A Critique of Norman Finkelstein on BDS

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So Norman Finkelstein gave an interview in London on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign (BDS). I noticed that Finkelstein’s views on the subject have been attracting a lot of attention and criticism. I was asked about such views during my UK university tour last month and in each case I stated that I would not publicly criticize Finkelstein although I disagree with some of the views he holds. But his recent remarks, I felt, went too far. Watching him, I could not help but think of the following points:

1) Finkelstein is obsessed with persuading the “public,” and he really and clearly means the US public, as if the struggle for Palestine is going to be won, or lost, in the US and not in the Middle East. He makes no reference to the rest of the world where public attitudes to Israel are very hostile.

2) Finkelstein asks how people can be convinced of "our position." To that I say: the Palestinians are the primary people to convince and they don’t need to be convinced. Outside of the NGOs in Ramallah that he scoffs at, the Palestinian people (refugees and non-refugees) support the BDS movement. It seems to me that they – and not liberal or non-liberal American in New York City – are the ones who should decide.

3) Finkelstein keeps talking about the “law” and how international law supports the state of Israel. But Finkelstein talks about law as if it is fixed. Law changes and adapts quickly to changing conditions on the ground. At one point, international law supported colonialism and the League of Nations endorsed (in its preamble) the Balfour Declaration and the “trusteeship” over nations – all that in the name of self-determination. Finkelstein even invokes the International Court of Justice in the Hague. But if oppressed people in the world resorted to International law in their struggle for independence and freedom, more than half of the globe would still be under colonial rule. I am glad that Finkelstein was not around to advise the people of Africa on how to achieve their freedom through international law. Plus, there are elements of international law which are in favor of what Finkelstein fears: the UN Partition Plan (as unjust as it was) does not give Israel more than 56% of historic Palestine and it does provide for the establishment of a Palestinian state over much more than the West Bank and Gaza. Is that not international law too Finkelstein? Furthermore, the UN General Assembly resolution 194 is also a part of international law that guides Finkelstein’s views on finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. And the UN Partition Plan does not permit Israel to discriminate, confiscate lands, expel peoples, and commit war crimes. These essential ingredients of the state of Israel are not part of international law.

4) Finkelstein rightly asks whether the real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel. Here, I agree with him that it is. That should be stated as an unambiguous goal. There should not be any equivocation on the subject. Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.

5) Finkelstein mocks the move to bring up the plight of Arabs within the existing state of Israel. He adds (almost sarcastically) that there are other minorities oppressed around the world. What does that have to do with the subject? Imagine if someone were to say back in the 1950s that the plight of African-Americans should not be a cause for many because there are other minorities oppressed around the world. Again, we are all grateful that Finkelstein was not around to advise the civil rights movement. He brings up the (usual Zionist) point about hypocrisy given the mistreatment of minorities in Arab countries. There is no hypocrisy, Finkelstein. BDS is a movement of progressives around the world who have not oppressed minorities: Finkelstein talks as if the BDS movement is led by Saudi Arabia or Syria or Bahrain. One can call for justice for Arabs in “existing” Israel and also can call for justice for minorities in all Arab countries. The struggle should be universal in fact.

6) It was rather amusing that Finkelstein would invoke the authority of Yasser Arafat to bolster his support for the two-state solution. This is like somebody arguing against the dismantlement of apartheid on the basis of a speech by Chief Buthelezi. We know that whatever Arafat read was dictated to him either by a US official or by an Israeli official.

7) Finkelstein expressed his regret that he struggled within a cult and expresses his belief that working to pass laws in the US Congress would have been better. Again, Finkelstein betrays an American-centric approach to the issue. US Congress would never be in a position to liberate Palestine.

8) Finkelstein clearly expresses his objection to the return of the Palestinian refugees and worries about a change in the demographic reality in historic Palestine. Just as the demographics of Palestine have been changed repeatedly and violently by Israel, they can be changed again – and that would be just.

