By Barbara McKenzie
Ali Abunimah has been speaking to pro-Palestine groups in Australasia and last week was in Wellington, New Zealand, as a guest of the Wellington Palestine Group.
Abunimah has a profile as a pro-Palestinian activist and as a founder and editor of the blog Electronic Intifada. He is also known to be at the forefront of the campaign to purge from the pro-Palestine movement those who are not deemed to be sufficiently opposed to antisemitism. He has accordingly been described by his critics as a ‘gatekeeper on the payroll of his Jewish Zionist friends’, a ‘soft Zionist’, a ‘sabbos goy’ and many other things less printable.
My reading on Abunimah before the meeting revealed that he is associated with campaigns to vilify and exclude from the Palestine movement a considerable number of pro-Palestinian activists, including many of Jewish ancestry, like Richard Falk, John J. Mearsheimer, Gilad Atzmon, Paul Eisen, Jonathan Azaziah, and Israel Shamir, or Palestinian backgrounds, such as Samir Abed-Rabbo, Ramzy Baroud, Nahida Izaat, Sammi Ibrahim, Sameh Habib and Jonathan Azaziah.
He is also complicit in the attempt to ostracise the highly regarded Alison Weir of the Not in My Name campaign, which led to the resignation of the Free Palestine Movement from the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation.
Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, example of Abunimah’s exclusion campaign is his statement calling for the disavowal of the ‘racism, antisemitism of Gilad Atmon’, signed by 22 Palestinian activists.
At the meeting in Wellington Abunimah gave a good speech about the current situation in Palestine, and then focused on the BDS campaign, though without addressing long-term solutions, eg whether there should be one or two states. He also mentioned the Palestinian killed by an Israeli soldier in Hebron recently.
I wanted to address the issue of Abunmah’s opposition to other activists, and began by referring to Gideon Levi’s article about the Hebron murder, quoting as follows:
‘Never have so many cheered such a vile murderer. …This combination of racism and thirst for blood is not only repulsive, it’s also volatile and dangerous… it’s doubtful there’s another Western society whose racism is accompanied by such bloodlust.’
I pointed out that while Levi’s target audience was the people of Israel, there are people whose focus is outside of Israel, aiming to change the mindset of individuals or communities, Jewish and/or non-Jewish, who support ethnic cleansing and land theft in Palestine. However Abunimah has worked to exclude many of these people from the movement such as Gilad Atzmon, Paul Eisen, Alison Weir …
At this point Abunimah interjected, declaring that it was not in his power to purge anyone. These people were all bigots and white supremacists. Abunimah was not going to debate with someone who supported racist bigots.
Based on my reading I had rather expected Abunimah would respond with a personal attack, and I wasn’t surprised that he should be less that honest about his involvement in shutting people out of the Palestine movement, though I would have liked to ask exactly why these people were ‘bigots’.
In the unlikely event I was allowed to continue, I had hoped to focus on the ‘disavowal’ of Atzmon. There have been some excellent responses to this statement (see below). Some concentrate on defending the various accusations levelled at Atzmon, while Nahida Izaat picks up on the Talmudic nature of the language used – she associates, for example, the word ‘disavowal’ with the Judaic concept of Herem, the ban imposed on an individual to separate from the rest of the community (Izaat’s findings were echoed by Atzmon, who commented that ‘we aren’t just dealing with a cult discourse, … we are actually dealing with a rabbinical operation that exercises the most repulsive Judaic excommunication tactics’).
I myself planned to address Abunimah regarding the narrative he espouses.
‘We reaffirm that there is no room in this historic and foundational analysis of our struggle for any attacks on our Jewish allies, Jews, or Judaism; nor denying the Holocaust; nor allying in any way shape or form with any conspiracy theories, far-right, orientalist, and racist arguments, associations and entities. Challenging Zionism … must never become an attack on Jewish identities, nor the demeaning and denial of Jewish histories in all their diversity. ‘
It is clear from this statement that, leaving aside the Palestine issue proper, Abunimah’s language and priorities are identical to that of the most extreme Zionist: the focus on antisemitism, conspiracy theories, and above all holocaust denial. These are the three main strategies for the Zionist activist.
Firstly, to keep the conversation fixed on antisemitism, to keep Palestinian activists tip-toeing round Jewish sensibilities in order to neutralise criticism. Hence the huge campaign against Gilad Atzmon, who calls out the Jewish community for their support for Israel.
