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In flinching move, Finkelstein slams boycott movement

American political scientist and author of the “Holocaust Industry,” Norman Finkelstein - known for his outspoken criticism of Israel and advocacy of Palestinian rights – showed his own fear of the paradigm shift  in discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when he called the BDS movement a ‘cult’ last week

By Sean O’Neill

The interview with Norman Finkelstein that circulated all over the web on Wednesday, in which he calls the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel a “cult” and compares it to Maoism is, I think, a milestone of sorts.  Or, more accurately, the symptom of a milestone – a sign that the ground is shifting on Israel/Palestine issues.

Arguing the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign with Norman Finkelstein

Normal Finkelstein has made a career out of being the son of holocaust survivors  who doesn’t shy away from picking a fight with Israel’s backers, and who unabashedly defends the rights of Palestinians.  At times his controversial positions have set his career back, as when he was denied tenure at DePaul University.  However, on balance he has certainly benefited, as a less combative scholar would today likely be simply one of thousands of obscure political science professors.

Everything about the interview is classic Finkelstein: his demeanor, his tendency to raise his voice, his adversarial, passionate approach, everything, that is, except for the things he’s saying.  In a bizarre turn of events, he comes off as a Zionist bully, or for that matter, any other angry right wing pundit.  He accuses activists for Palestinian civil rights of having a secret agenda, that of destroying Israel.  He seems obsessed with some overarching concept of the Law as final arbiter in all matters, as though in this case we weren’t talking about a variety of laws, many of which at times contradict each other, and as though there isn’t a history of the law being written, enforced, and misinterpreted by political actors at the expense of the weak.  His complaint that solidarity movement activists want to cherry pick which laws they respect is reminiscent of the claims made by white religious leaders that Dr. Martin Luther King so famously refuted in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Moreover, Finkelstein conveniently ignores the fact that international law recognizes refugees as having a right to return to their homeland.  When the law is inconvenient, Finkelstein employs another classic conservative tactic, insisting that the public simply won’t accept the demands of the activists, that they need to be more pragmatic.  Again, see “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” for an eloquent refutation of such logic.

Finkelstein even resorts to the desperate tactic of denial.  When the interviewer puts forth his contention that the BDS movement is growing in popularity, Finkelstein rejects the idea out of hand, comparing the movement to some Maoist group he apparently was affiliated with at some point in his more idealistic youth.

I recently witnessed BDS’s growing clout at  a meeting I attended with a woman working with an Israeli artist helping set up a series of salons in New York to explore and question the Birthright Israel programs, and the idea of a “birthright” in general.  The project sounds very interesting, but the woman was visibly frustrated at their inability to find people willing to work with them in the city.  “Salons: Birthright Palestine?” is co-presented by the New Museum and Artis with additional support from the Ostrovsky Family Fund and the Israeli Lottery Fund, and as a result have had the proverbial door shut on them by activists, artists, and professors, Arab and Jew alike.  This would have been incomprehensible five years ago, when I first heard of the BDS movement at the annual Bil’in conference and it was, at that point, divisive even among conference attendees.

Here is where things stand now.  There is a paradigm shift in the works in how the Israel/Palestine conflict is understood and approached.  There is an increasing consensus among Israel’s critics to see the issue as one of civil rights, rather than a conflict between two nations.  Indeed, some BDS activists harbor a desire to see the end of the Jewish state, and others believe this is the inevitable outcome of a civil rights movement, whether they desire it or not.  But many others, I would argue most Palestinians among them, simply don’t care about this abstract One State v. Two State argument.  They just don’t think civil rights -  indeed human rights -  can be trumped by someone’s nationalist claims.

Finkelstein’s sudden hostility to the solidarity movement is a symptom of this paradigm shift.  It is easy to rail against Israel when the existence of a Jewish nation-state seems guaranteed in perpetuity.  But that guarantee seems to have eroded a bit.  For some this will be scary.  But then change always is.  It was scary in South Africa.  It was scary in the Jim Crow American South.  For others it is liberating, and you can count among these an increasing number of Israelis who see coexistence – real coexistence, not the tenuous kind that reigns in Jaffa, among other places – as a more attractive guarantee to their security than the ethnocratic state.  As the ground continues to shift, some of those who are afraid will flinch, and retreat to safer, more moderate arguments.  Finkelstein flinched.

Sean O’Neill worked for Christian Peacemaker Teams from 2006-2009 in the South Hebron Hills supporting Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation and continued settlement expansion.  He is currently an MA candidate at New York University in Near Eastern Studies and Journalism. 

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Every time another person whose dedication to the cause of peace was never in doubt expresses opposition to the BDS strategy, they question their sincerity and ascribe various nasty motivations. Before Finkelstein it was Naomi Chazan, and before her Uri Avnery.

      That’s why Finkelstein can’t be a principled activist who legitmately opposes BDS, but has to be seen as “flinching”.

      Reply to Comment
    2. I am interested to hear more about the abstract nature of aiming for one or two states. To me, each leads to some concrete, if not predictable, outcomes.
      What makes them abstract to you? Or, are you expressing the reality that true freedom is more important to most Palestinians than political situations?

      To me, the issue of rights begins with the right of all peoples to self-determination (which may not necessitate states mind you). Civil rights are developed by societies. Wouldn’t that mean that the path to, and reality of, those rights will be dictated by the concrete reality of what a state, or states, looks like?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Miki

      Sean, an excellent analysis. I think you have hit the nail on the head This was also my reaction to Finkelstein’s diatribe – BDS has contributed to a paradigm shift (as has the failure of Oslo and the failures of the PLO/PA, which contributed to the rise of BDS). It is very clear from what Finkelstein says in the interview that he is still working in the old paradigm and is railing against those who have worked to change the paradigm and who are working within the new paradigm.

      @Eyal – you may not be aware but Finkelstein’s stance is nothing new. Palestine solidarity sites have been reporting on it for the last year. During this period, there have been a number of very well written articles responding to his view. While they have disagreed with his position, none of them (or at least none of the ones I have read) have questioned Finkelstein’s principles or his right to disagree with BDS. What they have done is engaged with his arguments and challenged them, just as Sean has done.