9) Norman makes fun of NGOs in Ramallah (and many of them deserve to be mocked). But when he expresses disdain for failure to mount demonstrations against the occupation, Finkelstein betrays his own record which has documented Israeli brutality. The Palestinian people now face a double system of oppression: one Israeli and another Israeli-by-proxy through the Palestinian Authority.

Finkelstein has suffered from Israeli and Zionist intimidation and bullying. He has paid a high price for his opposition to Israeli wars and propaganda. But that does not give him a license to mock a struggle that is supported by the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people.


My point above still stands. You want to blow up at strangers on the internet, mission accomplished. Good for you. You want us to care about the points you're making, find a new way to go about making them.

Khaled's partner shot a flight crew member on her second hijacking. That's my factual error.

"My point above still stands." Which point, more important who cares? You consider yourself my mentor for internet commenting while you make nasty comments you blame the internet for.

"You want to blow up at strangers on the internet" Oh, you must know everything I write on the internet to come to this conclusion. No, you and others exploded with "Alzheimers, whitey, clinical case, racist..." Only you blame your nastiness on the internet. If you don't like how people respond to nastiest ad hominem attacks, GTFOH.

"You want us to care about the points you're making, find a new way to go about making them." wrote the nasty commenter who then blames the internet for his nastiness. Exactly who is "us"? Never mind, I'm not coming here to see more nonsense.
Finally you got my point, if Palestinians want more to care for them (I have for much longer than most), find a constructive way of making more care, and careful not to lose solidarity by holding on to destructive past which harmed Palestinian cause. Once more incase you finally get major point: Norman Finkelstein's called BDS a cult while he is in a cult promoting the worst of Palestinian image in the international community, however you don't care how Finkelstein's cult harms Palestinians cause in international community. My point stand for the 99%, BDS is international community commitment for nonviolence, which I have given, Palestinians must offer their commitment of nonviolence for international community.

"Khaled's partner shot a flight crew member on her second hijacking. That's my factual error." No, Khaled pulled pins out of grenades, we don't know what else she has done, if she has harmed innocents, 99% can't trust a hijacker for honestly, nor do I trust the IDF. PFLP wired planes with explosives while innocent hostages including children were still on planes in desert heat, PFLP is not defunct. You make many factual mistakes, the worst one is claiming to know exactly what Khaled, PFLP do.

My point for Norman Finkelstein (not you) stands.

"...Palestinians must offer their commitment of nonviolence for international community."

Palestinians are not obligated to follow any of your commands zionist. Take your sensationalist demagoguery elsewhere (maybe Sicily)

No one is obligated to BDS for Palestine if Palestinians still want to scare them into caring, huge fail. I BDS for you and you still want to hijack me. nonsense. Keep your failed destructive demagoguery elsewhere (maybe Palestine)

Scare them into caring? With what, t-shirts? I will forever hijack your ability to spam message boards by calling you out on your racist, zionist propaganda. And tell you what, after I do that, you can make a t-shirt about it ;-)

Now, I see. We have a clinical case here - sorry, but I could not take seriously a person who claimed to be a victim of ARAB occupation of Cicily :) maybe his own ancestors were the same Arabs :) After all, they were NOT racists, like Zionists.

On the other hand, Italy is NOW waging several colonial wars in the ME, including Libya. I am sure for anon it is a just revenge for Arabs that "occupied" his Cicily. By the way, even ancient Romans were NOT natives of it also, were they occupators of it too? :)

Calling someone you don't agree with "clinical case" only proves you have no facts to base your case on. "Clinical" as in medical/mental illness, depression, anxiety, PTSD, which one are you diagnosing me with? Nice how you mock medical conditions (mental illness is medical illness) millions of people suffer from. Many Palestinians are suffering from clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD from occupation, siege, oppression, violence. Children harmed most. I never defend Israel's crimes, but you want me to condone Palestinian crimes no matter how you feel, they are a concern for me. If you don't agree, fine. Just don't make a worse fool of yourself by calling someone you don't agree with "clinical case" when there are many in suffering from mental illness in Palestine and elsewhere. What do you expect me to write "Please come to my country and hijack plane I'm on, I want to be threatened, nearly killed, matter of fact, it's ok if you kill me for Palestinian cause, Thank you". You are one certifiable case of complete foolishness.

