A Correspondent writes

May 14, 2010

In News

Dear Professor Finkelstein,

After a productive year of activism, I hope, and having the had the pleasure of hearing you speak twice in one week, I’ve decided to put some of my thoughts down in writing, for what it’s worth. Please feel free to forward or post these thoughts, if you think anyone might be interested in them.

Best, John

“Palestine needs its own state if there’s ever going to be justice.”

I’m an organizer with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of Arizona, and I have been actively involved in organizing around the issue since the fall of 2008 (informally involved since 2003). I have had the pleasure of visiting the anti-Apartheid weeks at UCLA and UCSD, and I have been impressed by their educational activities; I have relayed many of their excellent ideas to SJP members in Tucson. But in conversations with activists at UCLA and overhearing activists at UCSD, I feel that I must, in solidarity, offer a constructive critique, for what it’s worth.

In my mind, the Jewish state of Israel has very little legitimacy; it exists on the lands of Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Jews (the Palestinian Jews, whose mother tongue was Palestinian-Arabic, whose culture was Palestinian); the Palestinians with Israel citizenship don’t have full rights, not to mention the Israeli military occupation of the Occupied Territories: E. Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza. But we live in a world of many illegitimate states. Is the fundamentalist tyrannical state of Saudi Arabia legitimate? The Shi‘a minority there might say otherwise. As Norman Finkelstein asks, speaking in Tucson and San Diego, is the United States ‘legitimate’ on half of Mexico? If you say you are for ending the Jewish state today and not for ending these other states, fine. But then you are giving a powerful weapon to the right-wing supporters of Israel, namely the charge of hypocrisy.

From what I’ve observed, the counter-protesters, i.e. Hillel, and other ‘pro’-Israel groups pretend they support the ‘two-state solution’, which, of course, they don’t, otherwise they’d speak out against the US-Israel policy for blocking its implementation every year in the UN. Instead of promoting the politically possible two-state solution based on Resolution 242 and subsequent resolutions, the dominant position of the Muslim student organizers at the two California universities (or at least, the most vocal position, which I concede may not be their official position) is that there ought to be a democratic-secular Palestine where Jews and Palestinians each have one-vote. This position, while logical, is in my mind based on a false premise, namely that electoral democracy leads to equal rights. One has to look no farther than the US or Western Europe to know that parliamentary democracies do not bring about equality of rights, political, cultural, economic or otherwise.

Does anyone think that Palestinians will ever be equal in a society where Jews control the wealth of the nation? Palestine needs its own state if there is ever going to be justice. Palestine needs its own cultural and educational institutions. Palestine needs its own currency and economic policy. Palestine has its own flag, language, and shared cultural-historical memory. What sense does it make to put two nations, with different cultural-historical narratives together in one state? True, people of conscious should mourn the loss of Palestinian lands to the Zionist settlers. But this mourning should not replace clear-minded political thinking about what should be pursued politically in order to resolve this conflict.

To close, I do admire the dedication of the Muslim Student Associations at UCLA (my Alma mater) and UCSD. And I hope our disagreements never lead to a disintegration of this important movement.

John Costello, Graduate Student, University of Arizona