      I think Sean is absolutely spot on in his analysis regarding the issue of paradigm shift.

      Nowhere does Sean call into question Finkelstein’s committement to the Palestinian struggle, his sincerty or his principles.

      To claim that this is what Sean or anyone else who disagrees with Finkelstein’s position is doing is a poor argument, which fails to address the actual analysis being made. It simply works as a way to shut down discussion and debate.

      As someone very active within the BDS movement, I have absolutely no problem with Finkelstein challenging BDS but both he and those who agree with him have to be prepared for those who disagree with him to challenge his position and engage in a broader political analysis (which is what Sean has done).

      In relation to the way Finkelstein has gone about this interview, while as I said I have no problem with him challenging BDS, I will say I think the way he did it in this interview did not help his case at all – calling those you disagree with a cult and implying that thousands upon thousands of activists around the world involved in the campaign are nothing more than brain dead drones and dupes isn’t going to help win people to your point of view.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Rakiba

      I am very supportive of the rights of Palestinians in Israel and think the WB project is a disaster giving movements like BDS increasing legitimacy.

      But I must call BS. The % of BDS activists who think that civil and human rights shouldn’t be trumped by nationalism is near 0.

      They think that Jewish nationalism should not trump the rights of Arab nationalism.

      That is the fact and what is needed most in this conversation is honesty, which is what NF is calling for.

      PS, I have always liked Norman F as a person even disagreeing with him so I am not someone only praising him because he is anti-BDS.

      Reply to Comment
    5. sh

      Miki, Sean O’Neill’s describing him as a Zionist bully. That’s kind of critical, coming from where it’s coming, no?
      .
      Finkelstein seems to have been the darling as long as he said what whoever was embracing him wanted him to say. But he’s a hedgehog not a darling – always has been – and, as evidenced in this video, has no intention of toning down his natural irascibility for anyone. What he is saying, without any attempt to charm or ingratiate himself, is that according to international law, there’s a solid basis for a Palestinian state next to a pre-June 1967 bordered Israel, go get it. It’s pure NF, as are his caveats about BDS. Did he ever tell you different? Remember when he resigned from the Gaza Freedom March? He explains why here:
      .
      “The original consensus of the International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza was that we would limit our statement to a pair of uncontroversial, basic and complementary principles that would have the broadest possible appeal: the march to break the siege would be nonviolent and anchored in international law. I agreed with this approach and consequent statement and decided to remove myself from the steering committee in order to invest my full energies in mobilizing for the march.
      During the week beginning August 30, 2009 and in a matter of days an entirely new sectarian agenda dubbed “the political context” was foisted on those who originally signed on and worked tirelessly for three months. Because it drags in contentious issues that — however precious to different constituencies — are wholly extraneous to the narrow but critical goal of breaking the siege this new agenda is gratuitously divisive and it is almost certain that it will drastically reduce the potential reach of our original appeal.”
      http://www.thecommentfactory.com/norman-finkelstein-why-i-resigned-from-the-gaza-freedom-march-coalition-2341/
      .
      What’s changed? What’s new Mr. O’Neill? He’s saying that the cart he and others originally signed up to has been loaded with all sorts of stuff that it was never agreed it should carry and was not built for. I thought it interesting that the guy interviewing him didn’t come up with much in the way of counter-arguments.
      .
      Finkelstein has been called Benny Morris since this video went live, as though he has changed his affiliations from left to right, from hot to cold. He hasn’t. He’s plowing on with his ideas, like his erstwhile fans are plowing on with theirs. Whose will succeed? Qui vivra verra.
      .
      I will say this though. For the Palestinian cause, wasting energy on pointless carping and backbiting is bad news. For the Israeli left also.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Basil

      I don’t think Finkelstein is characterized properly here. The fact is most people don’t accept the idea that all the refugees will return. There will be a settlement. Otherwise, it would contradict 242 and 338, which entails recognition of Israel for a two state solution. I support a lot of what the BDS movement does mostly, but I don’t think their agenda on the end doesn’t work. Maybe the one state solution would work if the settlements spread.

      Reply to Comment
    7. rose

      The point is not that 6 millions of refugees have to go back to their homes. The point is that the destiny of that people should be a matter to discuss as part of an agreement and not just something that the stronger decide to put on a side.
      It is the same logic used in Oslo. Israel was ready to give back the 99% of the Palestinian Territories. It was the 99% percent of the territory that they were ready to discuss. Not the real 99%. They didn’t want to speak about Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan (just 2 little examples)..what’s the problem, they just cut them from the negotiation but they continue to tell you that they made such an generous offer.
      Most of the supporters of the BDS are aware that 6 millions of people cannot go back in their land. But they don’t accept that the stronger unilaterally decide what to ignore.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Matt

      The issue that all the BDSers are having is that Finkelstein just wants them to tell the truth about whether or not they want Israel to continue existing. Telling the truth is extremely difficult for BDSers.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ofer

      Eyal, Avnery and Chazan are dedicated to some cause of peace, but they have consistently marketed the myth of “change from within”. Doesn’t work. And they are different from Finklestein with respect to BDS, because they never supported it.

      If you think Avnery’s easy-to-digest notion of boycotting settlement products (only) makes a difference, do follow this path. Same if you like Naomi Chazan’s NIF letter in defense of… two American arms industries:
      http://jstreet.org/blog/troubling-uc-berkeley-student-senate-bill-on-israel/

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mik

      paradigm shift? what on earth are you talking about? I don’t see fatah or hammas or any Israeli party or any relevant international actor talking any different than they have been in the last 20 years. and you talk of an increasing consensus among Israel’s critics? Maybe NF isn’t critical enough for you but even he (who isn’t even allowed to enter Israel) doesn’t buy your shtick.

