On March 11, I attended a lecture given by Ali Abunimah. He was in Ottawa at the invitation of the Ottawa Forum for Israel Palestine (OFIP). Abunimah was born in the United States and educated in the United Kingdom. His parents were originally from Palestine. He is the founder of the Electronic Intifada, an implacably anti-Israel news website that was started in 2001.
The title of Abunimah’s lecture was, “Now that the Two State Solution is Dead, What’s Next?” He began by admitting that he thought two states was never a solution. Most of the presentation was dedicated to explaining his theory about Zionism. He believes that the purpose of Zionism was always the displacement and destruction of the Palestinian Arabs.
As evidence, Abunimah points to the contemporary situation of the people of Gaza, who do indeed live in difficult conditions, and of the Palestinians living under Israeli rule in Judea and Samaria. He claims that Arabs with Israeli citizenship are also victims of this Zionist project, which is allegedly dedicated to their dispossession and destruction.
Among the many surprising claims he made was that Zionism originated, not with Theodor Herzl, but with Christian Europeans who wanted to get rid of the Jewish population.
He argues that Zionism is an example of something called “settler colonialism,” which is characterized, in his view, by: (a) genocidal violence; (b) putting indigenous people in reservations; (c) depriving indigenous people of access to their livelihoods; and (d) efforts to destroy the indigenous culture.
It follows that Zionism must lead to the displacement of the Palestinian population, in what he described as a constant process of violent colonization. For him, the Israeli War of Independence and the Six-Day War were both stages in the same process of genocidal violence, degradation and dispossession.
Abunimah insisted that the colonization of Ireland, North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (hence apartheid) were all likewise species of this same settler-colonial phenomenon and that it is a mistake to “exceptionalize” the events in Palestine, which seems to mean that we shouldn’t care about how different it was. He noted that, like America, which remembers the story of the Mayflower, Israel likewise relies on a “founding myth” of people fleeing persecution for a better life. The fact that Jews really did come to Israel as a result of persecution and genocide did not seem to matter to him.
In answer to an audience question, Abunimah stated that while Zionists were not allied with the Nazis, they had “interests in common.” As evidence of this, he cited an offer made by Adolf Eichmann to Hungarian Zionist Joseph Brand, in which Eichmann offered to exchange a million Jews for 10,000 British or American trucks. Sadly, Brand was arrested by the British and the million Jews who might have been saved went to their deaths.
Abunimah insisted that “Zionism is not the natural outcome of Judaism.” When I challenged him on this point, he said he would never accept that Judaism and Zionism were inseparable. The audience applauded enthusiastically.
Those who love Israel and don’t see Zionism as a force for evil should be aware that there are people, like Abunimah, who promote a nightmarish account of Israel. Those who accept this account are unlikely to support Israel’s survival. While Israel is strong militarily, there is another battle going on in the realm of ideas.
Supporters of Israel must understand the enemy’s arguments, which have won adherents even within the Jewish community. Someone who accepts Abunimah’s thesis could hardly avoid hating Israel and the majority of Jews who support it. Therefore, we must know our history and be ready to explain that Zionism is, and was, a movement for Jewish emancipation, and that it was never dedicated to anyone’s destruction.