BY PHILIP WEISS
FADI QURAN, PETER BEINART, AND LARA FRIEDMAN ON FMEP WEBINAR ABOUT POLITICAL DISCOURSE OF ISRAEL PALESTINE AT YEAR’S END.
The Foundation for Middle East Peace had a webinar about the state of U.S. politics on Israel/Palestine as the year ends, and here are some of the takeaways.
Peter Beinart — the former liberal Zionist who came out a year ago for one democratic state — said that liberal Zionism is becoming discredited among progressives due to the failure of the two-state solution, so liberal Zionists are joining the broader movement for equal rights. Beinart said there used to be two parallel tracks on the American left, the BDS call from Palestinians of 2005 and the two-state agenda pushed by J Street and other liberal Zionists, but the second discourse is collapsing.
I think what’s happening is that the boundaries between these two movements are starting to collapse. Or another even more provocative way you can say it, is the Palestinian solidarity movement is in some ways becoming broader and taking in. It’s not necessarily an equal marriage. I would say because the movement on the ground has made the two state solution and the idea of liberal Zionism harder and harder and harder to maintain, then I think ultimately what’s happening and ultimately what we have to move towards and I think is happening is a broader Palestinian solidarity movement in which people who used to be liberal Zionist or support two states, and more people inside the Jewish community, and others, find their way into it.
Now it’s not an easy set of relationships always, and I think it involves lots and lots of different kinds of conversations and things that are difficult to figure out in a lot of ways… You don’t see it necessarily manifested in Washington, where a group like J Street is still much, much more influential than the Palestinian solidarity groups, but if you think of where the momentum is coming– I think especially because the Black Lives Matter movement forced a new kind of reckoning in the American public square with the lack of representation from Palestinians, which I don’t think is going to end. So Palestinians are going to become more prominent in these conversations…. We will see a broader Palestinian solidarity movement, in which Jews including Jews who once considered themselves liberal Zionists and maybe even some who still do consider themselves liberal Zionist will find a place. I think that will ultimately be a more powerful opposition to the status quo than what we’ve had before.
Fadi Quran, a leading Palestinian human rights worker formerly of Al-Haq, now with the activist network Avaaz, said he was hopeful about the ways the Palestinian narrative is gaining a global audience.
From a more Palestinian perspective what has dawned more and more, for my generation, is that our narrative, just what’s going on with us– the fact we’re surrounded with cameras that literally flash red, yellow or green based on facial recognition, that there’s a whole system of surveillance, that we’ve had a woman who fought and almost went on hunger strike just for the right not to have to give birth in a prison. The narratives of people in Sheikh Jarrah [occupied Jerusalem] surrounded by one of the most powerful armies in the world, staying strong and standing for their homes and two basically early 20-year-olds [Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd] just kind of carrying the movement on the back… There are people literally who have been buried– mothers were holding on to the graves of their kids who were killed so the graves wouldn’t be razed by the Israeli military.
All the stories– and then the epicness of having 200 kids in prison by Israel right now, and still kids going out in the face of tanks to throw stones. The power of this narrative if we speak to it just factually but also in depth really carries a whole new generation of people. That’s what we saw in May [during Gaza onslaught]… More than at any other time, despite all the strategic efforts… to silence the Palestinian voice, our voice and that narrative at least for a glimmer managed to break through. And then it was silent.
Lara Friedman of Foundation for Middle East Peace said some had hoped that the Biden administration would lead “a breakthrough” on Israel-Palestine, but it has proved to be a great disappointment.
Their performance thus far would suggests that there is really no energy there. The energy there is going to be spent on, Well we managed to delay temporarily one settlement, but by the way we’ve given in on the consulate, we’ve given in on the PLO mission, and we’ve given in on all the other settlements and by the way we’re not going to say a word publicly to defend the NGO sector [the six leading Palestinian groups smeared by Israel as terrorist] even though defending human rights organizations is supposed to be the core identity of this administration. It’s hard to believe that people are still holding out hope…. Pressure is going to matter.
Beinart said that the political reality of Israel Palestine can be characterized by the fact that not even Bernie Sanders can support one democratic state– yet. And by the way that the Israel lobby crushed Omari Hardy, an appealing young Florida state legislator who dared to support BDS and run in the Democratic primary for Congress in Fort Lauderdale.