      Reply to Comment
    11. berl

      Finkelstein claims that the we cannot focus on the Israeli Arabs’s discriminations because in many other countries happen much worse events. Putting aside the fact that it is a very childish argument, Finkelstein should use his comparative approach stressing how different is the situation that brought the palestinians of Israel in the condition in which they are in comparison to the other minorities.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Yuval

      Sorry for my bad English, I just had to respond to this interview. I’m following the BDS closely and as an Israeli who supports the non-violent movement, I also support the BDS. However, I do feel that Finkelstein has some very good points that the BDS supporters should take into account instead of dismissing him.

      Finkelstein is worried that the BDS is drifting away from practical and political (and even moral)thinking, and this is, as he is stating correctly, exactly where Israel wants it to be.
      There is a good reason why the current Israeli government hates Abu-mazen more than Hamas, and that is because it is very clear to them that the more practical and political the Palestinians are, Israel have less excuses to preserve the current status-qua of occupation, aparthied and ethnic cleansing.

      BDS should define what it means by the term “right of the return” and it should also recognize the fact that unlike the settlements and military occupation, though the Palestinian refugees problem should be resolved, it can only be resolved by mutual negotiation and it can’t undermine Jewish basic rights.

      I don’t know who are the so called “gurus” that Finkelstein refers to, but I have the feeling that Omar Barghouti is one of them. The BDS movement has become a one man show.

      Instead of attacking Finkelstein, if the BDS is indeed a democratic movement, it should take his warnings very seriously and work on real politics instead of the creation of myths. Otherwise, the gap between non-violence approach on one hand and the very religious approach on the other hand can not be sustained for much longer.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Miki

      @SH – no, sorry, SH, that is not the case. Sean did not describe Finkelstein as a “Zionist bully”. What he wrote was that “In a bizarre turn of events, he comes off as a Zionist bully, or for that matter, any other angry right wing pundit”. Saying that someone comes off as a rightwing pundit or Zionst bullly, is very different from saying they ARE a ringwing pundit or a Zionist bully.
      *
      Unfortunately, Finkelstein does come off that way. He brow beats the interviewer, doesn’t let him speak or finish his sentences, he raises his voice and reiterates nearly every rightwing Zionist hasbara talking point you can think off and he engages in ad hominem and pejorative attacks – so yes, he does come off sounding like Zionist bully. This does not mean he actually is one.
      *
      Sean acknowledges in his article that the way that Finkelstein carried out the interview was “pure” Finkelstein and I agree (so no disagreement with you on this either). This I would argue was precisely why the interviewer couldn’t get a word in sides ways. Everytime he tried to make a point or an argument, Finkelstein interrupted him, talk over him and down to him and proceeded full speed with his diatribe. For me the main problem was the interviewer was not assertive enough and clearly did not feel confident enough to tell Finkelstein to shut up and let him finish his point.
      *
      As I pointed out in my original post, Finkelstein’s disagreement with BDS is OLD news – it has been reported on a range of Palestine solidarity website and as I said, in all the instances I have read his ideas have been challenged but engaged with respectfully. And yes, your correct to say Finkelstein’s disaffection with BDS indeed begin around the time of the 2009 Gaza Freedom March.
      *
      I would argue that this is not surprising as the paradigm shift which Sean discusses was already well in motion at this stage, so it is not surprising at all that this was when Finkelstein began to flinch in relation to the new/old paradigms (to use Sean’s terminology).
      *
      I agree with you that Finkelstein has not changed sides, which is why I think Sean’s analysis is spot on.
      *
      AS I pointed out Sean does not call into question Finkelstein’s committement to the Palestinian struggle, his sincerty or his principles but he does attempt to provide an analysis of Finkelstein’s comments by discussing the broader political context in which these comments are being made. This is not only an entirely valid analysis to make, but also one, as I said, which I think is spot on.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Jon

      So, one of the leading critics of Israel announces (yet again, Miki points out above) that he’s unmoved by the BDS movement. This the author sees as a “paradigm shift.” Really? Is the author trying to convince us readers, or just himself?

      What about this hypothesis — that “BDS” has a branding image? My socially circles are decidedly more traditionally Zionist (aka “pro-Israel” aka ignore Palestinian suffering) and they see BDS as purely anti-Israel. As you saw at UPenn, the majority of campus Jewish organizations (excepting J Street) refused to even acknowledge it beyond damning it.

      If it’s a human rights issue, than why not summon a campaign strictly titled “Palestinian Civil Rights” to get the maximum support and foster dialogue?

      (Yes, I’m aware that the Omar Barghoutis book titled BDS has the subtitle the “struggle for Palestinian Civil Rights”. They’re not mutually exclusive. But branding is a tough art.)

