The COVID19 pandemic in the United States has produced an interesting phenomenon — the notion that while people are “sheltering in place” or avoiding crowded physical locations, they would be reachable online and more willing to hear appeals to their hearts and minds by the oppressed.
And while it is clear now that the pool of people who have the patience to tune into an hour or two of intelligent discourse on Black Lives Matter or Native American or Palestinian issues or a combination of two or all three is dwindling, there are a few webinars that still draw an excited crowd. Such was the case on July 14 with the webinar titled, ‘The End of Zionism: Thoughts and Next Steps’.
Haymarket Books, which co-sponsored the webinar, introduced the topic as follows:
Zionism — the assertion that Jews have a right to violently establish and maintain an ethno-religious state in the homeland and at the expense of the Palestinian people — was, at least in the United States, a mainstream belief with support across the political spectrum. In recent years, that consensus has crumbled. Palestinians have led the global BDS movement that highlights how Zionism violates the rights of all Palestinians, and younger generations of Americans, including Jews, are turning away from an ideology that is more and more openly aligned with the most reactionary, right-wing and white supremacist forces. Similar changes are happening all over the world. Though Zionism is on the retreat ideologically, Israel retains immense power and impunity.
What will it take to change this apparent stalemate, and shift the balance towards liberation for Palestinians?
The webinar featured Ali Abunimah, writer, journalist and executive director of the widely acclaimed publication The Electronic Intifada, Philip Weiss, writer, journalist and founder of a blog called Mondoweiss, and Nada Elia, activist, teacher, writer, and political commentator. I was among 600 plus people who tuned in for the live stream (15 hours later, the YouTube video of the event recorded 1,628 views).
As a Palestinian activist, I am in tune with all three speakers and have been following their writings for years. Ali is my cousin, Nada is an activist-colleague at USACBI and Palestine Writes, and Phil’s voice, as a Jewish voice, is a source of hope for me as a Palestinian. And hope is what this webinar celebrated. There was a lot of excitement anticipating the event, not merely because of who would be speaking, but also because of the title.
These three people spoke about what mainstream journalism rarely addresses, the inevitability of the demise of Zionism — i.e., the collapse of the legitimacy of Israel. They even talked about the idea of justice in a post-Zionist civil society in one democratic state in the whole of Palestine.
On the question of Peter Beinart’s recent support of one state, Ali Abunimah welcomed his change of heart, but said Beinart should account for the gatekeeping role he played for so long, especially in how he used the two-state solution as a serious prop or a cover for the racist basis of Zionism — something that Jewish groups like IfNotNow and J Street continue to disguise.
Among the many questions often on Palestinians’ minds that Nada Elia asked was one that in my own mind reads, “Until when, O Lord?”, referring to how long it would be before the collapse of Zionism. I loved Philip Weiss’s mention of a quotation from The Sun Also Rises to give a sense, one that Ali Abunimah also emphasized, how the workings of seismic shifts such as the fall of the Berlin wall and the former Soviet Union or Apartheid South Africa, are at some level mysterious or surprising in their sudden manifestation. How will Zionism end? The same way the character Mike Campbell in Hemingway’s novel went bankrupt: “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”
Weiss also mentioned an interesting piece of information he has written about here. Apparently, David Harris, the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), is getting pressure from liberal Zionist donors to come down hard on Israel’s right-wing policies — again, as a prop or cover.
One of the most interesting issues discussed was about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, especially its successful role in challenging liberal Zionism rather than hard-core Zionism. BDS is not a liberation movement; it advocates for Palestinian rights. Hard-core Zionism can only be addressed, in my view, by a liberation movement. Only the pressure from both such resistance movements can lead us home — the one from Palestinians in the diaspora and the more costly one in terms of suffering and sacrifice on the inside. As for next steps? We must continue the pressure.
Here are Ali Abunimah’s words in closing:
There is no contradiction between the struggles of Palestinians in the West Bank and the struggle of Palestinians outside or the struggles of Palestinians in Gaza. The unifying message and the unifying demands of BDS are very powerful … these demands are not radical in the sense that we are asking for justice, we are asking for the application for the universal Declaration of Human Rights but also there is no ceiling, in other words, there is no limit to what we are asking for in terms of justice and equality, it is an encompassing demand and the only thing that justice threatens is injustice. So, when you talk about what would the future look like or what could it look like or what do we want it to look like, we want it to be an encompassing justice, a decolonizing justice, that includes everyone. The gain of Palestinians, the gain of their rights, the return of Palestinians to their own land is also done in a context where all the people who are living in historic Palestine can live in a situation of justice, so there is no ceiling in terms of justice, but what we are asking for in terms of international rights is very minimal and that is a program that is inclusive of all Palestinians.
… Two things I want to say: one is, in 2017 the Reut Institute and the Anti-Defamation League — these are two Zionist pro-Israel think tanks — produced a secret report that we got a copy of and we published it and we wrote about it. And one of the revelations in it, one of many, was that the Israel lobby up to that point had increased its spending on hasbara, on propaganda, 20-fold in an effort to fight the BDS movement, in an effort to fight the Palestine solidarity movement, and by their own estimation, despite that 20-fold increase in spending, they had been unable to stop what they called the significant growth and success of this movement. So that’s something to celebrate. It’s certainly not a reason to rest on our laurels, but really an invitation to continue all the work we’re doing.
And the second thing I want to say is particularly directed at younger people, especially those who are just starting their working lives or who are in college. The one thing we have learned — particularly the Democratic Party establishment and the Clinton era taught people and constantly propagandized people that you can only ask for small reforms, just little tweaks at the edges. And that’s still what the Democratic Party is offering. And I think what younger people have taught us, and particularly the Black-led Black Lives Matter movement has taught us, is teaching us now, is that you have to ask for everything that you want and deserve, and that is your right. Even if you’re going to get less in the end, even if you’re going to have to make some compromises or settle in the end, which we should not do — but there’s no downside to asking for all your rights, demanding all your rights. And that’s certainly true on Palestine. We have to ask for all our rights, we have to fight for them, we have to expect to win them. If you go in asking for five percent or 20 percent or 50 percent, well, that’s the maximum you can hope for. And at this moment where everything is in flux, where everything is in collapse, where all the institutions have failed us, where the political class are telling us basically “Go and F yourselves”, you know, and that includes the Democrats and the Republicans. There’s no reason not to really demand a transformed world. And seeing a younger generation demanding that is what is giving me a great deal of hope to continue. So I want to say thank you to young activists who are doing that and also to say please don’t let up, please don’t accept or demand less than you deserve, and when you get everything you ask for, don’t take yes for an answer. Demand more.
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank