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יום שני, 13 ביולי 2015

Norman Finkelstein Arguing the BDS Campaign

Arguing the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign with Norman Finkelstein from HuffPoMonitor on Vimeo.

Norman Finkelstein is an unpopular man as Opposes BDS
 unpopular man, but for decades he had a cult following among leftists and supporters of the Palestinian cause. Since coming out in 2012 against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, however, he has alienated his core followers. A few years ago, Finkelstein tells me, he made $40,000 in speaking fees from 80 talks to Palestinian Solidarity groups around North America. “This past year when I went to my accountant, he said, ‘I think there’s a mistake, because there’s only $2,000.” He laughs. “I told him there was no error. He said, ‘What happened?’ I thought to myself: Am I going to explain to him BDS?”
“It has been a very depressing period. I consider them squandered years.”
Finkelstein, 62, is wearing a t-shirt and shorts in his Coney Island apartment, where he lives alone. He has just completed a year teaching international law, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and political philosophy at Sakarya University in Turkey. He’s working on a book with the Dutch-Palestinian scholar Mouin Rabbani on how to solve the conflict. It includes a chapter on BDS, a movement to divest from Israel over its treatment of Palestinians that began a decade ago, on July 9, 2005. But he hates traveling and is angry that he can’t find a teaching job in North America or Europe. “There was a lot of resentment on my part that with a dozen universities within walking distance, I had to board an 18-hour flight to Turkey once a month,” he says. 

Finkelstein was unemployed for seven years after being denied tenure at DePaul University in 2007 following a campaign against him, led by Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz, that drew nationwide attention. “I spent large parts of my day sleeping, there were large gaps in my day, it has been a very depressing period,” he says, though he also found time to write books on Israel-Palestine and on Gandhi. “I consider them squandered years.”

Finkelstein’s longtime critics probably consider his previous two decades even less fruitful. He first gained attention in academic circles in 1984 for exposing the poor scholarship of From Time Immemorial, a book by journalist Joan Peters. The book claimed that Palestinians didn’t exist—that they lacked deep roots in historical Palestine but in fact were Arabs who swarmed the deserted land only once Zionists began developing it in the late nineteenth century. From Time Immemorial was a best-seller initially praised by everyone from Saul Bellow to Elie Wiesel to historian Barbara Tuchman, who called it “a historical event in itself.” 

At the time, Finkelstein was an unknown graduate student. He had grown up in Brooklyn, the son of Holocaust survivors who, he has said, mentally “never left the camps.” His parents were eternally grateful to the Soviet Union for having liberated them from the Nazi camps, and they inculcated him with a political radicalism that he has never shed.
Finkelstein’s tendency toward political fanaticism first emerged in his adolescent adoration of Chairman Mao’s China. He hung Communist propaganda posters on his bedroom wall, studied with the world’s leading Marxist scholars in Paris, and would espouse the virtues of the socialist paradise Mao was building to anyone who would listen. When his shoes were stolen while he was napping in the study lounge at university, he scolded his classmates that “this would never happen in China.”
But when Mao’s political heirs, the Gang of Four, were overthrown to mass celebration in 1976, Finkelstein realized that he had been a willing dupe of Communist propaganda. Devastated, he spent three weeks in bed depressed. He was disillusioned by his own self-deception, a quality he thinks radical activists can be particularly susceptible to.