      Reply to Comment
    15. ginger

      Israel as an Apartheid state will cease to exist
      .
      That, in case there is any question or quibbling, is a good thing
      .
      Israel has framed the argument for so long and so successfully that the hitherto unimaginable reality that Palestinians are not subhumans, that Israelis are subject to sanctioning if not law, and that the world itself does not exist for Israel does indeed seem like a catastrophic end to everything Israeli. But it is rather the very dramatic (angst-provacative, for many) end of a certain kind of Israel, the end of an era of a certain kind of ethnic cleansing-Zionism/racism
      .
      Israel has been so wrong for so long, covering it all in it’s triumphalist narcissistic argument – it really has been deliberately mindnumbing
      .
      Finkelstein is simply wrong here – I suspect this will be very hard for Finkelstein to eventually come to terms with and accept. Without going too far down the road of ad hominens regarding why this may be so for him, I think the reasons for the blindness may very well turn out to be best characterized as personal or psychological. As is the case with so many of us, myself included…
      .
      That’s OK on a certain level for a certain amount of time – here’s hoping he’s big enough or becomes big enough to snap out of it. I do think he’s got a steep and deep personal learning curve to master in order to be able to do it
      .
      Friends of Finkelstein and admirers of his work can hold his feet to the fire, rather than trying to stand him on his head and translate for us
      .
      Many have already seen British Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman cutting thru the academic arguments and calling a spade a spade during the Israeli Cast Lead attack on Gaza. Finkelstein may need to refresh himself and come at BDS again from a fresh perspective – it happens to the best of us, Finkelstein included
      Israel as an Apartheid state will cease to exist.
      .
      That, in case there is any question or quibbling, is a good thing
      .
      Israel has framed the argument for so long and so successfully that the hitherto unimaginable reality that Palestinians are not subhumans, that Israelis are subject to sanctioning if not law, and that the world itself does not exist for Israel does indeed seem like a catastrophic end to everything Israeli. But it is rather the very dramatic (angst-provacative, for many) end of a certain kind of Israel, the end of an era of a certain kind of ethnic cleansing-Zionism/racism
      .
      Israel has been so wrong for so long, covering it all in it’s triumphalist narcissistic argument – it really has been deliberately mindnumbing
      .
      Finkelstein is simply wrong here – I suspect this will be very hard for Finkelstein to eventually come to terms with and accept. Without going too far down the road of ad hominens regarding why this may be so for him, I think the reasons for the blindness may very well turn out to be best characterized as personal or psychological. As is the case with so many of us, myself included…
      .
      That’s OK on a certain level for a certain amount of time – here’s hoping he’s big enough or becomes big enough to snap out of it. I do think he’s got a steep and deep personal learning curve to master in order to be able to do it
      .
      Friends of Finkelstein and admirers of his work can hold his feet to the fire, rather than trying to stand him on his head and translate for us
      .
      Many have already seen British Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman cutting thru the academic arguments and calling a spade a spade during the Israeli Cast Lead attack on Gaza. Finkelstein may need to refresh himself and come at BDS again from a fresh perspective – it happens to the best of us, Finkelstein included
      .
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMGuYjt6CP8
      .
      BDS wasn’t Finkelstein’s idea – so what? – get over it, Norm

      Reply to Comment
    16. ginger

      (Misposted above) – here is the correction:

      Israel as an Apartheid state will cease to exist
      .
      That, in case there is any question or quibbling, is a good thing
      .
      Israel has framed the argument for so long and so successfully that the hitherto unimaginable reality that Palestinians are not subhumans, that Israelis are subject to sanctioning if not law, and that the world itself does not exist for Israel does indeed seem like a catastrophic end to everything Israeli. But it is rather the very dramatic (angst-provocative, for many) end of a certain kind of Israel, the end of an era of a certain kind of ethnic cleansing-Zionism/racism
      .
      Israel has been so wrong for so long, covering it all in it’s triumphalist narcissistic argument – it really has been deliberately mindnumbing
      .
      Finkelstein is simply wrong here – I suspect this will be very hard for Finkelstein to eventually come to terms with and accept. Without going too far down the road of ad hominens regarding why this may be so for him, I think the reasons for the blindness may very well turn out to be best characterized as personal or psychological. As is the case with so many of us, myself included…
      .
      That’s OK on a certain level for a certain amount of time – here’s hoping he’s big enough or becomes big enough to snap out of it. I do think he’s got a steep and deep personal learning curve to master in order to be able to do it
      .
      Friends of Finkelstein and admirers of his work can hold his feet to the fire, rather than trying to stand him on his head and translate for us
      .
      Many have already seen British Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman cutting thru the academic arguments and calling a spade a spade during the Israeli Cast Lead attack on Gaza. Finkelstein may need to refresh himself and come at BDS again from a fresh perspective – it happens to the best of us, Finkelstein included
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMGuYjt6CP8
      .
      BDS wasn’t Finkelstein’s idea – so what? – get over it, Norm

      Reply to Comment
    17. Anonymous

      @Berl

      “Finkelstein claims that the we cannot focus on the Israeli Arabs’s discriminations because in many other countries happen much worse events. Putting aside the fact that it is a very childish argument, Finkelstein should use his comparative approach stressing how different is the situation that brought the palestinians of Israel in the condition in which they are in comparison to the other minorities.”

      You need to listen more closely. He didn’t say BDS *cannot* focus on other minorities, he’s saying IT’S A BAD IDEA. Because once you start whining at Israel about mistreating Arabs, they will immediately ask why don’t you care about the hundreds of other mistreated minorities around the world. Many of whom, in any honest and objective analysis, have it far worse than the Israeli Arabs.

      Do you have an answer for that?

      Reply to Comment
    18. Velvet

      Saying that one or two states is “abstract” is like the ANC saying “we haven’t decided on a bigger Bantustan or civil rights, it’s abstract for us”. That’s how they brought down Apartheid, right?

      Reply to Comment
    19. Jazzy

      This article would have been better if you had not just gone over the BDS talking points again (“international law”, “civil rights” etc.). Its really, really boring when people keep doing this here – not very many people are reading this blog, and ones who are already have opinions. We don’t need BDS 101 every time someone says something not 100% in favor of BDS. Maybe try discussing WHY Finkelstein said this stuff? Is that too much to ask? +972? Maybe it would save time just to link to the BDS homepage.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Jazzy

      I personally think he’s been a dick all along and nobody should pay attention to what he says because he’s an adolescent attention seeking malcontent.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Richard Witty

      I think Norman’s points are important.

      1. That if you want change, you do what makes change. If you want be able to say “I told you so”, but make no real change in anyone’s life, you pursue the ‘pure’ (even with internal contradictions and infighting).

      Its a mature evolution. The models of the BDS and solidarity movements emphasize the similarities to South African and American civil rights movements.

      In that regard, the leadership of those movements rejected the ‘pure’ in favor of the pragmatic.

      2. That objectively the goals of the BDS movement as currently stated are oriented to the already converted constituencies of radical western (idealist and Marxist), and Islamic; and not oriented to communicating the experience of Palestinians and the possibilities of alternative relations.

      3. That movements that ignore law, end up either violating law or straining their rationalizations, and impose in that. Israel exists. To adopt a single state approach is to adopt a revolutionary approach, not a mutually respectful reform.

