Abunimah, Mearsheimer and Finkelstein discuss Gaza at University of Chicago

On Jan. 8th 2009, I attended a panel discusion on Gaza featuring Prof. John Mearsheimer, co-author of "The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," former DePaul political science professor Norman Finkelstein, and co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah at the University of Chicago.

Below is the article I wrote appearing in the current issue of The Final Call.

For your listening pleasure and for informational purposes, below is a link to a 14 minute MP3 containing comments by the members of the panel. (Abunimah speaks first, Finkelstein second and then Mearsheimer.)


Feel free to download to your iPod or share the file and/or link with others.


Panelists discuss Gaza and Israeli obstacles to peace
by Ashahed M. Muhammad
Assistant Editor

CHICAGO—A panel discussion titled "Crisis in Gaza: The U.S., Israel, and Palestine" brought together three well-known scholars to deal with solutions to the conflict that has gripped the disputed territory for over 60 years.

Sponsored by the University of Chicago's Muslim Student Association and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Jan. 8 panel drew over 1,000 people who braved freezing cold temperatures to hear perspectives from University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, co-author of the book "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," former DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein, and author Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.

Though the three have often been critical of the policies of the Israeli government and critical of America's relationship with Israel, this panel discussion was dedicated to the identification of strategies to remove the obstacles to justice and the establishment of peace, especially during this time, when war is raging and the number of casualties increase.

Prof. Mearsheimer said pressure from the U.S. is the only thing that will move the discussion collectively towards a resolution and he is "baffled" that most American Jews do not see that the present policy towards the Palestinians is "self-defeating" and "potentially disastrous."

"The only hope is that the U.S. begins to lean on Israel very hard, but that's not going to happen mainly because pro-Israel forces in this country will not allow it to happen," said Prof. Mearsheimer who went on to say that he and his co-author, Harvard Prof. Stephen Walt were accused of being "enemies of Israel" and trying to "de-legitimize Israel" after publishing their working paper in 2006, which then became a book in 2007.

"Our argument is that these so-called friends of Israel are pushing Israel and supporting Israel as it pursues a policy that is disastrous. Israel, if it continues on the present trajectory is going to end up as an apartheid state. This is not good. Why aren't supporters of Israel in this country standing on the rooftops and saying to Israeli leaders that (they) are pursuing a completely misguided set of policies."

Mr. Abunimah told The Final Call that many prominent Israeli political leaders such as Avigdor Lieberman and current Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni while claiming to want peace have talked of getting rid of the Palestinian citizens all together from Gaza and other disputed territories in the region.

"This is now frighteningly becoming quite mainstream," said Mr. Abunimah. "They don't dare to say that is what their goal is, but I do believe—and various Israeli officials have said— that their goal is to make the conditions for Palestinians so unbearable that they will leave."

Mr. Abunimah added that Israel's notion of a just resolution to the refugee problem is that the Palestinians who were expelled should not be given the right of return. In his opinion, this amounts to "ethnic cleansing."

"The most important challenge for all of us is that we have to get the facts out. There has to be an accurate accounting of what is the obstacle to achieving a just and lasting piece," said Mr. Finkelstein, who despite the fact that he is the son of holocaust survivors has been criticized as being anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. "There is so much misrepresentation, so much outright falsification of the record, on the other hand, there are excellent grounds for optimism."

Referring to the Israel's 2006 War in Lebanon which he called a "blitzkrieg against Lebanon" the American people were split on the responsibility for the war. Likewise, in this current Israeli aggression against Gaza, public opinion is split indicating that the propaganda is not having the same effect which in the past has resulted in nearly unanimous support for the actions of Israel.

Citing revolutionary Amilcar Cabral who said "tell no lies, claim no easy victories" Mr. Finkelstein said sticking to the facts and telling the truth while adhering to "uncontroversial principles of justice" public opinion will continue to move in the direction of justice for the Palestinians. "More and more people know more and more of the truth about what is happening, which is due in part to the alternative media," said Mr. Finkelstein.

Adil Kalam, a spokesman for the MSA chapter at the university said the fact that so many people turned out, filling up the lower-level and the balcony at Mandel Hall demonstrated that people are seeking answers beyond what is reliably repeated in the American media, which appears to be taken directly from the talking points of the members of the Israeli government and their military officials.

"I think having a panel with speakers who are respected in their fields attracted a lot of people and the fact that it was the first event held on campus that addressed the current crisis," said Mr. Kalam. "The speakers did an excellent job, we are very thankful that they could come out on such short notice, the questions were good and the discussion was interesting, I think people learned a lot."

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