Watch now (12 mins) | Our Zoom call this week, cosponsored with Jewish Currents, will be at a special time: Thursday at 11 AM EDT. Our guest will be Dana El Kurd, assistant professor of political science at the University of Richmond and author of the book, Polarized and Demobilized: Legacies of Authoritarianism in Palestine
"And what’s striking to me about Abbas’ statements is the way in which they kind of rehearse the very same kind of dehumanizing things that Jews say about Palestinians"
You might want to edit this line, Peter, so it isn't a broad statement about Jews in general. A less intellectually honest person might use this line to claim anti-Semitism on your part, because you're saying that Jews in general say dehumanizing things about Palestinians.
"Or similarly, when Mahmoud Abbas says, ‘well, the Jews brought their suffering on themselves,’ right? The reason they suffered so much in Europe was because they were doing these bad things like usury and money lending. Again, it’s quite similar to people who say, ‘well, if the Palestinians are suffering now, they’ve really just brought it on themselves. If they didn’t do all these bad things, then they wouldn’t be suffering under apartheid without basic rights,’ right?"
Palestinian governments and armed groups are actively and indisputably murdering Jews and launching terror attacks and have been for decades, with the widespread support of their people. The only way this analogy holds is if Jews in Europe were actually doing the "bad things" Abbas accuses them of. If Jews were literally using the blood of Christian babies to make matzah, and the Christians hated them for that, I don't think anyone would say it's anti-Semitic to make that point.
The difference is that Jews in Europe were not widespread purveyors of usury like Abbas says they were. The problem is the lie that explains the Holocaust, not just the explanation in and of itself. Lots of people look for reasons the Holocaust happened. They don't get accused of anti-Semitism except when they lie about things Jews did. Likewise, the things Palestinian terror groups are accused of are not lies. They don't even bother to deny the child murder, the rockets, etc.
Those who signed this letter are definitely not antisemitic, but most of them reject the concept of Jewish peoplehood (and they have endorsed Shlomo Sand’s nonsense). Just like Rivlin, they oppose racism, but they want exclusive sovereignty over the whole land (in a binational state, the majority calls the shorts, no matter what the constitution says).
There is one thing most Israelis and most Palestinians have in common (that includes Western leftists such as Peter Beinart of course): they lack the intellectual flexibility to understand that there can be such thing as a conflict between two legitimacies. The best way to overcome a clash of rights is to envision creative solutions (such as a confederation), not to opt for a simplistic understanding of history and reach no less simplistic conclusions (that Israeli Jews must make do with mere autonomy, while the Palestinians only are entitled to full-fledged self-determination).
From a universal values perspective (anti-Zionists love to talk about universal values, as long as only Palestinians can benefit from them), this conflict is a clash of rights. Since the late 1960s, Western leftists (including Jewish leftists who call for the dismantling of Israel) no longer understand why the creation of Israel was a necessity, as Jews are no longer in danger. But in the late 1940s, the world was still divided between countries that persecuted the Jews and those that refused to welcome them. It was impossible at the time to predict that their fate would improve so much in the second part of the 20th century. And those who claim that a Jewish state should have been established in Germany fail to understand that the Israeli pre-state society existed before the Holocaust. A binational too was not an option. This idea was shelved by Ben Gurion after the outbreak of the Arab Revolt in 1936, as even the most magnanimous Palestinian nationalist insisted on imposing caps on Jewish immigration, so as to make sure Jews never become the majority. If Peter Beinart believes that a Jewish state was wrong, the onus is on him to explain what Jews were supposed to do in a world that was still dangerous for them. Transposing today’s reality onto the past to argue that the creation of Israel was useless is completely anachronistic.
Having said that, Israelis and Zionists ought to ask themselves what they would have done if they were Palestinians. Would they have made room for another people, even though they were not responsible for their hardship?
Unless they believe that wealth redistribution applies to national rights and not just economic matters, which is not a concept universally agreed upon, there is no way they would have given away part of their homeland to another people. (Israel’s founders argued that regardless of antisemitic persecution, if all peoples are entitled to self-determination, the Arabs who owned a vast territory in the Middle East must share a part of it with the Jews who were homeless).
MIT professor, Stephen Van Evera, argued that only when Israelis and Palestinians understand that they are both victims (of Europe) will they be ready for a genuine compromise.
I’m sorry to say that Beinart’s worldview is no less simplistic than that of the Israeli right. Radical “post-colonial" anti-Zionism is one of the last remnants of communism. It might be very fashionable (just like Maoism among French intellectuals 50 years ago), but it won’t age well.
Has anyone else noticed that when pro-Palestinians, including Beinart, criticize Palestinians (whether for antisemitism or anything else) it's always on the grounds not that whatever is criticized is inherently wrong, but that it might negatively effect Palestinians in some way? Very informative.
Peter's pal Khalil Al-Shaqaqi gives the real reason the Palestinian academics came up with their letter condemning Abbas' statements.
"The Holocaust is a European issue and the Palestinian people are the ones paying the price for it. The president increases the problems of the Palestinian people, with baseless statements based on the words of some marginal historians. Therefore, we issued the statement because we believe that what the president spoke is harmful to the Palestinian cause."
"There is respect and support for us in the world, and if the world feels and sees that the Palestinian people support what the president said, this will mean to them that the Palestinian people are racist, and this means to them that there is racist settler colonialism, and also racist Palestinians, and therefore they will put us and Israelis are in the same dark trench. If we go into the same crucible of racism and anti-Semitism, we will become no different from the occupier."
The letter was one thing and one thing only: damage control.