      The goal of dissent should be to my mind to optimize self-determination. As the vast majority of both Israelis and of Palestinians regard their national aspirations as realizing self-determination, that that should be respected. Any implication of a single state, accompanying BDS in any manner, ends up as an assault on the self-determination of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Richard Witty

      I still differ with Norman on the method of dissent (mass movement largely ignoring electoral and community development. I think that elections are the sanctioned and best place of expression of collective intent, and that economic and collegial collaboration break prejudices and inform.)

      So, I am an opponent of BDS, and a particular opponent of academic and cultural BDS. I want to see Israeli presentation. I want to see Palestinian as well.

      Even as I privately now choose other humus than Sabra (even though made in Philadelphia much much more than in the West Bank).

      Reply to Comment
    23. Miki

      @Jon – the paradigm shift is not Finkelstein’s position on BDS. It is, as Sean points out,”how the Israel/Palestine conflict is understood and approached”. That is there has been a move, predominately as a result of BDS (coupled with the failure of the Oslo Accords and the PA/PLO)to understand the conflict in relation to civil/human rights, as opposed to merely a conflict between two nations.
      *
      One of the key aims of the BDS campaign has been to actually facilitate/contribute to precisely this type of paradigm shift. BDS has actively sort to challenge the reduction of the “Palestine Question” to being one merely about “disputed territory” – which ignores the rights afford under international law of the majority of Palestinians (who have actually been forced to live outside of these territories).
      *
      One of the ways BDS has sought to do this is by challenge the discourse around the issue both in relation to the general public and media. Seven years ago when BDS first started, you never ever heard the words, apartheid, boycott, sanctions and even the word “occupation” was also often not used. This is not the case today. The issue of Right of Return was barely discussed in any serious way, today it is back on the agenda.
      *
      So I disagree with your assertion that BDS has a branding problem. The name is actually well chosen because it literally conveys what the tactics of the campaign are about – boycott, divestments and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international human rights laws. Its actually very clever because when people talk about the campaign, these words have to be used and explained, so again these words get put to public use in media and public discourse. This also contributes to educating people not only about the campaign itself but all the issues at hand which is another key goal of the campaign.
      *
      I would argue that Zionist organisations and hardcore Zionists are not the immediate audience that BDS is trying to win over. As the BDS call notes, all attempts to convince or force Israel (and I would argue Israel’s hardcore supporters such as the ones you mentioned) to comply with international law have failed, so now Palestinian civil society is appealling to people of conscience in the wider international community. This is one of the reasons why Zionist who oppose BDS, both from the hard right and left, hate it and are panicking so much and throwing tantrums like they did at Penn University – because they can no longer act as gatekeepers.
      *
      Finally, Finkelstein has always been a liberal Zionist, despite all his criticism of Israel. He has also always been a pragmatist. So it is unsuprising that he holds he positions he does, both on BDS and the conflict in general. The problem for Norman is, however, the paradigm has shifted and so now he is starting to be out of step with many others in the Palestine solidarity movement.

      Reply to Comment
    24. P

      I am a novice to the BDS argument. However, Finkelstein has a point when taking on the 3 pillars of BDS (end of occupation, equality for all Palestinians and right of return). That will put an end to Israel as an exclusionary nation state and if the BDS movement does not take that point head on then they are, i argue, cowards and perhaps even dishonest. The honest thing to do would be to say: “Yes, we do want one democratic state”. We will guarantee the collective rights of all minorities in the region, firstly the Jewish minority (with all its paranoia and complexes). We, the BDS movement, call upon Israelis to join. Let us open up the region, no more demolitions of any homes (including settlements). Freedom of movement and settlement everywhere and political rights. Ending of Judaization of the land. What the BDS wants today is a Palestinian state side by side with a “land for all its citizens”. That will not fly, nowhere. That is also not news.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Jazzy

      “Ending of Judaization of the land.”
      Not a repulsive or scary thing to say, not at all…

      Reply to Comment
    26. Ohad

      I do not think you understand what he say at all , by all mean you can be anti – Israel , anti – Zionist , even antisemitic . you can be anti all nations and all governments , but you can not calling to the international law while ignoring parts of it.
      and Israel is a legal state under international law , it is part of the UN and the international community , and it has legal borders.

      so if you call the west bank and Gaza occupied territories, if you see the Palestinians refugees as refugees, and just as important you do not see the Jewish refugees as refugees bc of Israel. then you are referring to international law, and international law also say Israel is a legal state . created by the UN

      Reply to Comment
    27. Berl

      ANONYMOUS, Thank you for the clarification. But you didn’t get my point or I didn’t express it clearly.
      To say that it’s a “bad idea” to focus on discrimination of minorities because there are other examples in the world is a basic argument that try to relativize any arguments.
      Using this approach we should ignore almost all the crimes just because the world is full of them.
      But the main point is another: the point is that the situation that brought the palestinians of Israel in the condition in which they are is in many respect unique in comparison to the other minorities. In no other country of the world the 90% of a local population was called, mutatis mutandis, “non Jewish inhabitants”.
      In no other country of the world there is a colonialistic occupation such as in West Bank: in Cecenia Russians are not building settlements, in Tibet the situation is completely different (this does not mean that also there are not happening terrible facts).
      The point is that to compare the Palestinians minority in Israel with the christian minority in the Alawi Syria (just an example) is a non sense. For sure in both cases there are a lot of discriminations, but the palestinian ‘internal refugees’ have a much deeper credit with history.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Passerby

      This, ladies and gentlemen, is called a pretzel.
      ———
      That’s when you take something and twist it all around and bake it until it looks like it’s permanently twisted.
      ————-
      Of all the newly found Finkelstein critics, I wonder how many of them had supported him before? Yet today, instead of addressing what he says with integrity, he gets slammed for criticizing their precious little movement.
      ———-
      I think this is great. Either Finkelstein has been wrong all these years, just as he is now. Or Finkelstein has been right all these years and is desperately right now as well. Anything else is a pretzel. Please decide and get back to us.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Lisa

