Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Chicago hosted a panel titled “The Question of Palestine” on Thursday to address the viability and practicality of the one and two-state solutions in light of the Palestinian Authority’s recent United Nations bid and Israel’s continued settlement expansion. The panel featured distinguished journalists and thinkers Yousef Munayyer, Mitchell Plitnick, and Ali Abunimah, and was moderated by John Mearsheimer.
During the Question & Answer session, a student identified by the school newspaper as a member of Chicago Friends of Israel, the university’s pro-Israel student group, challenged Abunimah’s position on the one-state solution and accused him of “vehemently oppos[ing] a Jewish state”. The two went back and forth, with Abunimah showing the inherent contradictions in the student’s claim and the student pushing overused talking points about Hamas.
The footage begins just after the student asked her first question and when Abunimah began to answer. She questioned Abunimah’s stance on a Jewish homeland and incorporated “13,000 rockets” into her question.
(Note: When a full version of the footage becomes available, it will take the place of the footage below.)
Ali Abunimah: — questions for me are circulated by StandWithUs. Is that where you got them?
Student from Chicago Friends of Israel: Actually, no. I formulated these on my own.
Student: I formulated these on my own.
AA: Well, there’s a document from StandWithUs which contains those questions to be asked to me, or ones very similar to them. But that’s fine. I’m happy to answer the questions. First of all, when do I support a Palestinian state? You say I support a Palestinian state. When have I supported a Palestinian state?
Student: You stated in your speech that you support a one-state solution.
AA: Okay, which includes who?
Student: Presumably the Palestinians.
AA: And who else?
Student: And the Jews.
AA: Okay, so you said— Your question was self-contradictory because you said I am supporting a Palestinian state but denying a state to other ethnic groups when you’ve just said that I support a state in which everyone regardless of their religion or ethnicity has equal rights, correct?
Student: You point blank stated that you do not believe in a Jewish state.
AA: I said that the demand for a Jewish state cannot be implemented without violating the fundamental human rights of Palestinians who are no less deserving of human rights than any other group of humans. That’s my argument.
Student: I agree with you that everyone is deserving of human rights.
Student: However, your argument can be—
(Laughter from the audience.)
John Mearsheimer (moderator): Please let her ask the question and let them go back and forth the way they were just doing. Don’t interrupt, anyone in the audience. And the two of you, let each other make your statements. Go ahead.
Student: You stated that— I am fully supportive of human rights for all people. I do not condone the removal of human rights from anyone. However, it seemed to me the tone that I received from your argument is that you are vehemently opposed to a Jewish state.
AA: I am vehemently opposed to violating the rights of Palestinians so that Jews can maintain an unjust monopoly of power. I’m absolutely against that, just as I’m absolutely against whites in South Africa maintaining an unjust monopoly on power. I’m absolutely against mass incarceration in the United States. I’m absolutely against all systems that maintain the unjust power of one ethno-religious or racial group over another. (Applause from the audience.) Yes, you have me correct on that. I’m for everybody having equal rights, including Jews, Palestinians, everybody. That’s what I am for. So, your claim that I’m somehow being contradictory is based on at best a misunderstanding of what I’m saying. Now this issue about Hamas rockets and this talking point, let me ask you a question. How many missiles or rockets has Israel fired into the Gaza Strip in the past whatever years that you say those 13,000 rockets are being fired?
Student: Can you repeat the question?
AA: How many missiles or rockets or bombs has Israel fired into the Gaza Strip?
Student: I’m not sure, but—
AA: Why don’t you know that?
(Loud “woo” from an audience member.)
JM: Let these two go back and forth please. They’re fully capable of defending themselves. Go ahead.
AA: It’s okay, phone-a-friend is fine with me.
Student: My friend wrote down a statement that you said during the speech. You said, “Israel does not have the right to exist as a Jewish state”.
JM: Let’s not go back to that issue. Because there are a lot of people behind you.
AA: This is what I read from, okay? And I used the phrase “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state” several times. I’m going to trust what I actually wrote rather than what someone in the audience says that they think I wrote. But in any case, this argument will be published and everyone will be able to decide for themselves what I said. Plus they have it on video tape. I see them filming, so perhaps they’ll actually put the video tape up instead of just posting some distorted comments.
JM: I want—
AA: John, if I can wrap it up because I know there’s many people—
JM: You have thirty seconds.
AA: This issue of rockets which is brought up time and again by people who’ve never bothered to inquire how many rockets or bombs Israel has fired into the Gaza Strip. So go back to StandWithUs or wherever you got those talking points from and ask them, ‘I demand to know from you how many tons of high explosives Israel has dropped on the Gaza Strip. How many schools have they destroyed?’. I was looking at these statistics today. During Operation Cast Lead, do you know how many schools were destroyed in the Gaza Strip?
Student: Because Hamas bases their—
AA: Not true.
Student: Yes, they do.
AA: Not true. No. Go and do your research.
Student: I have done my research.
JM: Okay, okay—
AA: Eighteen schools were destroyed and six of them kindergartens.
JM: Enough, enough, enough. There are other people who would like to go.