Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors whose anti-Israel statements and actions got him barred from the country until 2018 for suspected ties to Hezbollah terrorists, has now become the darling of pro-Israel bloggers — sort of — and a traitor to Palestinian supporters.
The Brooklyn political science professor stunned supporters Feb. 9 when in a taped interview at the Imperial College London he derided the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for concealing the fact that it is out to destroy Israel.
"It is not an accident, an unwitting omission, that BDS does not mention Israel. They won't mention it, because they know it will split the movement, because there is a large part of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel. BDS says we are rights-based. Is Israel part of the law or not? When the International Court of Justice made its findings, it said the June 1967 border is Israel's border. How can you claim you want to enforce the law and omit that aspect of the law? They don't want to recognize Israel. …"
"At least be honest with what you want — to abolish Israel," Finkelstein added. "But you know full well that if you say it, you don't have a prayer of reaching the public."
One blogger, Sean O'Neill, who in the past supported Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance to continued settlement expansion, said Finkelstein "came off as a Zionist bully." Although it may be true that some BDS activists "desire to see the end of Jewish state," he said, "I would argue most Palestinians simply don't care. … They just don't think civil rights — indeed human rights — can be trumped by someone's nationalist claims."
Finkelstein said that instead of calling for two states for two people, organizers of the BDS campaign, the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, call instead for "an end of the occupation, the right of return [of refugees], and equal rights for Arabs in Israel. And they think they are clever because they know the result of implementing all three … is there is no Israel.
"The Solidarity Movement says all six million Palestinian refugees have to go back. But will a public think it is reasonable for six million Palestinians to descend on a country that now has 1.8 million Palestinians and 5.5 million Jews — which would mean that overnight you are going to change the demographic balance in the country? Will the public find that rational? I don't think you can sell it. … When you start inflating the numbers — I don't know what you want to do. Do you want to resolve the conflict or create terror in the hearts of every Israeli?"
Another blogger, Maath Musleh, a Palestinian student in London, complained that Finkelstein is "marginalizing the right of return" and that "Palestinians are not ready to accept a solution that undermines our rights." And saying Finkelstein "cannot be selective about the law," he cited United Nations Resolution 194, which says, "Refugees wishing to return to their homes … should be permitted to do so."
A Jewish blogger, David Samel, called the interview "terribly disappointing." He argued that those who believe not in a two-state but a one-state solution "want a peaceful transformation of Israel from a country that favors one ethno-religious group to one that guarantees full equality for all. The use of words like 'destruction,' with the implication of violence and killing, to describe this process is dishonest. As many others have pointed out, South Africa was not 'destroyed' when apartheid was abandoned."
Ruthie Blum, a former senior editor at the Jerusalem Post, wrote with glee in Israel Hayom of shocked Finkelstein "sycophants watching the video of the interview and vomiting all over the banners they've been busily preparing for their favorite annual event — 'Israel Apartheid Week' — that kicks off later this month."
She said the first thing BDS did after realizing what Finkelstein said was to remove the video from YouTube. But by then, pro-Israel bloggers had already begun distributing it, "using quotes by a staunch enemy to give weight to their own claims about BDS. If someone like Finkelstein says this stuff, the logic goes, it is all the proof that's needed."
But, Blum said, don't get too excited because it "will come back to bite, rather than adorn, us." She argued that just as the idea of Palestinian statehood that used to be associated with the fringe left has now been accepted by the Israeli government, "so too could a campaign for a one-state solution take hold among the chattering classes within the blink of an eye."
But it is Finkelstein himself who concluded the interview on an upbeat note by saying that "people are sick and tired of the crazy Israeli-Palestinian conflict," and that there is now a chance to end it. He said that just as peace was achieved between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, "I think you could find a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that virtually everybody — in particular Palestinians — can live with."