      I read this analysis first, then watched the video. After watching, I concluded that I do not agree with Sean O’Neill. But before I go into my reasons, I just want to say that one of my biggest critiques of the Palestinian Solidarity movement (at least from where I sit in the U.S.), is that there seems to be a lot of energy wasted by diverting it to infighting. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Sean or Norm, neither one of them are the “enemy.” The enemy is the political and military forces working against a just peace. United we stand, divided we fall, so whether you are one-state, two-state, pro-BDS, anti-BDS, or pro-BDS with qualifiers, we all agree that the violence and the injustice against the Palestinians must stop and a solution that is just and acceptable to both sides is needed sooner, rather than later.
      Now here are the reasons why I disagree with Sean:
      1) I don’t know Norm Finkelstein well at all, but I’ve heard him speak enough times to know that he can be abrasive and his choice of words are sometimes regrettable. This often leads him vulnerable to attack by the right wing. But those of us on the Left should know better, and act better. Finkelstein did NOT call the BDS Movement a “cult.” If I am giving Sean the benefit of the doubt, I would say that is a misunderstanding. The cynical part of me wonders if Sean intentionally phrased it that way to create a more sensational headline. Finkelstein repeatedly interchanged the words “cult” and “ghetto” when referring to the international solidarity movement’s tendency to “preach to the converted” so-to-speak. In other words, he was distinguishing between discussion and debate “in the family” vs. out in the real world where concrete policies and agreements need to be negotiated and put in place.
      2) This editorial completely fails to address the point that Norm Finkelstein was making – which, whether you agree or disagree, is a legitimate issue that should be honestly discussed without personal attacks. His point was that there is no basis in international law as currently codified, for a one-state solution. He is correct about that. And I am a supporter of the one-state solution (though that is not my focus because I am neither Israeli, nor Palestinian and therefore don’t get to choose the solution. I do get to speak up for injustices that are done in my name and with my tax money however). These are legitimate questions about the solidarity movement’s strategies and should be discussed in a civil manner: are we unrealistic? Is it hypocritical to argue international law and simultaneously advocate for a one-state solution?
      3) A lot of activists, in I/P and abroad, have suffered in varying degrees because of their “minority” views and activism. People have been injured, lost body parts, lost loved ones, and been killed themselves. Others have had to leave their homes, move abroad, lost their jobs, been imprisoned, etc. Norm Finkelstein is one those people who have suffered for his views. I was completely turned off by O’Neill’s statement that basically blames Norm’s personality for not making tenure at DePaul. He then went even further and suggested that Norm actually benefitted in some way from this: “However, on balance he has certainly benefited, as a less combative scholar would today likely be simply one of thousands of obscure political science professors.” Talk about blame the victim! Does Mr. O’Neill believe that applies to all of the educators who have lost their positions or failed to get tenure as a direct result of their advocacy for Palestinian human rights? Overall, it’s their own fault because they must have been combative, and in any case, they benefited because it made them “famous?” Mr. O’Neill, I suggest you watch “American Radical,” and re-think how much better off Finkelstein is.
      So it is my hope that O’Neill’s next editorial takes on the real enemy, and puts forth issues and strategies for furthering the cause of a just peace, rather than dividing our already small population of progressive activists with phony litmus tests of loyalty and talk of “paradigm shifts.”

      Reply to Comment
    30. Ohad

      Lisa you are the kind that have no opinion about Israel but many opinions on Palestine, but the law is very clear on both ,

      I am an Israeli I was born in Israel and have an Israeli passport therefor I am not a refugee . but the rest of my family were refugees , my parents and my uncles and my grand parent , refugees! part of my family even refugees of an Holocaust , they lost their refugees status as the state of Israel was created in a vote by the UN .

      the international law is clear about Israel but it is also clear about the right of self determination of all nations including Israel .

      I know that the international law is not exciting not to the far left that doesn’t want to see nay nations at all , and is more about being anti American colonialism then the Jewish people’s rights , especially since the state of Israel cut form far left Marxism to far right capitalism .

      and on the other hand you have the right wing that see the deep connection between the Jewish people and the land in Judea including some of the most secret places to Jews . but emotions that are deep on this issue are not giving us solution only the international law does

      Reply to Comment
    31. Anonymous

      Berl:

      I remind you that when we talk about the “minority” of Israeli Arabs we are not talking about the people dwelling in the West Bank.

      Those Israeli Arabs are not being massacred, enslaved or gang raped by the Israeli Army. Instead they serve as Supreme Court justices, ambassadors, police officers and lawyers. They are represented in the Parliament. That’s not Zionist propaganda, that’s objective fact.

      You’re going to have a hard time convincing non-partisans that those Israeli Arabs somehow have it harder than Copts in Egypt or any non-Muslims across the Middle East. And that’s not even touching Africa.

      You’re not going to convince anyone that building settlements or “a deeper credit with history” is somehow worse than a million women raped in a year. It’s just not going to happen. That’s the point of what Finkelstein was trying to say: Fight only when you can win.

      Reply to Comment
    32. directrob

      Nothing new about Finkelsteins position. His message has always been to concentrate on the two state solution because that is supported by the international community and is the quickest way to peace. I heard Avi Shlaim say the same, he called the one state “utopia”.
      .
      No need to write so harsh. It is just a fight about the right strategy.

      Reply to Comment
    33. Landru

      Thanks Sean.

      As someone who believes in a democratic Israel’s right to suvival and to defend itself against vicious, undemocratic enemies committed to its destruction, this article is a great help.

      It demosnstares the stupidity, dishonesty and fanaticism of the BDS movement, just as Finkelstein charged. Finkelstein is honestly persuning a course that wil lead to Palestinians having their own country and self-determination within it. He knows the people in the BDS movement a lot better than you and he’s dead right. Most of them want to destroy Israel and are dishonest about it. Most of them do act like culish fanatics and idiots who drink their own kool-aid without seeing how stupid they look to the outside world.
      If you want your movement to continie to fail, keep making yoursself look stupid.

