Originally published on Mondoweiss.
On May 22, Max Blumenthal debated liberal Zionist Mira Sucharov on the question: “Can Israel exist as both Jewish and democratic?” The debate was held at the University of Ottawa in front of a crowd of about 150 spectators. The Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC), a large privately-owned station broadcasted nationally in Canada, filmed and televised the debate. CPAC has made the footage permanently available on their website for all to learn from and to share. It can be accessed here.
The event was, by all accounts, an enormous success. What seems so straightforward and obvious—to let the public determine which ideas hold water and which fall short—is rarely if ever sanctioned in the case of Israel’s supposedly democratic nature. I believe that through having such a civil, public debate, a very positive precedent has been set: we can respectfully engage in discussion and debate as responsible and engaged individuals who care deeply about the future of Palestine/Israel. How radical an idea is that?
My only fear is that Max Blumenthal did such an incredible job of articulating the ills of Zionism and the inherently violent and expansionist nature of the “Jewish state,” that finding someone to debate this issue again may prove to be as difficult as it was to find someone to debate it in the first place. Mira Sucharov needs to be commended for agreeing to debate this issue publicly, knowing that her position of esteem within the Jewish establishment would forever be compromised. As Mondoweiss reported, she was censored in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin—in her own column—for making mention of the debate, and of how her own synagogue refused to let her put up a poster advertising it.
The major barrier to future debates is the continuing fear of the Jewish establishment to accept any criticism of Israel’s existence as a state that privileges one ethnic and religious group, and by its very nature, must discriminate against all others. As Max Blumenthal said in the debate: “You’ve seen what happened here. Israel wasn’t destroyed. Nothing scary happened. We had a talk, we had a chat, and that was it. I don’t know what people are so afraid of.” That’s the question that those within the Jewish tent—including liberal Zionists— need to be reflecting on.