An article published yesterday in Foreign Affairs by the Palestinian-American anti-Israel writer Ali Abunimah is one more particularly telling road mark of the march of the idea that a Jewish state is morally illegitimate.
Ostensibly, Abuminah’s article is about grass roots Palestinian opposition to Mahmoud Abbas’ plan to seek statehood recognition at the UN this week. It should be noted that is most likely the reason why the editors at Foreign Affairs chose to run the thing: a contrarian point of view from a robustly credentialed Palestinian source. Abuminah, after all, is both a New York Times published “journalist” and the unapologetically anti-Israel founder of the blog Electronic Intifada.
That is the heart of the problem. For delegitimization’s march must be judged on the ability of the proponents of its central idea – that a Jewish state has no moral claim to existence – to convey it in an ever wider circle of prestigious mainstream publications, thereby convincing an ever wider circle of the readers of those publications the idea is a reasonable one. For the moment, at least, it remains somewhat fringey. But it is now a part of the American conversation, which is probably more than it could have said for itself even ten years ago.
The markers for how we have come here are not too hard to find. There was the late Tony Judt’s 2003 New York Review of Books article “Israel: The Alternative.” There was the extended Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer imbroglio, which perhaps culminated in Mearsheimer’s “Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners” speech in April 2010. (Hint: the righteous Jews are people like Norman Finkelstein and Judt himself.) All of it abetted by a far-left discourse that seems to exult in its widening freedom to bathe in the newborn anti-Jewish politics.
By now, Abuminah doesn’t even feel (nor presumably do his editors) his anti-Israel position even requires defense. You just put it in parentheses, as when he writes, “… (under Israel’s discriminatory Law of Return, Jews from anywhere in the world can settle virtually anywhere in Israel or the occupied territories, while native-born Palestinian refugees and their children are excluded”). It is language echoed not only by figures like the BDS leader (and Tel Aviv University graduate student) Omar Barghouti, but in the parentheses of the latest New York Times op-ed by Jimmy Carter, who felt that writing “…(about 25 percent of Israeli citizens are non-Jewish”) was sufficient to dismiss Israeli insistence on Palestinian recognition that it is a “Jewish state.” You can see it too in a summer article by a young American Jewish girl in The Nation, upset over the unapologetic Zionism of the free Birthright trip she was given and not feeling she need explain the nature of “the racism and legal discrimination that underpins Israel’s ethnocracy.”
We American Israel advocates fret over signs of weakening support for Israel on the political left. But while we weren’t watching, their vanguard’s conversation may have moved beyond the issue of Israel’s legitimacy and on to other questions.