A guy who has a moral compass woke up one day and said, you know what, Palestinian rights are consistent with everything I believe. And he gets predictably snowplowed. He had to explain 17,000 times why he supports BDS.
No one ever asked Hardy’s many primary opponents why they didn’t support the human rights reports naming Israeli “apartheid,” Beinart said.
That political dynamic seems very far from changing. Politicians will look at [the pushback against Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Jamaal Bowman] and think, Who needs that? Who needs that level of headache? We haven’t changed that political dynamic, sometimes I feel like we’re still very far away.
(Beinart also said that no one came to Hardy’s defense except for Twitter and Jewish Currents, the publication he works for. Our site and others supported Hardy. Our friend Roger Waters was a leading advocate for Hardy. Despite Beinart’s concern about cancel culture, he always cancels us.)
Lara Friedman echoed Beinart’s point by noting the prominence of Rep. Ritchie Torres, a progressive who represents the South Bronx and is relentlessly pro-Israel, and beloved by the party establishment and Israel lobby for that stance.
I always say to people, Look at Ritchie Torres. That’s so much the direction, certainly the energies of those who have power– that’s the direction they are organizing around.
Friedman warned that Democratic Party fear of supporting Palestinians can lead to terrible policies. She said that Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar recently called for the removal of the Al-Aqsa mosque.
He’s dogwhistling to the end time folks. He’s referencing scripture about the abomination and desolation on the site where the temple must be rebuilt so you can have the second coming of Christ. That scares the crap out of me. I really worry that Democrats who by and large don’t want to spend too much political capital on Israel Palestine in defending Palestinian rights and free speech, I worry that they have their heads in the sand as to how bad this can get. And I think that’s going to be tested next year.
On the upside, Friedman said, the discourse is changing and Democrats are being forced to reckon with the “shifting and more honest narrative around the Palestinian experience.” And alluding to the global controversy over the Israeli spyware company, the NSO group, she observed, “Any conversation about weaponized surveillance takes you back to Israel and any conversation about Israeli surveillance takes you back to Palestinians.”
The bottom line is at this point if you’re talking about the erosion of democratic values, and liberal values, worldwide and you’re not talking about Israel, then it’s clear you’re making an exception and you’re a hypocrite. That I think is something that strengthens those of us who say if you care about this worldwide, you have to care about Palestinians.
Quran described his detention by Homeland Security in the U.S. at Israel’s behest two months ago.
If you’re Jewish American, on so many levels, your voice matters more than a Palestinian and at the same time we are going against actors that will go to all ends possible including the worst lies to devastate those of us who have the loudest voices…
I had the experience and I didn’t share this before, but I will share it with you. When I traveled to the U.S. in October to visit my father who is sick, for the first time in my life, I was stopped by Homeland Security in Dallas airport. They stopped me, they interrogated me…Where do you work? Have you been arrested? Etc. Etc. The core question, the last bit, because the lieutenant who was interrogating me really felt for me, and I showed him my phone with my personal messages to members of Congress– ‘Whoever told you I’m an evil person, these senators wouldn’t be messaging me if I actually was.’ He was like ‘We got a report against you from an allied government claiming that you support terrorism. We have been investigating you since May.’ I was surprised that he shared this information. ‘There’s nothing on you, I’m going to let you go.’ But it was, ‘The moment you booked your ticket we have to bring you in and interrogate you on this’…
These actors that want to silence the work that we are all doing are going to go to that level and more. And I think we need to be prepared for it next year. But we also need to remember the sacrifices we make… they literally will benefit all the other struggles we care about.
Beinart and Friedman also had an interesting if coded discussion about rhetorical concessions the left will have to make to broaden the movement for Palestinian rights. Friedman said that the next generation of Palestinian leaders is brilliantly using the idea of “post colonial framing” for understanding the Palestinian issue. But that concept will be very challenging for a lot of people who see themselves as allies. “There is a reservoir of support that can be tapped into that wasn’t there before,” as people see that simply reciting the catechism of two states is not going to do it.
Friedman had this good observation: “Every movement has its assholes. That doesn’t mean a movement is discredited. It’s only this movement that is held to that standard.”
Thanks to Yakov Hirsch — expert on “Hasbara Culture” — for pointing out this dialogue to me.