Jonathan Tobin vs. Ali Abunimah: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in a Single Conversation

Cross posted by A. Jay Adler, who blogs at The Sad Red Earth. 

The following is a partial transcript of a “discussion” on Democracy Now between Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin and Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada. In this brief exchange we see all of the essential characteristics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tobin makes the point that regardless of any opinion regarding the settlements, peace can be had. Legal settlements can be sacrificed for peace just as illegal might be.

Abunimah fails here, as everywhere else, to be an honest interlocutor. Rather than respond to that idea, he dismisses it as a “talking point.” And even if it were? What about the idea behind it? However, Abunimah is not a man of ideas, but of postcolonial jargon. His rhetoric in a single brief conversation represents in nature the actions of the Palestinian and greater Arab world going back to 1947: refusal to engage and accept, a rejection of reasoned discourse just like rejection of a Jewish state. He slings historically and conceptually false labels like slurs and stones: “settler colonialism,” “apartheid,” “indigenous Palestinian people.”

In his final dishonesty, he snows the sympathetic mind with reference to “Jim Crow tyranny,” as if two peoples in conflict over land and competing nationhoods are the equivalent of discrimination within a single nation.

But, ah! That’s the point. Abunimah’s unspecified solution in equality to his manufactured inequality is an unarticulated but implicit single nation – which isn’t Israel.

Tobin, less driven and riven by hate and mental hackery, is too smart for him, and does not leave the inference unexpressed. Then Abunimah is reduced to scurrying into all the corners of his dishonesty to deny the implications of language.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Read.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to a statement made by Israeli President Shimon Peres. He spoke out Tuesday against settlements in the West Bank. He said, quote, “Israeli settlement in territories densely populated by an Arab population could bring about a threatening demographic change; that is, it could endanger the Jewish majority in Israel. It is doubtful that a Jewish State without a Jewish majority can remain Jewish.” Jonathan Tobin, can you comment on what Israeli President Shimon Peres said?

JONATHAN TOBIN: That’s a position that many Israelis hold. But it shouldn’t be conflated with the question of their legality. The problem here is that people like the people from The Electronic Intifada don’t really recognize legitimacy of Jewish life anywhere in the country, including inside the Green Line, including the settlement Tel Aviv. The problem here is that it’s not a question of whether they’re legal or not, because if the Palestinians wish to make peace, if they wish to compromise, if they wish to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn, they can do so, and Israel has approved it will withdraw from territory, if offered peace. The problem is, the Palestinians won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, the legitimacy of Jewish life anywhere in that country. That’s why this is—the talk of war crimes, the talk of it’s criminal—Jews are not foreigners in the land of Israel.

The problem is, the Palestinians don’t wish to share. What we have here is a question of disputed territory. Both sides have rights. All the rights are not on the sides of the Palestinians. Jews have rights, too. If the Palestinians wish to have peace, if they wish to have the Palestinian—independent Palestinian state that they were offered three times and rejected three times in the last 12 years, they have to start dealing with the reality that the Jews aren’t going away. And if they do, they’ll find that Israel is willing to withdraw from most of the settlements, whether they—whether they consider them legal or not. Let’s not conflate these two issues. Peace is possible if the Palestinians are willing to make peace. It’s not possible if they focus on fantasies about throwing the Jews out. Even the Obama administration, which has been the most sympathetic to the Palestinian of any in recent—in any recent light, understood that many of the settlements are going to stay. That’s what the talk about territorial swaps was about last year. So, to focus on the illegality of things, of places that everyone knows are going to stay Israeli, and where Jews have the right to live, is just a fantasy that breeds more terrorism and more rejection of peace, which is what we get from The Electronic Intifada.


AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah.

ALI ABUNIMAH: I mean, yeah, I see that Mr. Tobin studied the talking points very well this morning. Of course, let’s bring things back to basics. This isn’t a question of Jews. Jews have lived in Palestine since before the Zionist settler colony was imposed on Palestine. It’s not a question of Jews living there. It’s a question of settler colonialism, of apartheid, of the assertion that Jews have a right to superior rights than the indigenous Palestinian people and have a right to just bulldoze— literally bulldoze—their way onto Palestinian land and steal it for their own benefit. Frankly, I mean, I’m not surprised Mr. Tobin doesn’t care a jot about international law—

JONATHAN TOBIN: Jews are the indigenous people there, too. Jews are not foreigners.

