The sense of exceptionalism coupled with consdescention to others are not as easy to shed as domicile.

      • Theo on April 4, 2012, 8:53 am

        You are so right!!

        In Germany a great number of illegal brothels and casinos are owned by israeli criminals, when they are cought, they just take the next plane back to Israel and the german authorities have absolutly no chance to put them in jail.
        This must stop if israelis do not want to be disliked, I using the mildest form of that feeling. Having a chip on the shoulder does not help establishing a friendly relationship.

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