"We have a clinical case here" only you. You are need to get glasses and/or a conscience, I never claimed to be victim of centuries old Arab occupation any more than I claim to be victim of Greek, Roman, French occupation. Sicily was last occupied by the US, there are US military bases on Sicily which should be closed. My uncle died in Libya during foolish fascist colonial crimes. Can't or won't comprehend? No, you need to create falsehoods to discredit facts you cant confront. Foolish.

About the "law". Law is a codified will of the ruling classes, even though it could be influenced by the struggle of the oppressed. All the worst in history was lawful once - slavery, subjugation of women, exploitation of children labor, torture and so on. But, as Hegel put it, the very fact that something ever WAS relevant means only that it is won't be such forever. The same is with law.

I watched Norman give a talk in Michigan recently, and I wasn't impressed. His views are based on the authority of international law, which we know doesn't mean anything in "real world" contexts and doesn't necessarily mobilize the public.

In his talk, he called for all refugees to return to what is now "Israel," although he did not elaborate on how they would fit into Israeli society.

He has some decent ideas, although he's not willing to back off from his lifelong position of advocating a two state solution, so he tries to cram square, one-state pegs into round, two-state holes.

I believe his deference to American public opinion on solving the conflict is because America is the only power in the way of a resolution, which I agree with. I disagree with As'ad that the position of Congress on any issue is static. With enough grassroots support, which may take decades, views can change.

That said, the time it would take to sway congress makes any two-state resolution meaningless.

I do agree fully with As'ad views on the silliness of mentioning International law as if it's an absolute golden standard. I don't like when Finkelstein or even Chomsky use it as such. International law cannot be used like axiomatic or mathematical tautology. Revolutions are started by people who usually decide to dismantle a set of laws and rules. But still, I really don't understand why Arabs, Palestinians or non Palestinians who care about the cause get so offended by views like that of Finkelstein. I don't know why we expect someone like Norman Finkelstein to hold the same views as us and share our sentiment. His value to us should be no more than the mere fact that he's a scholar who did a good job exposing the Holocaust industry and someone who spent a considerable amount of time exposing the quack Alan Dershowitz. But we shouldn't get so excited and expect him to be standing along side of us in when we go to war, metaphorically speaking. Use information to your advantage and pick your battles. There's no battle here. There's no need for all of this.

I agree. Use NF work (a good one, to be just) and ignore his giving away which is NOT his to dispose with -i.e. the rights and dignity of Palestinians.

After all, anti-Zionists use even the books of an ignoble racist Benny Morris, because there are some facts about Zionist criminal nature in them. NF is NOT Benny Morris, but it is not here not there. He has NO right to decide the fate of Palestinians, and so he is irrelevant in such case.

Unlike most other, i was never impressed with finkelstein. To me, you either support the dismantlement of the state of israel or your an enemy to justice. Its as simple as that. Anything else is hypocrisy. How can you be against settlements in the occupied westbank of palestine while support settlements in the occupied galilee of palestine, or in yafa or anywhere else in palestine? The biggest settlement does not lie in the westbank, it lies in yafa and is called tel aviv.

Those who talk about how people want to wipe israel of the map should remember that the foreign zionist militias that were brought in from europe by britain actually wiped Palestine of the map and destroyed 500 villages in the process as well as ethnicly cleased most of her natives one way or the other.

In fact most of the things zionists accuse palestinians, arabs and other non-zionists of are lies that are true about themselves and their crimes and past.

Israel has no right to exist on any part of Palestine, period. And those who think they do, should also agree to have an israel set up within their own country.

Exquisite! NF is too "cautious", let say, if this isn't a worrying sign of age-linked problems, who knows?!

Agreed 1000000000% Youssef

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