ALI ABUNIMAH: —but you would think—you would think that Commentary, a conservative publication, would care at least about private property rights and the fact that vast tracts of these Jewish-only settler colonies are built on private Palestinian land, stolen by force by Israel’s Jewish sectarian militia known as the IDF.

Now, back to Shimon Peres’s statement, which was your original question, of course, his statement calling Palestinian babies a so-called demographic threat really reveals the Jim Crow-like racism at the core of this Zionist ideology that views the mere existence of Palestinian babies in their own native land as a threat to Israel. How can Palestinians ever possibly recognize or give legitimacy to an entity which views their mere reproduction as human beings as a mortal threat? It’s time for Mr. Tobin and all the fans of this apartheid, racist, Jim Crow tyranny to make good on their claimed liberal and progressive values and oppose Israeli apartheid and accept the inevitable, which is, just like in the Jim Crow South, just like in apartheid South Africa, one day there is going to be equal rights for everyone between the river and the sea, and all of this nonsense that Mr. Tobin is trying to sell us will be absolutely forgotten.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to the U.S. response to the commission’s report. The Obama administration criticized the findings of the report. Speaking Monday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, quote, “The U.S. position on settlements is clear. Obviously, we’ve seen the reports that an Israeli Government appointed panel has recommended legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts.” Jonathan Tobin, can you respond to that?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Well, of course the administration isn’t going to—hasn’t recognized that position. It opposes it. But it also tacitly agrees to the fact that the Jews aren’t going away. I mean, what we heard from my colleague on the show was the Palestinian fantasy that some day Israel is going to be destroyed. All the calumnies, all the slanders about apartheid—

ALI ABUNIMAH: I never said that. I didn’t use those words.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Yes, yes. That’s what—

ALI ABUNIMAH: I said that the system of racism and apartheid is going to be ended.

JONATHAN TOBIN: That is exactly what you are talking about.

ALI ABUNIMAH: And that will happen.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is not an apartheid state. It is the only—

ALI ABUNIMAH: But don’t substitute your words with mine.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is a state where Arabs have equal rights, serve in the parliament. And that—that is exactly what they are talking about. They’re talking about the destruction of Israel, and which is why this whole discussion—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Your words, sir. And it’s your fantasy.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is your meaning. Don’t try to—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Your fantasy is the destruction of Israel.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Don’t try to—don’t try to lie your way out of it.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Was Jim Crow the destruction of Alabama and Mississippi?

JONATHAN TOBIN: You are fantasizing about the end of the Jewish state.

30 replies »

  1. Many zionists and others live in the mistaken belief that peace with the Arabs (Palestinians) can be negotiated. It cannot. Israel will succeed if strong and fail if weak just like copts, Assyrians, Kurds and every other persecuted group in the region.

    Forget a worthless treaty, which Muslims regard as only a temporary truce (as we see in Egypt today) and dictate the terms. Arabs have the mentality of spoilt children where they never take responsibility for their actions. They’ve lost many wars (they started) and still Israel has given them (Sinai, south Lebanon) Gaza and area a and b in the west bank, but instead of being grateful they become more violent and intransient. Israel even supplies Gaza with power and water and gets rocket fire in return. Israel should give them nothing, complete it’s wall, withdraw to defensible positions and attack if attacked all the while ignoring the Goldstone’s of the world who attack Israel for self defense.

    • My view is too many Jews – Jonathan Tobin among them – have assimilated the Arab narrative the reason peace isn’t possible is because Jews don’t live in politically correct places in Israel. This is false as Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza revealed. If every single Jew was uprooted from Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem – all places the Arabs and the most of the world insist should be Judenrein, the Arabs would still refuse to make peace with Israel.

      The question should be reversed – why can’t Jews anywhere they want in their one small country on earth? No one is forcing the Arabs to share the rest of the Middle East with the Jews but every one it seems wants to force the Jews to make way for the Arabs simply because the Arabs find their presence amongst them intolerable. Peace will never be possible with that kind of attitude.

      Jews must stop blaming themselves for Arab anti-Semitism and extremism and should stop dignifying it as Tobin does in his response to Abunimah that the Jews will get out of parts of their country to legitimate their anti-Semitism and extremism. That will never lead to lasting peace. Jews must insist on every inch of their rights and never concede them to the Arab side. There may be no peace but at least Israel will be holding the moral high ground in the conflict.

