Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Beyond Current Notions of the Possible

On Jan. 26 of this year, Michael Neumann published an article in Counterpunch in which he denounced “Puritans” of the “academic left” for their hostile attitude toward the Palestinian Authority.  I wrote the following letter to the editors of Counterpunch and sent a copy to Neumann:

Michael Neumann’s article, “American Puritanism and Infantile Faith: The ‘Corrupt Betrayers’ of the Palestinian People” [Jan. 26] is in the same pessimistic, even cynical, mode as his book The Case Against Israel, which, after demonstrating to any open-minded person the injustice of the zionist project, concludes that the only realistic solution is partition, in other words, a moderate zionism–no solution at all. Granted the difficulties Neuman cites, it is still wrong to defend capitulation in the name of realism–especially since, as the Palestine Papers have shown, capitulation is of no value since the Zionists want it all, not just 98 per cent.

Back in the 1970s Palestinian comrades insisted that the path to Jerusalem lay through revolution in the Arab capitals, still the case. How shortsighted Neumann looks now: Events of the last couple of weeks, even if they do not realize their full potential, suggest that revolution in the Arab capitals is yet a possibility, introducing a new element in Palestine, and perhaps even to Neumann’s calculus.

Noel Ignatiev

Neumann wrote back a few days later:

Ignatieff doesn’t seem to get it.  The Palestinians had no options.  Calling it capitulation doesn’t change that.  Yet the idea that the Palestinians did, in fact, have options, keeps coming back:  its partisans are like the store owner in the dead parrot routine.   None of them, perhaps for fear of ridicule, bother to mention what the options might have been.

Morality doesn’t enter into this.   When you have no options, there are no non-trivial moral choices.  It is not immoral to sit in jail while others suffer outside because, hello, you have no option but to sit in jail.  And sitting in jail is a pretty good metaphor for the recent and current situation of the Palestinians.  I’m sure they will be thankful to hear that they’re morally deficient.

I am not particularly pessimistic; I’m just pessimistic about the unassisted power of moral suasion.  I think other forces might well come to the aid of the Palestinians – just not feckless Western nations or righteous Western academics.   Events in Egypt don’t seem to undermine this attitude.  Whatever the ultimate outcome of the demonstrations, they would  undoubtedly have collapsed were it not for the violence of the demonstrators who, as best they could, fought off Mubarak’s thugs.  To insist: the demonstrators used violence.  (A Guardian report refers to “days of fierce fighting”.)  They could and they had to; fortunately, the violence worked.  And without that violence, the demonstrators would have gone down to bloody, perhaps catastrophic defeat.  So no, events in Egypt do not make a case for the efficacy of scolding and outraged staring into the eyes of bad people.

As for short-sightedness, hardly; Egypt was part of my ‘calculus’.   Obviously Egypt would have done,would do nothing without radical political change; whether through ‘revolution’ or some other process is irrelevant to the prospects for Palestine. As for ‘moderate Zionism’ and ‘cyncism’, oooh, names….


and on Feb. 8 I rejoined: 

I get that the Palestinians struggling alone have few options. What I do not get is why a friend of the Palestinians apologizes for an Authority that has no authority and a policy of negotiations that are no more real negotiations than was the conversation between the walrus and carpenter on the beach as they ate all the oysters, and denounces those who criticize the farce—by no means all of whom are North American academics—as “infantile” and “Puritans.”  The misdeeds of the Palestinian quislings do not stop with talks and corruption: they sought to suppress the Goldstone Report, they suppressed demonstrations against Operation Cast Lead and in support of the Egyptian people, they get “security” training from the U.S. and implement torture and police-state rule against the Palestinian “puritans” who oppose them. If the oppressed can do no more, at least let their so-called leaders acting in the name of “realism” not cover up the oppressors’ crimes before the world. The obvious explanation for the behavior of the Palestinian officials is corruption:  they get to drive Mercedes’ and fly around to world capitals enjoying diplomatic privileges. But what explains Neumann’s stance except despair, which leads to cynicism (which he calls “realism”)? And yes, a Jewish state on any portion of Palestine is Zionism—in spite of Neumann more than just a name. Moreover, the Palestinians are not without resources, as illustrated by the call by 170 civic organizations for a global campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel (not just against the “Occupation”). And there are other tactics that have not been tried—for example a million man, woman and child march on the borders of the Zionist state, which will only be organized by those whose imagination goes beyond current notions of what is possible.


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