Hebrew U Prof: Ahmad Tibi is a Radical, Wants Israel to be a Bi-National State
I have read your recent piece in the New York Review of Books and I agree with much of it. I certainly agree that Palestinian and Arab-Israeli representatives should be met and heard out, while I share your uncertainly as to the likely political impact of this on American Jews. And I have doubt no that there is often a lack of empathy towards the Palestinians on the part of American Jews, not necessarily those considered right-wing. But I want to take issue with the way you describe Ahmad TIbi's position on Israel as a Jewish State. You write:
"Third, the deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli citizen, has publicly proposed turning Israel from a Jewish state into one with no religious identity. He presides over sessions of the Knesset but, according to Hillel’s guidelines, couldn’t address an American Jewish group on a college campus."
The reader may well get the impression that Ahmad Tibi's problem with the Jewish state is that he favours something along the lines of American-style separation of church and state - and perhaps also something along the lines of the American notion that all the country's ethnic groups share the same national identity. In fact, what he favours, very clearly and publicly, is a bi-national state. He defines it, to be precise, as ''a state of all its nations (''nationalities'')"; but since there are exactly two major national groups within Israel's citizen body, this definitely means a bi-national state (alongside a Palestinian state that is Arab and without Jews; I never heard him object to the definition of Islam as a religion of state, that appears in the relevant Palestinian documents).
Moreover, Tibi also supports a right of return of Palestinian refugees—their descendants, actually— to the pre-67 State of Israel (not to the future Palestinian state); and, moreover, he supports the boycott of Israeli companies (not settlers' produce, as you point out in the case of Salam Fayyad) in order to enforce this demand. This comes from his July 20, 2001 op-ed in the New York Times:
''Because I believe in ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, equal rights for Palestinians and Jews, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees forced from their homes and lands in 1948, I support boycotting—and calling on others to boycott —all Israeli companies that help perpetuate these injustices.''
So what he actually proposes amounts, as a matter of fact, to turning Israel into an Arab state, not at all a bi-national one. Whether he would really like to live in such a state, I am not sure; but this is what he advocates in public - clearly because it is politically expedient, if not unavoidable, for him to take such a public stance, given the state of public opinion in the relevant sector. This sector's attitude to the State is, in itself, deeply ambiguous (which is actually good news, in the present circumstances), but it includes having such leaders as Ahmad Tibi. That he can support those things, and an anti-Israeli boycott with the aim of imposing them, and at the same time preside over sessions of the Knesset as Deputy Speaker, as you point out, is a truly remarkable phenomenon. Unlike certain noisy (but ineffectual) people on the Right, I welcome this phenomenon and take pride in it. But it is a pity that your readers in the New York Review of Books were not given the chance to appreciate it. It would have given them a better understanding of the nature of the conflict and of Israel's predicament.
I fully agree with you that American Jewish groups should, for all that, meet Ahmad Tibi and people who hold similar (and more radical) views. If Hillel's guidelines preclude that, this only goes to show that common sense, in such cases, is preferable to inflexible guidelines. But I think he should not be portrayed as someone struggling merely for ''first amendment'' rights of Israeli Arabs.
I write this to you precisely because I know where you stand as regards the right of the Jewish people to a nation-state of their own. You have repeatedly made this clear in public (which naturally will not prevent some people from denying or ignoring it). But I feel that while you are right to insist that there is an elephant in the room that should be acknowledged—the occupation and the plight of the Palestinians—it is equally important to acknowledge that there are in fact two elephants in the room. This room is large enough for two elephants. And the second elephant too is well worth noting and taking account of.