      It is this that my position about Zionism means: Jewish nationhood is not negotiable – not the existence of Israel, not the right of Jews to live where they wish and certainly not the right of Israel to defend itself. All three conditions are irreducible requirements of Jewish sovereignty. The only real peace is on the basis of full Jewish equality as a nation – and this will never be acceptable to Islam and the Arabs and therefore peace with them amounts to an exercise in wishful thinking. The sooner Jews and Israelis accept this the better off they will be.

      In short, the notion of peace with the Arabs is a myth.

      • In short, the notion of peace with the Arabs is a myth.

        And therefore cover the West Bank with Jews-only settlements – right?

  2. Indigenous Palestinian people??? According to Ali Abunimah they are Arab Palestinians LOL. In yours dreams Ali get a education before you make up some imaginative stories, if he wants to coll Indigenous people of Palestine than they where Jews in the first place, but if he wants to quote the last 100 years than the Ingenious are Jews, Christians and Muslims, ))) only Muslims having problem to accepting this hehe nothing new.

    • Palestinians are Arab(ian)s when it suits them and indigenous to the levant when it suits them.

      Whereas Jews have no other homeland and are Judeans from Judea.

        • Why is it hilarious? Many of the people who now claim to be Palestinian “refugees” have lived in other parts of the World (including safe comfortable UK and USA, not just in “refugee camps”) for 3 generations or more. Yet they say they are Palestinian and should have a right of return.

          The majority of Jews, unfortunately, were expelled from their homeland – Israel – many many more generations ago. If it is OK for 3rd generation exiles to hang on to Palestine as their homeland, why is it not OK for 30th or 300th generation Jews?

          Do you deny that the Kingdom of Israel existed? Do you deny that Jews got their name from Judea?

          • Do you deny that the Kingdom of Israel existed? Do you deny that Jews got their name from Judea?

            Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.

            But saying that Jews are Judeans from Judea is plain silly.

  3. Idiots like Jonathan Tobin believe Jewish lives and Jewish national rights should be sacrificed for peace. That is a position I absolutely reject! What makes it different from Ali Abunimah’s? Its just that some Jews are embarrassed at the implications of Zionism, that preventing the Arabs from ever destroying Israel is a higher – and therefore – a more moral value than making peace. Peace with the Arabs by definition is impossible and a peace that asks Jews to give up their homes and their freedom to live where they want is in truth no peace at all. If I was in Jonathan Tobin’s place I would have said bluntly, Jews have the right to live wherever they want in the Land Of Israel. If the Arabs don’t want to accept the Jewish national right to do so, then the Jewish people prefer the conflict never came to an end over a peace that deprived them of their national rights. Because a people’s national rights are inalienable and cannot be set aside for reasons of political convenience. In essence, Zionism is not about making peace with the Arabs who hate the Jewish people and wish to see their country destroyed – its about upholding Jewish sovereignty under all conditions. Period. This is not open to debate.

  4. Tobin is correct. Abunimah is fantasizing about getting rid of Israel. All the language he uses is there to suck in the Amy Goodmans of this world.

  5. Tobin was entirely too polite, particularly in the face of Abunimah’s interruptions. He should have hit the ground running and been more assertive. Abunimah is an archetypal weasel who cannot bear that Tobin is heard at all.

    He cannot even bear to think in terms of a negotiated peace, or even a non-aggression pact worthy of the definition with Israel, so rigid is he. Islam is inimical to the survival of the Jewish state.

    What an arrogant,lying SOB he is – peace from the river to the sea – what sort of fairy land is he living in?

    Did anyone else hear this piece of sh*t refer to Israel as apartheid?

    I did and yet the idiot denies that he said it! Is he quite mad? I am surprised that he didn’t say that the Hamas Charter and the fulminations from mosques are empty rhetoric and expect his audience to believe that too, in spite of the daily diet of hatred from the Palestinian media and elsewhere in the Arab world born out in murderous behaviour.

    Abunimah is possessed of the same malignant self-pity as his Islamist fellow-travellers and other liars and he deserves exactly the same respect.

    Round 2 should be between him and someone like Wafa Sultan or Maj Avichay Edraee of the IDF, either of whom could eat him for breakfast.

  6. And this hate-filled, obviously cognitively distorted lump (and I know whereof I speak having crossed swords with him on Twitter) obviously believes that Abunimah won the argument, judging by the hyperbole. These people’s capability to delude themselves never fails to amaze.

