Faisal Bhabha: “It’s fair to say that liberal Zionism is dead”

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Faisal Bhabha Photo: YouTube IJV Canada

On November 2, 2020 Independent Jewish Voices Canada, that dubs itself a “Palestine solidarity group,” posted on Facebook:

As an urgent response to the threats to silence the voices of justice and advocacy for Palestine, the Palestinian Youth Movement, Independent Jewish Voices, Faculty for Palestine, and the Toronto BDS Network are pleased to welcome you to our joint educational panel discussion.

In this event we will be discussing the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism and its effects on the Palestinian struggle, academic freedom, and civil rights. There have been many voices speaking out against this Bill 168 as it violates our basic freedoms of expression, specifically our abilities to criticize governments and states that violate human rights and international law.

The discussion will be moderated by the Palestinian Youth Movement and the distinguished speakers will be sharing their diverse knowledge and insight on the Bill 168 that has been rammed through an Order in Council.

The speakers are:

Dr. Sheryl Nestel

Faisal Bhabha

Khaled Mouammar

Dr. Greg Shupak

Dr. Nahla Abdo

Faisal Bhabha is an Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University and Former Vice-chair, Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Faisal Bhabha is also the legal adviser of the National Council and Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the chair of the NCCM National Security Policy Committee.

Here is the transcript of Faisal Bhabha’s statements in IJV Canada’s panel discussion:

Dalya Al Masri (Palestinian-Canadian activist from Vancouver): How do you respond to the narratives that the claim Zionism in itself is not the problem, but how is it applied today?


Faisal Bhabha: Well, I understand that question to be kind of what’s the state of liberal Zionism. I think it’s fair to say that liberal Zionism is dead. The idea that you could have a state that is both Jewish and democratic has never really seemed plausible to me, and there’s lots of people who have always felt that that statement or that description of Israel is not accurate, but certainly with the adoption of the Nation State Law, Israel has itself admitted through that instrument that the reality that has long existed de facto has now made it law, that Israel is a state for the Jews, and the fact that there is an indigenous Palestinian minority there is not something that can be reconciled with the predominant ideology of the state. And you see it in the way that the Palestinian parties, the Arab List, so-called Arab list within the Israeli Knesset, rejects the very Zionist foundation of the state and is therefore boycotted in shenanigans leading to the formation of government, the political crisis that existed in Israel’s political system for months, for the entire year basically, was to a large extent produced by the fact that nobody would form a government with the Palestinian parties. So Palestinians are actually excluded from Israeli democracy through the workings of the Israeli democratic system. Furthermore, Peter Beinart, probably one of the most ethical liberal Zionists around, has rejected his conception of Zionism, that conception of liberal Zionism, that calls for a two-state solution, and that is based on the idea of separation or apartheid as between Israelis and Palestinians. People of conscience are recognizing, and have been recognizing at their own pace, what has been true since at least when Edward Said visited the region and proclaimed the two-state solution dead. So with the death of the two-state solution I think dies liberal Zionism and so now the the question is how can Zionism, the ideal of Jews having a safe place in the world to to live and to be citizens in a country that is in some way shaped by a Jewish identity, how can that be realized in a shared environment with Palestinians? And that is a goal to which we should all aspire, but that requires a complete rethinking of of Zionism.


Dalya Al Masri: How do you refute the accusations against BDS being antisemitic?

Faisal Bhabha: The BDS movement shouldn’t have to be on the defensive, and I think there’s been a, it’s been put on the defensive because this this claim has been made and repeated and it hasn’t been effectively refuted. But I think it’s completely on unfair and incorrect for the BDS move[ment], I mean, first of all, my understanding is that people who have endorsed BDS and who support it don’t even refer to it as a movement but rather as a tactic that is used by people who support common cause, who join common cause and respond to Palestinian civil society which asked the world to show their support through this, using this mechanism to express dissatisfaction with the state of normal diplomacy of international relations, which has completely failed the Palestinians in their quest for human rights. I mean you have a people who have clear legal rights recognized at the international level, perhaps no other stateless people have attained such a degree of success in having their existence affirmed and repeatedly called for realization at the international legal level, yet, frustrated at the level of international diplomacy. So this is a grassroots response to the failure of states and it’s a non-violent movement and it’s calling for nothing more than the implementation of human rights. So I think defenders of BDS ought not to be defensive and ought to ask those who ask the question about BDS being antisemitic to justify the question and by turning it on its head.

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