This piece is by Beata Samel. Beata is the CCAP Liaison for the Israel Club (The New York State Israel Public Affairs Committee) at Brooklyn College. This piece was originally published in The Excelsior.
Ali Abunimah views his creation—the Electronic Intifada, a non-mainstream news website established in 2001, aimed at providing a perspective of the Palestinian people—as being professional and high standard. I beg to differ. This new wave of predatory electronic journalism preys upon college students and seeks to sell a defamed view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and of its mainstream political processes. At the Students for Justice in Palestine’s event with Abunimah on March 6, 2013, called “The Battle for Justice in Palestine,” I witnessed firsthand the kind of consequences these civic projects have.
It’s easy for college students to be attracted to online news sources, like the Electronic Intifada, and activists, like Ali Abunimah. After being sold a bleeding heart during their formative years in college, all grassroots organizations become legitimate simply for being grassroots. That’s where the Electronic Intifada and Ali Abunimah come in. Much of their readers come from the political fringes of society—or the mainstream of college campuses. The calculated, non-threatening tone of the Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine are traded in for the “professional” headlines of “How the Israel Lobby is Courting Latinos” in Electronic Intifada, accompanied by photos of teary-eyed Palestinian women and angsty-looking teenagers lining the site.
What many of the readers of Electronic Intifada—and therefore many of the attendees of the March 6 event—cannot admit to is that Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) have no place in mainstream Israeli-Palestinian politics. Simply reading any New York Times, Economist, or Al Jazeera article about the current talks being waged reveals no inclination for boycotting Israel to budge a one-state solution—as if that were even being considered at all. The true callings of the people, of the grandchildren of “Nakba” victims, which always have to be radical, are the unattainable.
A blunder of “bleeding heartism” is that the one-state solution is somehow viable. I would describe this as the ultimate strategy of the even on March 6—that a one-state solution, and by association, BDS desired against Israeli products and institutions—is a realistic goal. The whole strategy, BDS and all, of a one-state solution has absolutely no place in the current discussions being waged between Israel and Palestine. Almost half of Palestinians support a two-state solution under the provisions of the current talks, in addition to more than half of Israelis. Even among the quarter of Palestinians who support a one-state solution, there is no presence of the BDS movement within the West Bank or Gaza, with an advisor to the PA stating, “we have agreements with Israel… we are not asking anyone to boycott products of Israel.” There is no desire on the side of the Palestinian Authority, the governing body of the West Bank, to endorse BDS to budge a one-state solution. Despite this, the bi-national, “la-la land” articles on Electronic Intifada and claims by Abunimah that there are BDS initiatives within Gaza and the West Bank are common reading subjects.
While many of the attendees were bigoted in their adamancy of Israel as an apartheid state, Abunimah’s talk and website reveal more than just a desire to help the people of the West Bank and Gaza. Articles on the Electronic Intifada crudely describe the domestic problems within Israel, involving the supposed mistreatment of illegal African immigrants and refugees, with one example headline beginning with “Israeli Jewish hate rally against Africans.” An attendee in the event chose to speak out “in concern with the… African refugees in Israel,” saying “there are DVD’s, there are videos, there are videos online” of the violence.
This leads us to wonder how far advocate journalists can go in criticizing “the oppressor.” For example, what would activists fighting for Tibet’s rights or autonomy have to gain from criticizing workers’ rights within Chinese sweatshops? A suspicious alarm can be raised when activists go outside the boundaries of their prescribed cause, which results in bigotry. Abunimah and his website cross these suspicious lines, expecting the whole of Israel to be embarrassed and brought to its knees in the hopes that this somehow creates a one-state solution.
Bigotry and, above all, absurdity are fast becoming the track of grassroots media in the United States. Websites like Electronic Intifada and even Mandoweiss.net convey a message to young, highly impressionable college students: that since the mainstream media is out of touch and against you, you may as well put all your effort into more rewarding causes.
The supportive students at SJP’s event on Thursday night may be putting all their passion into the dream of a one-state solution, but the Palestinians are yet to have the actual desire to see this turned into a reality, or a bi-national nightmare. But that’s another topic.