Examine the facts
Ali Abunimah, The Chicago Sun-Times, 17 October 2002
Michael Kotzin’s attempt to portray Israel as being on the edge of destruction by a ”linguistic” assault from me and other Chicagoans, and his implication that we are secret extremists in league with Saddam Hussein [”Israel’s enemies waging a verbal assault,” Commentary, Oct. 7] came on the same day as two unfortunate events.
First, a massive Israeli assault on a Palestinian refugee camp in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip that killed 13 unarmed civilians reminded us that it is decades of such attacks, not as Kotzin asserts, ”a steady diet of Israel-hating invective” that has shaped the experience of Palestinian refugees. To solve this conflict, we must recognize that Israel’s military occupation fuels a cycle of hatred and counterviolence and makes it impossible for anyone to have a normal life.
The second notable event was that on Oct. 7, all Israeli schoolchildren were required by the government to ”celebrate” the life and ”achievements” of Rehavam Zeevi, Israel’s tourism minister, who was killed by Palestinian militants last year. Zeevi is most famous in Israel for loudly and openly advocating the forced ”transfer”—in other words, the ethnic cleansing—of all Palestinians. Israeli peace activists condemned this event because they view it as evidence that the most extreme ideas for the destruction of the Palestinians are gaining respectability in Israel. So while Kotzin finds evidence of Palestinian ”extremism” behind every statement, his silence about the growing calls for ethnic cleansing, even from Israeli Cabinet ministers, speaks volumes.
I applaud Kotzin for being fair-minded enough to mention the Web site I co-founded, the Electronic Intifada. Anyone who visits it will see that his representation of my views could not be further from reality.
Ali Abunimah, Chicago
Bad timing, bad logic
Steven Feuerstein, The Chicago Sun-Times, 17 October 2002
There isn’t much that can be said to be amusing about the conflict that is taking the lives of so many Palestinians and Israelis. I couldn’t help, however, but to snort at Michael Kotzin’s charge that Israel’s ”very right to exist is now under broad linguistic attack.”
Perhaps I found this statement bordering on the comically absurd because of the timing of publication. On a day when the Israel Defense Forces once again used American-supplied attack helicopters to fire on civilians and kill a dozen people, including four children, it seems a bit insensitive, shall we say, to complain about ”linguistic attacks.”
It may indeed be true that some Palestinians would prefer that Israel not exist at all (I must say, though, that Kotzin deliberately misrepresented the views of Ali Abunimah). That is a desire, however, that will surely go unfulfilled, given that Israel boasts the fourth-most-powerful military force in the world, and it is backed to the hilt by the numero uno superpower in the known universe.
Palestinians, on the other hand, have very legitimate concerns about much more than a ”broad linguistic attack” on their right to exist. In April 2002, the IDF swept through the West Bank, destroying, looting and defacing as they went. The IDF routinely destroys homes, orchards, farms and businesses of Palestinians. Children cannot attend school. Medical care is denied. There are widespread food, water and energy shortages. The economy is in total collapse.
This widespread destruction, humiliation and starvation of an entire people only generates more hate and leads to more suicide bombings. Ariel Sharon, prime minister of Israel, knows this and welcomes it. The horrifying violence of these attacks gives him all the leeway he needs to pursue his own maximalist vision of a ”Greater Israel.”
The extremists who run Israel today don’t deny Palestine’s right to exist with words. They use tanks, helicopters, enormous bulldozers and F-16s—most of them supplied by the United States.
Steven Feuerstein, Chicago
When the Iraqi foreign minister took the floor at the United Nations on Sept. 19 to read a statement from Saddam Hussein, it was like a scene from an earlier era, when denial of Israel’s very existence was common for Arab countries and their friends at General Assembly sessions. Not once, as was reported the next day, did Saddam’s statement use the word ”Israel” when referring to that nation. Instead, it insistently spoke only of ”the Zionist entity.”