Your comment about Palestinian intellectuals condemning Abu Mazen includes the following:
“The Palestinian people are sufficiently burdened by Israeli settler colonialism, dispossession, occupation, and oppression without having to bear the negative effect of such ignorant and profoundly antisemitic narratives perpetuated by those who claim to speak in our name,” the open letter added.
“Abbas and his political entourage have forfeited any claim to represent the Palestinian people and our struggle for justice, freedom, and equality, a struggle that stands against all forms of systemic racism and oppression.”
Settler colonialism …by the way “ Professor” that includes the 1948 lands as well and is signed by rabid Anti Zionists including Rashid Khalidi and Sam Bohour …this line of pseudo intellectual reasoning harkens back to Beirut and the PLO in the 1970s when Arafat said “…we are not Anti Semitic just Anti Zionist…” and then the IDF and SLA found troves of anti semitic literature left behind by Arafat and his cadres
"It’s not the job of Palestinians to apologize for the words of the collaborator imposed and funded by the Zionists and their US/EU accomplices to oppress the Palestinian people.
Abbas's offensive words were just that: words — whereas his crimes against the Palestinian people: murder, torture, imprisonment, betrayal of the resistance, have never been condemned by his US/EU and Israeli masters, on the contrary they fund him to do that."
Winters, you are so funny😃
I thought this was an open forum?
My opinions vary with others, sometimes aligned more or less, others the opposite.
I thought we were in the spirit of discussion.
“Abu Mazen is thought of generally as colourless, moderately corrupt, and without any clear ideas of his own, except that he wants to please the white man.” Edward Said
This Brit has never been impressed by anyone who brags - or hates - based on ancestry. There's plenty of it here in the UK, notably with our aristocracy and its admirers who think there's something amazing about how long their family has lived on a particular patch of earth. So far as I can see, ancestry means diddly-squat, and that applies to every place on Earth and to any group of humans who make play of their family history. Is Jewishness defined by 'blood' (which is obviously a gift to racists and has little or no basis in reality) or by customs, religion or other attributes (as it must be if people can convert to/from Jewishness)?
The same applies to every other so-called race, which brings to mind the absurd furore in 2019 over the American Senator Elizabeth Warren, who had to apologise for claiming to be Native American. Basically: so what?
I'm glad you understand that my opinion is that any violence usually begets even more violence and that all people are equal in the light of the tragedies that ensue. The death of an Israeli child is as tragic as the death of a Palestinian child. I sense you don't agree with that. So yes we can disagree.
Anti-semitism is wrong and cruel regardless who is behind it
You characterize as "really excellent" the "Palestinian Open Letter" (its actual title, strange as it is) signed by those very important Palestinian scholars condemning some comments by Mahmoud Abbas. And yet you also say that it's important that Abbas's comments "need to be understood", so you're basically admitting that the letter does not contribute to understanding the comments. I find the letter very disappointing, because it doesn't say specifically which comments it's condemning. It refers only to "the morally and politically reprehensible comments made by President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas about the Holocaust." It doesn't say even roughly when or where these comments were made: for all anyone can tell, the letter might be referring to the dissertation that Abbas wrote in the 1980s. When academics write a letter condemning someone for some comments, if they don't quote the comments they're condemning then it reflects badly on them as academics. Academics are supposed to be interested in educating their readers about ideas, right or wrong, not about whether people are good or bad. If the leader of the Palestinian Authority said something in a speech, then probably there are a lot of other Palestinians who would be inclined to agree with it. So tell them (and others too) why it's wrong. What kind of example do they think they're setting for their students?
There are two objectionable things you point out in Abbas's comments:
(1) he says that Ashkenazi Jews are not Semites but are instead descended from the Khazars, a non-Semitic people.
(2) he says that Hitler massacred the Jews not because they were Jews but because of "a social role in Europe" that they played.
By my reading, I don't think there's anything in the "Palestinian Open Letter" that addresses point (1), about alleged Khazar origins of the Ashkenazi people. It's point (2) that the letter condemns. But why is it worthy of condemnation if he said that the Jews' "social role in Europe" led to resentment and hatred by other Europeans? I once attended a session at a Sabeel conference where a member of Jewish Voice for Peace had a presentation about "What is antisemitism?" and gave this same story that you attribute here to "scholars", that European antisemitism arose from Jews' position "between the peasantry and the nobility". Now what Abbas is emphasizing in his comments is that it was this that led to hatred of Jews -- not the Jewish religion, nor that Jews were considered to be "Semites".
I do agree with you that he brings up the Khazar origin theory of Ashkenazi Jews as a way of saying that they are not biological descendants of people who lived in Palestine (though he says that Sephardic Jews are). I don't necessarily find the evidence convincing one way or the other, but I do think you dismiss the theory too easily. There is a Wikipedia article that presents both sides:
There is a lot of basic, racist comments about what "jews" think or do and what "Palestinians" think or do. We don't need a specific term that applies to Jews - or anyone else. Let's just try calling racism by its name whomever it is being applied to.
"For Palestinians to address Abbas in any way, even in condemnation, is to implicitly recognize him and take collective responsibility for him, which is not ours. Nor will an "open letter" in English, appease or impress his Zionist masters and our other enemies
Palestinians, including myself, have repeatedly and consistently condemned anti-Semitism, along with other forms of racism including Zionism. We are already on record and don't need to keep repeating ourselves. Enough.
Finally, we must resist how the Zionists and their Euro-American accomplices, who are all too happy to ally with pro-Israel anti-Semites, cynically and hypocritically weaponize the European Christian genocide of European Jews against the Palestinians.
Palestinians have had enough of Europe’s Holocaust hypocrisy."
We are the offspring of British colonialists…obviously you like your tea and crumpets too…