MJ Rosenberg owes Ali Abunimah an apology for false accusations of anti-Semitism

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While tirelessly working to promote the rights of his people, Palestinian-American activist and Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah has kept a wary eye open for anti-Semitism, and repeatedly made it clear that there is no room in the Palestinian rights movement for any attacks on Jewish people.  For example, see his harsh criticism of Gilad Atzmon and Greta Berlin.   Of course, this stance has not insulated him from the usual charges of anti-Semitism from the cadre of smear artists poised to attack.  Their tactics range from willful distortions and misinterpretations of actual remarks to outright fabrication of quotes.

MJ Rosenberg
MJ Rosenberg

Ordinarily, such reflexive condemnations of “anti-Semitism” are not noteworthy.  But recently, a new and surprising source of the most vitriolic and vacuous charges of anti-Jewish bigotry has emerged.  MJ Rosenberg has come a long way since his early days as an AIPAC staffer, and while he still supports the existence of the Jewish State, has been a genuinely harsh critic of Israeli policies.  He has authored a number of posts on Mondoweiss that offered a good deal of insight or at least inspired thoughtful discussion.

In a series of recent blog posts, Rosenberg unleashes a shocking stream of invective directed against Abunimah, including: “I believe that Ali Abunimah would be ecstatic if Israel was destroyed, blown off the face of the earth, along with every one of its people because, after all, the Jews in Palestine are, by definition, Zionists, even the kids.”  “Ali Abunimah refers to Israelis as Zionists, [and] then he makes clear, over and over again, that Zionists are all bad people. Just go to his twitter feed and read the labels he uses for Zionists, like ‘invaders.’ So, by simple deduction, Abunimah hates all 6 or 7 million Jews of Israel, about half the Jews on the planet.”  This is Alan Dershowitz on steroids.

Ali Abunimah
Ali Abunimah

What has incensed Rosenberg to the point of meltdown?  He repeatedly cites Abunimah’s twitter feed, but does not quote any particular tweets and only gives details about two, where Ali suggests that it was anti-Semitic for Congressman Henry Waxman to consult specifically with Jewish House members on Syria, and that it is similarly anti-Semitic to subscribe to “Zionist dogma” that Jews must be physically separated from non-Jews.  Since Rosenberg singles out these tweets, he presumably found them to be among the most offensive.  However, even if one disagrees with these positions, are they really deserving of such an irate response?  Moreover, if Rosenberg is going to attack Abunimah as bent on genocide of millions, don’t his readers deserve to see exactly what Ali wrote?  In fact, Rosenberg makes it clear that his accusations are based not on what Ali wrote but on his “simple deduction” of Abunimah’s state of mind:  “Yeah, yeah, I know he is careful to scream about Israelis or Zionists and not Jews, but he doesn’t fool me”; “I know anti-Semitism when I see it.”

This outburst is all the more inexplicable since Rosenberg himself has been publicly smeared by the odious Dershowitz for the relatively innocuous “offense” of using the term “Israel firster” to describe those who put Israel first.  Dershowitz threatened to use his self-appointed bully pulpit to defeat Obama’s re-election if Media Matters did not fire Rosenberg, who actually resigned in response to the threat.  Dershowitz, no stranger to ridiculously overheated prose, said this about Rosenberg:  “He didn’t engage in careful, nuanced critiques of Israel, which is fine. He engaged in hyperbole, name-calling. He just hated, hated, hated, with a passion, almost an eroticized passion of anything associated with Israel. He was like a spurned lover — irrational.”  What was Rosenberg trying to prove by smearing Abunimah in similar or even worse terms?

Rosenberg is a quintessential Liberal Zionist, one who believes that the creation and continued existence of the Jewish State has been a worthy project but that strenuous efforts should be made to mitigate its negative effects on Palestinians.  Rosenberg seems sincerely critical of Israel’s movement in the opposite direction, being harsher than it has to be.  Abunimah may exhibit little patience with LZ prescriptions of a kinder and gentler system of inequality.  While I agree with Abunimah’s vision of one state with equal rights for all, I may be somewhat more tolerant of “Liberal Zionists” than he is, but after all, my family is full of them and his family was ethnically cleansed from their homeland by Zionists of all stripes.