Iraq has its own reasons for touting anti-Israel credentials before the Arab and Muslim world these days. But it is not just from Iraq and not just at the UN that the rhetoric of rejectionism has returned.
Even as Israel has for two years been assaulted on the ground by a relentless Palestinian campaign of terror, so, even right here in America, supporters of the Palestinians have been challenging Israel’s very right to exist. The language they use in doing so, however, is not always likely to be comprehended that way by the untrained listener.
When a group like the locally based Islamic Association for Palestine bluntly uses the word ”Palestine” when referring to the territory that the UN and most of the world have identified as constituting the independent State of Israel since 1948 and labels all Israelis ”settlers” regardless of where they live, it is pretty clear where they are coming from. Less brazen has been the rhetoric of Ali Abunimah, founder of a Web site called ”The Electronic Intifada,” who has emerged as perhaps the most visible local proponent of the Palestinian cause.
The son of a Jordanian diplomat with a British accent and a Princeton degree, Abunimah projects an image of moderation. He answers questions about his readiness to accept the existence of the State of Israel by saying he believes that ”Israelis and Palestinians should live alongside each other in full peace, complete equality and profound democracy.” But the Palestinian Liberation Organization too once endorsed such a one-state solution, a solution that in fact means that there would no longer be an Israel.
Then there are assertions of the ”right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, a term also able to come in under the radar screen of an audience not tuned in to the lingo. In an article on his Web site headed ”Palestinian Rights and the Document Shredder,” Abunimah attacks the readiness of Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh to compromise on that ”right” and to say that it would be sufficient for the refugees to relocate in a newly founded Palestinian state and to receive compensation. Similarly, on Sept. 29, some 500 Palestinians and supporters of their cause held a national ”Right of Return” rally in downtown Chicago demanding that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to move to those places where they or their families once lived inside what is now Israel.
The refugees number some 3.5 million people, and for more than 50 years many of them have been kept in miserable camps by Arab regimes and fed a steady diet of Israel-hating invective. Advocates of their ”return” well know that these efforts, if successful, would deconstruct Israel. ”Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” proclaimed Intifada-praising T-shirts at the Sept. 29 rally. Though many who heard the chants and read the slogans may not have realized the implications of such words, the goal of those who marched certainly is to saturate Israel with a hostile population, which would eliminate that state.
The Oslo process, introduced in 1993, was aimed at moving Israel and the Palestinians toward a peaceful end to their conflict, with matters like the fate of the refugees to be resolved in a final status agreement arrived at through negotiations and a settlement of differences. With all the ensuing difficulties the process faced, in the summer of 2000 peace still appeared to have a chance. But then, after Yasser Arafat scorned unprecedented Israeli offers and American attempts to broker a fair solution of the conflict, the process collapsed.
At Camp David, Arafat himself resurrected the ”right of return” as a central principle and balked at closing out all claims against Israel. Shortly afterward, the Palestinians began the violence that has now continued for two years.
The unraveling of Oslo on the ground has been paralleled by an upsurge in the use of bottom-line anti-Israel rhetoric by Palestinians and their supporters. Words like ”apartheid” and ”colonialism”—emotionally charged terms that distort the Israel-Palestinian reality and subvert Israel’s legitimacy by drawing analogies to earlier ideological struggles—increasingly permeate the verbal battleground. In a shocking public return to the bad old days of widespread Arab maximalism and rejection of Israel, that country’s very right to exist is now under broad linguistic attack.
In this country, the audacious pronouncement of such a radical notion would once have been as unimaginable as similar attacks on the national existence of any country, even America itself. Though the messages may sometimes need decoding, the legitimacy of the existence of Israel in the Jewish people’s ancient homeland is today under verbal assault, including in our own backyard. Let there be no misunderstanding what is being said.
Michael C. Kotzin is executive vice president of Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
These items were first printed in The Chicago Sun-Times.