For the first time that I know of, an organized debate has taken place between an anti-Zionist and a liberal Zionist public figure. While this may sound unremarkable, it’s actually an historic achievement in the pursuit of uncensored discussion on Palestinian rights. The norm in mainstream Western media has been deliberate avoidance of serious discussion of Israel’s systematic violations of international law, so such an open and civil discussion is profoundly important for the dissemination of truth into the public domain.
In a debate entitled “Can Israel exist as both Jewish and democratic?” Max Blumenthal, an award-winning journalist and bestselling author, argued forcefully that a country in which a settler population needs to control a native population by means of ethnic cleansing, discrimination, and occupation cannot be deemed democratic. Mira Sucharov, Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University and a journalist herself, made the case that Israel can exist as both Jewish and democratic, but that certain discriminatory laws need to be amended or removed.
While the speakers disagreed on whether the term “apartheid” could be used accurately to describe Israel, and on whether democracy could ever prevail within a state that defines itself on ethnic and religious grounds, they agreed on several other areas of discussion. For example, both authors concluded that the Jewish National Fund — a quasi-governmental organization in Israel that has charitable status in Canada — is a racist organization that is incompatible with our conceptions of democracy. The reason for this is that the JNF holds a great deal of public land in Israel exclusively for lease and sale to Jews, and thereby discriminates against the 20 per cent of the population who are native Palestinians.
The debate drew a crowd of about 150 people at the University of Ottawa, of many ages and backgrounds. Audience members submitted questions to the moderator that were addressed by both speakers over a lengthy discussion that was rational, civil, and above all, enlightening. While the Israel lobby groups in Canada — which falsely claim to represent Canada’s diverse Jewish communities — refuse to engage in discussion with Palestinians or dissident Jewish groups such as Independent Jewish Voices, both speakers agreed that preventing these conversations from taking place will alienate members of the broader Jewish community, and will only perpetuate the crimes of Israel’s racist policies, causing immense suffering on both sides.
The Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC) filmed and televised the debate, which can be viewed here. Independent Jewish Voices is delighted that Max Blumenthal and Mira Sucharov agreed to debate and discuss these issues publicly, and through CPAC’s excellent coverage, we will now have a valuable resource to learn from and to share.
Tyler Levitan is the Campaigns Coordinator for Independent Jewish Voices – Canada. He is based in Ottawa on unceded Algonquin territory.