Secondly, to carry out personalised and derogatory attacks against anyone who asks awkward questions. In her video presentation on how the CIA influences the media Sharyl Atkinson listed a few words which alert people to what she calls astroturfing, one of them being ‘conspiracy’ (‘astroturfers seek to controversialise those who disagree with them’). ‘Conspiracy theorist’ and ‘truther’ are terms commonly applied to those who investigate 9/11, though I have been called a ‘truther’ by Ahmad Idrees, when I produced evidence from MIT that the Syrian government can’t have been responsible for the Gouta sarin attack.
Most important for any Zionist is to protect the holocaust cult. So successful have Zionists been with regard to control of the holocaust narrative, that Germany, Austria and France are prepared to compromise themselves morally and intellectually by criminalising the dissemination of serious research into the holocaust. Anyone active on social media who has any contact with the subject knows that the very people who are totally callous when it comes to the abuses inflicted on Palestinians scream ‘Jew hate’ if one so much as defends someone who questions any aspect of the holocaust.
It is extraordinary that a pro-Palestinian activist should package up and present these three major Zionist strategies as fundamental to the Palestinian cause, that the sensibilities of those who support the most racist country in the developed world, arguably on the whole planet, should matter so much more to him than the Palestinian cause itself.
‘Contrary to the understanding and lopsided logic of Mr Ali Abunimah and his cohorts, discussing and criticising the ideologies, the politics, the aims, and the motivations of some Jewish Zionists or anti-Zionist persons or groups, is NOT anti-Semitic. Such criticism does not occur “simply because they are Jews”:
‘We criticise their obfuscation of truth, by acting as filterers of information, attempting to prevent people from learning about issues, vital to understanding the Palestinian catastrophe;
‘We criticise the hysterical manner in which they react against people who attempt to examine and understand the global and powerful Jewish-Zionist networks and lobby, their unrelenting support of “Israel” and it’s ramification on Palestine and the Palestinian cause’ (Nahida Izaat)
It is also consistent with Abunimah’s ‘soft Zionist’ viewpoint that, like all Zionists, he promotes the NATO discourse on the war on Syria, exemplified above all by his writings on the Yamouk refugee camp.
Abunimah is a strong advocate for BDS, which is supported by most Palestine activists. However, to return to the Wellington meeting, someone present asked how effective BDS can be if the US will always underwrite Israel – and we know that as things stand it will do just that. BDS should be combined with strong attacks on the communities that back Israel and on American acquiescence towards the power of AIPAC, and furthermore with questioning of the Zionist narrative and the motivations behind it. If Abunimah cannot be part of this, or at least back those who are, his usefulness to the Palestinian cause is questionable.
Ali Abunimah: Palestinian writers, activists, disavow racism, anti-Semitism of Gilad Atzmon
A large number of activists, Jews, Palestinians and others, have replied to this, most being referenced after Roger Tucker’s article:
Roger Tucker: https://sites.google.com/site/onedemocraticstatesite/archives/writings-of-the-editor/ali-abunimah-and-gilad-atzmon-at-the-ok-corral [with a good list of related articles]
Israel Shamir: http://www.israelshamir.net/English/To_disavow.htm
The Free Palestine Movement, letter of resignation from the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation: http://freepalestinemovement.org/2015/07/22/free-palestine-movement-resignation-from-the-u-s-campaign-to-end-the-israeli-occupation/
Gilad Atzmon talks to Ken o’Keefe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI7r1eQDGxo(‘Jewish power is the capacity to stop us talking about Jewish power’)
Sharyl Atkinson, Astroturf and manipulation of media messages:
Yarmouk Refugee Camp
Abunimah has written several articles on Yarmouk, e.g.https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/dont-forget-us-here-photos-reveal-devastation-syrias-yarmouk-camp
Statement from Syrian Solidarity Movement:http://www.syriasolidaritymovement.org/yarmouk/ssm-statement-on-yarmouk/
Eva Bartlett, Vanessa Beeley and others have written extensively about the situation in Yarmouk.
Yarmouk File from The Wall Will Fall:https://thewallwillfall.wordpress.com/category/yarmouk/
PLO’s view on Syrian handling of Yarmouk:https://syrianfreepress.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/cem-44621/