      Reply to Comment
    34. Ohad

      this is not an opinion about two states or one, it is simple fact about the law, the law is that Israel is a sate. to create one Arab Islamic Palestine with Jewish minority on all of the land you will have to destroy Israel simple as that.
      same goes to the apartheid accusation , how do you stop this so called Israelis apartheid ? if you ask the BDS by creating an Arab land on all of the land and ignoring the Jewish people right for independence , self government and self determination . in other words to end the Israeli apartheid we need to destroy Israel

      unless you are talking about one Israel on all of the land and I doubt it .

      by the way Jimmy Carter who I love and came with the term Palestine peace not apartheid , explained many times that by apartheid he ONLY means the occupied territories, of course that does not bother the propaganda machine

      Reply to Comment
    35. Piotr Berman

      I think there are two questions:

      1) Can Israel exists as a Jewish state without grotesque oppression of millions of Palestinians (or some future gigantic ethnic cleansing and perhaps a nuclear war to top it over)? Radical Zionists and BDS people do not think so. Actually, majority of the political parties, majority of Israeli public and majority of intellectuals in Israel do not think so.

      2a) If you agree with 1), should Israel exist as a Jewish state.

      2b) if you disagree with 1), do you have any prescription for ending the grotesque oppression.

      The bottom line is that the situation is sick, and it remains sick as long as the problem is not correctly named by the people who can actually do something about it, like politicians of European Union who basically do not care and politicians from North America who are actually obstructing.

      Israel is a small state that thrives in no small part due to free access to trade and technologies of EU, OECD etc. A hint of real sanctions can alter the behavior in one week. Current behavior is preposterous. Without SOME threat it will never improve.

      The quarrel of BDS and Finkelstein (whose views are perhaps consistent with a wider political trend) is pretty sectarian. My bottom line is that a state that CANNOT exist with systematic petty and cruel oppression has to be “reconsidered”.

      If GoI can show how to extend occupation forever in a humane manner, why not; I would add another chapter to the self-improvement book I am working on (How to binge-drink responsibly and other practical advises).

      The same goes for two state solution. What GoI is proposing, if it deigns to propose anything is to extend monstrous occupation but somehow relabel it as “two states”. Again, this is not the only conceivable two state solution, but I think it is useful to have “all options on the table”, with the spectrum of options gradually increasing.

      Reply to Comment
    36. berl

      Anonymous,
      I spent many years in the OPT but I thank you for your important reminder. I want to give u back the courtesy and so I remind you that the two issues are strictly intertwined, if you didn’t notice it.
      Occupation is violence. A routine 24/7 kind of violence that probably you never known in your life (otherwise you would write in a different way).
      The Supreme Court of Justice is just one of the fake tools that are useful in order to oppress this people so that people that don’t know the reality on the ground can be persuaded that in reality they have all the rights.
      Read how just few days ago the Supreme Court justified the quarries in the OPT and you will notice one of the many signs of this fake ‘rule of law’ that you try to support. I could write you hundreds of other examples but I have the impression that in this case would be a waste of energy.
      That in the MENA and in the rest of the world there are many minorities in very bad conditions does not justify anything.
      As for “the deep credit with history”, it is not related with the settlements (at least not only) but with the way in which an indigenous majority has been displaced and, more than this, in the attempt to blame it for the impositions that it suffered. In no other part of the world the 9/10 of the local was called just “non-Jewish/Muslim/Christain population” by the colonizer. In no other country of the world the last piece of land at disposal of the colonized is under an heavy exploitation such as the West Bank.
      In no othe rpart of the world religion was used in the way in which it was used in Palestine.
      Sentences such as “million women raped in a year” are just childish attempts in order to try to silence the oppression of a people that has all the right to fight for its self-determination and against fascist views and ways of oppression.
      If just one ‘fascist’ man or woman will open the eyes and will learn which kind of price this people paid and isstill paying, it is already a big reward.

      Reply to Comment
    37. berl

      PS for Anonymous,
      to compare the history and the presence of the copts in Egypt with the Palestinian in Palestine is, to say the least, quite misleading. In all the respects
      As for the sentence “That’s not Zionist propaganda, that’s objective fact”, I suggest you to read the book of Susan Nathan about Tamra. I am sure that you have been in Tamra:
      http://www.amazon.com/Other-Side-Israel-Journey-Across/dp/0385514565

      Reply to Comment
    38. Abeer

      There’s a personal attack on Finkelstein: ” However, on balance he has certainly benefited, as a less combative scholar would today likely be simply one of thousands of obscure political science professors.” and ” he comes off as a Zionist bully, or for that matter, any other angry right wing pundit.” that’s a shame…..!!! I’m a Palestinian and I totally reject this cheap attack on Finkelstein. He has done so much…much more than any Arafat had done to our cause. He might have benefitted, but didn’t we all. The writer of this article has benefitted too. It’s what Finkelstein himself referred to as the Intifada industry. But that’s besides the point. His criticism of the solidarity movements in their disorganization is right on, and that’s what the writer hates and refuses to hear. The one state solution is far from being accepted. It may be in 100 years or so. But do we want to wait that long?

      Reply to Comment
    39. Ohad

      Pioter if you see Israel inside the green line you can see Israel where Jews and Arabs can live in peace.

      but again you see the conflict as an oppression and not as a conflict and that is your problem , this is why there is international laws, this is why you opinions should not matter more then the laws

      Reply to Comment
    40. Ohad

      and again Pioter (which as sick as it is a suspect he is polish but wants to talk about human rights or right of returns) and Berel , both of you ignores my rights under the law , again and again , and no Israel will give up his and her rights for self determination and independence in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    41. Steve

      Even the rabid Israel-bashing Norman Finkelstein admits that the BDS movement is almost entirely run and promoted by people who seek the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, either via the “right of return” nonsense or the “one-state solution” insanity.