    Although, like HairShirt, I agree that Tobin was rather too gentle.
    Abunimah, like others of his ilk, is good at overtalking his opponents, and trying to stifle them when they say things he doesn’t want to hear.


  7. How old are you

    He’s either very old or most probably senile, or a thumb sucker, or both………..
    A senile thumb sucker……….

    • Aw, don’t be unkind to children or the demented. Some people are naturally dumb and naturally contray

  8. Is that why you continue to grace us with your presence? Fond of fascism are you? Won’t they let you post on the Islamofascist sites then?

  9. The Jews keep Israel = Jews claiming the entire universe to “realzionist.” That makes him realantisemite.

    • Antisemitism always ends up extending claims of Jewish evil to cosmic proportions. “Realzionist” provides a literal example of the phenomenon. How interesting as a case study.

  10. RZ: “What I like about this place is that there is no mealy mouth stuff here. No attempt to sugar coat the Judeo fascism. The universe is ours but we maybe might agree to negotiate about Pluto.”

    When we deconstruct your sanctimonious bigotry, what is clear from your worldview is that Jews are not entitled to sovereignty. That having sovereignty over a country the size of New Jersey, is for you, the equivalent of the Jews laying claim to the universe.

    Jewish sovereignty as far as you are concerned is an intolerabe manifestation of the Jews’ inherent greed. (Hence your universe anology).

    But ofcourse RZ, you are too deluded by your own ‘progressive’ infallibility to see that what motivates your self-rigteous outbursts against ‘Judeo-fascism’ is a malevolent disgust for the Jewish collective in any shape, size, form or location.

  11. It’s articles like this that mean CiFW will never be taken seriously – and rightly so.

    This has nothing to do with anti-Semitism at the Guardian.

    The commentary is just anti-Palestinian propaganda.

    In this brief exchange we see all of the essential characteristics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    Really? How so?

    The Arab Palestinian apparently “fails here, as everywhere else, to be an honest interlocutor … not a man of ideas, but of postcolonial jargon … represents in nature the actions of the Palestinian and greater Arab world going back to 1947: refusal to engage and accept, a rejection of reasoned discourse … his final dishonesty … driven and riven by hate and mental hackery … reduced to scurrying into all the corners of his dishonesty to deny the implications of language.
    Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

    This A. Jay Adler character must be riddled with ulcers, such is the massive hatred inside them.

    Are the people behind CiFWatch really proud of the bigoted bile their site is producing? It’s far worse on average than any CiF thread!

    • No rebuttal from pretzelberg, no refutation of the claims made– just a rant against CIFwatch. As per usual.

      • Interesting that you refer to “the claims made”, i.e. that Arabs are dishonest.

        You and many others have no problem with that.

        As per usual.

        • Pretzelberg elides a portion of the text in order to falsely claim that the text says “Arabs are dishonest.” He begins his quotation by saying “The Arab Palestinian apparently ‘fails here, as everywhere else, to be an honest interlocutor…” In fact, the text says “Abunimah fails here, as everywhere else, to be an honest interlocutor.” It is clear that the article is speaking about this particular mendacious propagandist, and others like him who engage in mendacious propaganda for the Palestinian cause. No where does the text say that Arabs per se are dishonest.

          So pretzelberg, as a mendacious propagandist, has to doctor the text in order to make his assertion that CIFwatch, and I in particular, have no problem with such prejudice.

          As per usual.

    • “This has nothing to do with anti-Semitism at the Guardian.”

      Firstly, the anti-Israelian propaganda is disseminated everywhere per media and the hate arguments are the same across the media, crossposting is a good way to show the extent of hate propaganda in the west against Israel. What is your problem with information about this worldwide cognitive war?

      “It’s far worse on average than any CiF thread!”

      Are you serious?

      • “It’s far worse on average than any CiF thread!” Are you serious?

        Of course. But perhaps you don’t consider anti-Muslim bigotry to be worthy of note.

  12. I haven’t watched the interview, but from the transcript, Mr Tobin appeared out of his depth and Mr Abunimah wiped the floor with him.

  13. It is interesting to see Ali attempt to re-word the discourse. His ilk are traveling the globe hammering away at this new dictionary. That no viable Arab alternative exists to this day is ignored. I like to to think that Arab society has failed as a whole. Why on earth would the Israelis wish to get in line in the wider middle east? And Join Syria? Iraq? Lebanon? Or Iran?
    Ali is dead in the water.