‘I agree with you that everyone is deserving of human rights, however…’: Anti-Palestinian talking points squashed at U of Chicago SJP event

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.

AA: Sorry?

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.

AA: Okay.

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.

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There are 4 comments

  1. Justice can not come soon enough.

    The student was in the right place in my opinion, on the other side of the table where her loaded questions could be questioned, and therefore weakened by an honest argument. Its nice to see control being given to the right authority and utterly obliterating talking points that justify genocide. Nice work and thank you for the video.

    1. redjeans

      Yes, control was given to one authority, which immediately abused it. Abuminah, supported by Mersheimer, evaded the question this student asked. As for the genocide, this is such an old trope I can’t believe there are still imbeciles walking around repeating it. Let me ask you: how many Arabs were there in 1948 (they were not called Palestinians yet then)? Answer: roughly 800,000. And how many Palestinians are there today? Answer: 3.5 million, give and take. So where exactly is the genocide? Don’t you know that when there is a genocide the numbers go dramatically down, and since in this case the number of Palestinians exploded, oops, sorry, not a good choice of word when talking to a Palestinian, I meant shot up, proving that there never was a genocide? Hopeless idiot.

      1. Sami Kishawi

        A few things:
        1. Fabricating something — “they were not called Palestinians yet then” — and confidently passing it off as fact does not make it a fact.

        2. Between 1947-1949, upwards of 800,000 Palestinians were either evicted from their homes or forced to flee as Jewish Zionist paramilitary gangs (Stern, Irgun, etc.) and, later, the newly-formed Israeli military stormed their villages, killed thousands, and threatened to uproot entire communities. This is the “800,000” statistic you meant to mention.

        3. Those that tried to return could not. Israel developed a legal framework (still in effect today) that made it so. You can follow this link for more: How Israeli law turned Palestinians into ‘infiltrators’.

        4. The term genocide, historically speaking, was initially used to define the atrocities of the Nazis during World War II. Since then, the use of the word has largely been held to that very grave standard. Some lawyers and international affairs experts believe that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people (flagrant abuses of human rights, mass cases of murder, occupation, etc.) justify the use of the word due to the oppressive nature of Israel’s actions and its documented and deliberate attempts to eliminate Palestinian history and culture. Others, however, do not believe this to be genocide since the numbers dead or affected do not compare to the numbers dead or affected during Holocaust. Nevertheless, whitewashing Israel’s crimes by pointing to population growth is fallacious and shows that you know nothing about the normal population and growth dynamics of the Palestinian people.

  2. ontogram

    Wonderful. All the hasbara crap about rockets and human shields, all nonsense. Israel has dropped tons and tons of explosives on Gaza alone and it still doesn’t stop opposition to the Zionist state. They are hopelessly lost and losing the battle for want of decency and universalism.

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