      The Jews have a state, next to dozens of Arab stats and dozens of Muslim states. I’m sorry it’s taking some of the world’s more looney people a really long time to accept this.

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    42. Steve

      And as for how the conflict will eventually end, Israel’s keeping the tiny 5% (or so) bit of the West Bank where the vast majority of hundreds of thousands of Jews there live, will give up the rest of the West Bank, and that’s that.

      As for East Jerusalem, it makes no sense for Israel to give up control of the most holy place in the world for Jews to people who have spent the last 60 years trying to blow Jews up. Israel should annex East Jerusalem, as well.

      Palestinians get 95% or so of the West Bank, and Gaza.

      80 percent of historic Palestine became Jordan in the early 1900′s. If Palestinians want to “merge” with anyone in any sort of “one-state” thing, they’d do it with Jordan (though, Jordan wants NO PART of that), because it certainly isn’t ever going to happen with Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    43. Ohad

      Steve here you are ignoring international law , you have no right to keep these 5% or east Jerusalem at all.
      if we do want to keep it we need to negotiate with the Palestinians an agreements been made before but we will have to give equal territories form inside the green line. and east Jerusalem is NOT the old city and the holy places. east Jerusalem is where no Jewish Israel ever go unless he is a fanatic. the city is already separated

      Reply to Comment
    44. conchovor

      ‘It is easy to rail against Israel when the existence of a Jewish nation-state seems guaranteed in perpetuity’

      Any right minded person should feel queasy that a self-described ‘Christian peacemaker’ such as Sean O’Neil should say this of a Jew, a long time pro-Palestinian activist, whom he has also gratuitously called ‘a Zionist bully’.

      ‘But that guarantee seems to have eroded a bit. For some this will be scary. But then change always is.’

      Finkelstein explicitly says that he wouldn’t trust people like Sean if he had to live with them in a state, and that Israeli Jews are right to fear them.

      If Finkelstein is afraid, how much more afraid do you think are Israeli Jews?

      ‘some BDS activists harbor a desire to see the end of the Jewish state…most…don’t care about this abstract One State v. Two State argument. They just don’t think civil rights – indeed human rights – can be trumped by someone’s nationalist claims.’

      i.e. they hypocritically seek the end of Israel via the guise of rights, exactly as Finkelstein says. If you ‘simply don’t care’ about whether there is an Israel at the end of all you demands or not, you de facto seek its end.

      This article is sickening, especially from an alleged ‘Christian peacemaker’ who pretends to be non-nationalist while manifestly being a pro-Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian, but anti-Jewish, nationalist.

      No wonder Finkelstein can’t stand the disingenuousness or hypocrisy any more.

      Reply to Comment
    45. conchovor

      ‘e seems obsessed with some overarching concept of the Law as final arbiter in all matters’

      Note the capitalization of ‘law’ in the manner of Christian bibles of the Mosaic law.

      Another piece of vicious Christian ‘peacemaker”s anti-Judaism.

      What a creep.

      Reply to Comment
    46. Sue

      People keep talking about one state as though it were one of the aims of BDS. BDS doesn’t advocate one or two states. Simply end of occupation, equal rights for Palestinians in Israel (there may be ‘peace’ there, but people are being squeezed and having houses demolished just like in the W Bank), and the right of return: and if all Jews in the world can go live there, then Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed, and their children and grandchildren should also be allowed to live there if they choose. People are also talking about ‘law’ but nobody’s doing anything about it, so it’s down to civil society to do something, and it doesn’t matter if they’re Polish, American, Jewish, Christian etc. It’s about human rights, for ALL the people living there. And if Israel will insist on expanding its settlements and encroaching on more Palestinian land, then that’s Israel’s fault if a one-state solution is all that’s possible in the end. I’ve even aheard a Zionist from the Hebrew Uiversity saying that successive Israeli governments are making tewo states impossible.

      Reply to Comment
    47. Noam W.

      This is the 45th post – so it will probably get lost in the static – but I think you have it wrong Sean. I don’t think Finklestein is saying there is a secret conspiracy, for the simple reason that the one state solution is not a secret and has not been one for many years.

      He is simply saying that advocating for the one state solution is not a human rights issue. It is a political solution to a problem – but as such it does not and cannot wave the banner of human rights to gain legitimacy.

      Reply to Comment
    48. Steve

      Also, Norman Finkelstein needs to keep Israel in existence, so he can keep getting rich and famous writing anti-Israel hate books and giving speeches about how everything Israel has ever done is completely wrong in every way in every discussion.

      He has to keep making money demonizing Israel, so Israel better keep existing.

      Whereas the anti-Israel hate activists who want Israel to cease to exist get their money from Jew-hating and Israel-hating organizations/donors

      Reply to Comment
    49. Passerby

      Ohad said:
      “Steve here you are ignoring international law , you have no right to keep these 5% or east Jerusalem at all.
      if we do want to keep it we need to negotiate with the Palestinians an agreements been made before but we will have to give equal territories form inside the green line.:

      This is false. UNSC Resolution 242 governs on this issue, especially because the Palestinians agreed in the Oslo Accords that the accords are based on 242 and 338. 242 does not require Israel to give away all of the territories it conquered. Theoretically, and the way it’s been discussed to date, is that there will be some horse-trading of land to achieve 242′s intentions.

      Reply to Comment
    50. Cortez

      “if we do want to keep it we need to negotiate with the Palestinians an agreements been made before but we will have to give equal territories form inside the green line.:
      This is false. UNSC Resolution 242 governs on this issue, especially because the Palestinians agreed in the Oslo Accords that the accords are based on 242 and 338. 242 does not require Israel to give away all of the territories it conquered. Theoretically, and the way it’s been discussed to date, is that there will be some horse-trading of land to achieve 242′s intentions.”
      .
      Not true at all it continues to be illegal under international law according to the UN and ICJ and most of the world. East Jerusalem continues to be illegally annexed and the West Bank continues to be a cesspool of human rights and humanitarian law violations.

      Reply to Comment
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