But to infer that Abunimah is such a virulent anti-Semite that he would love to see millions of Israeli Jews exterminated is beyond preposterous.  Abunimah has written a book detailing his view of one state in which every resident of the land between the river and the sea would enjoy full and equal rights of citizenship.  Does Rosenberg truly believe that Abunimah devoted the time and energy to writing this book envisioning true peace and harmony between Jews and non-Jews only to camouflage his master plan for the Final Solution in the Middle East?  Rosenberg apparently has felt the personal sting of Abunimah’s intolerance of Zionism in any form, but if he is going to advocate in favor of his own “right” to emigrate half-way around the world and assume a superior position to people who have lived there for many centuries, he should be more tolerant of criticism, especially from the victims of that ideology.

This is more than an issue of personal pique between two individuals, and should be seen in a larger context.  Ultimately, all supporters of the concept of a Jewish State, including “Liberal Zionists,” are defending a system that inherently imposes ethno-religious privileges that would be impossible to tolerate in the United States or elsewhere.  The only way a Liberal Zionist could rationalize this compromise of the rights of others is for a “greater good” of preventing a far worse calamity.  True Liberal Zionists oppose the Occupation, but feel that Palestinian citizens of Israel are going to have to accept perpetual second-class citizenship because a Jewish State is necessary to protect not only Israeli Jews but also world Jewry.  So in order to justify a Jewish State rather than a color/ethnicity/religion-blind state, the dangers to Jews posed by the world at large, and Arabs and Palestinians in particular, must be magnified.  The Palestinian fight for freedom, justice and equality is thus often portrayed as a potential threat to the survival of the Jewish people, who live on the precipice of genocide.  A more realistic evaluation of the threat of anti-Semitism would not give it precedence over conforming to the otherwise inviolable  21st century norm of equality for all.

Is there any anti-Semitism in the Palestinian rights movement? Surely there is.  The movement is a reaction to many decades of appalling oppression perpetrated by a state that purports to be acting in the name of all Jews.  Surely there were expressions of hatred directed against white people in apartheid South Africa and the Jim Crow south.  Such reactions do not delegitimize (a rare appropriate use of that word) the universal struggles for freedom, justice and equality, nor do they justify the perpetuation of their denial.  Kathleen Peratis may detect a “whiff” of anti-Semitism, but that is no reason to shun a movement dedicated to equal rights in any of these settings.

Ali Abunimah understands that expressions of anti-Semitism can be poisonous to his cause.  But false accusations of anti-Semitism can be just as toxic, all the more so when leveled by someone like MJ Rosenberg rather than one of the usual knee-jerk blowhards.  This is not merely a personal smear directed against someone wholly undeserving of it.  It’s a gift bestowed upon not-so-liberal Zionists who can now quote the Israeli critic MJ as “authority” that Ali Abunimah, not to mention all he represents, is a raging anti-Semitic genocidal maniac.  Rosenberg should take a step back and re-evaluate.  He owes Abunimah and his readership an apology.

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Thanks David for this thoughtful post. I believe you covered what needs to be said. I would just like to add that there are many Jews including Israelis, who have published articles at the Electronic Intifada. I am Jewish and have written for EI. I have always found Abunimah and EI to be a hopeful example of effective Jewish and Palestinian cooperation. I am appalled by MJ Rosenberg’s completely groundless allegations against Abunimah, who is… Read more »

The fact is: What Abunimah advocates is the dissolution of the only Jewish nation on the planet. One can understand why Jews would see this as anti-Semitism. The reason this is so intractable is because one nation has to disappear. Either Israel as a Jewish nation has to disappear, or the Palestinians have to disappear. Let’s not mince words. Abunimah may not hate the Jewish people, but he advocates the dissolution of the only Jewish… Read more »

thank you for writing this david. i know i was not the only person who was completely stunned by the accusation. something needed to be said and it certainly didn’t need to be ali. but something needed to be said and i appreciate you saying it.

The next Eric Alterman. So sad, but proves yet again that there is no tension between liberalism and Zionism. There is a fundamental chasm. The biggest racists fall first. But over time, the more ‘liberal’ racists get exposed too. MJ should read Blumenthal’s book. He is supporting a Jim Crow state within the 67-lines. I’m not going to summarize all the findings, but it’s really shocking even to someone like me. It’s because we focus… Read more »

Thank you for the post. It is sad, but not surprising, that MJ would make this false accusation. He really does say outrageous things. He once tweeted: “Donald Trump calling 4 targeted assassination tonight. Me too. But only if the first three are Drudge, Trump & Mitch McDonnell.” I have no fondness for any of the above… but really, what is added to the cause by publicly calling for their murder? He seems to have… Read more »