He became politically reengaged by opposing Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. But wary of being duped again, he spent an entire summer in the New York Public Library combing through the population records of historical Palestine and comparing them to Peters’s book. He discovered that From Time Immemorial was, as the Israeli historian Yehoshua Porath eventually put it, “a sheer forgery.” Finkelstein published his findings, and Peters’s book is now widely considered, as David Remnick wrote in the New Yorker a few years ago, “thoroughly discredited.” Finkelstein’s reputation was made.
Throughout the 1990s, Finkelstein became a prominent defender of the Palestinians and a relentless critic of Israel and what he called “the Holocaust Industry.” Culminating in his 2000 book of that name, Finkelstein claimed that Israel exploited the Holocaust to excuse its crimes against the Palestinians, and that claims by the lawyers of Holocaust survivors that they deserved compensation from Swiss banks for wealth expropriated during World War II were part of “a shakedown” by “a repellent gang of plutocrats, hoodlums and hucksters.” Finkelstein was called an anti-Semite and, in the memorable words of former New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier, “poison, he’s a disgusting self-hating Jew, he’s something you find under a rock.” 
Along with Edward Said and Noam Chomsky, Finkelstein was the most prominent American defender of the Palestinians, a “rock star of the pro-Palestinian movement,” according to Al Jazeera. But unlike Said, he is Jewish, and unlike Chomsky, he seemed obsessed with only one issue: Israel. He called it a “lunatic state” and “satanic.” He called Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel a fraud and charged the pro-Israel activist with plagiarism, which led the famously contentious lawyer to publicly oppose Finkelstein’s tenure bid. The battle over Finkelstein’s tenure status became a national dispute over academic freedom in the eyes of his fans. DePaul students staged sit-ins and even hunger strikes, but to no avail.
For the next five years, Finkelstein spent most of his time in his Brooklyn apartment (although he took time out to be banned for ten years from Israel after visiting Lebanon and declaring solidarity with Hezbollah). “I’m very much a homebody,” he says, and his life seems a lonely one. His bookshelves detail his life’s twin fixations: works of Communist theory and books on the Middle East. He wrote books on Israel’s invasion of Gaza and on the estrangement of American Jews from Israel, and he continued to tour campuses as a hero to Palestinian solidarity groups. If they were unproductive years, Finkelstein could at least take solace in knowing his martyrdom was appreciated.

All that changed in February 2012. Finkelstein had become concerned with the international pro-Palestinian community’s embrace of BDS—it has become the preferred solution among activists on campuses and much of the Palestinian diaspora. He feels the position is inconsistent with international law’s recognition of Israel’s existence. In an interview with a French pro-Palestinian activist, Finkelstein declared his opposition to BDS—and did so in the same inflammatory language he had been using for decades to describe Israel and its supporters. “I loathe the disingenuousness—they don’t want Israel [to exist],” he said. “It’s a cult.” He had spent his time in a self-deceptive Maoist cult, he said; he wouldn’t do it again. He accused BDS activists of “inflating the numbers” of Palestinian refugees and “want[ing] to create terror in the hearts of every Israeli” rather than resolve the conflict. “I’m not going to tolerate what I think is silliness, childishness, and a lot of left-wing posturing,” he said. 

The reaction among his supporters was disbelief and fury. He was called a “Zionist bully,” an “angry right wing pundit,” someone “who opposes rights for all Palestinians,” and, in what was surely the biggest insult to him, a “comrade at heart with Alan Dershowitz.” Finkelstein’s primary source of income, his speaking fees, plummeted. He has since repeated his criticisms, and as a result has become nearly as unwelcome among supporters of Palestinians as he is among Israeli partisans.

Indeed, the response from Israel’s supporters to Finkelstein’s comments ranged from glee at the infighting among Palestinian advocates to puzzlement at what they see as Finkelstein’s newfound reasonableness. “I don’t understand—he consorts with Hamas, he’s hostile to Israel in every possible way, and yet he comes up short on this one,” says Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank.
“I made significant errors of political judgment when I was a Maoist, and I think the same thing can be said of the activists in the BDS movement. I don’t think it’s my responsibility to just be a cheerleader.”
BDS advocates say that the campaign for a two-state solution has brought nothing for Palestinians but a more entrenched Israeli occupation of their lands. They chalk up Finkelstein’s old-fashioned support for a two-state solution to his age or desire for attention. “There was a time when Norman Finkelstein was one of the loudest and one of the only voices on this issue,” says Rania Khalek, an editor at The Electronic Intifada. “He’s done incredibly valuable work, but with BDS growing, other people besides him are at the center who are most important.” “There are a number of people among an older generation of activists and advocates who were not quite prepared by the younger caste who have a strong message but differences in tactics,” says Yousef Munayyer, a leading Palestinian-American activist.
Indeed, Noam Chomsky has also come out against BDS in support of Israel’s existence. He calls the attacks on Finkelstein “completely uncalled for, indeed outrageous.” He says that Finkelstein “had cogent and rational arguments” and “has done more for the Palestine cause than all those who launched these disgraceful attacks combined.” Hussein Ibish, an Arab-American scholar who supports a two-state solution, says that “Finkelstein and Chomsky have enough experience and have their ear to the ground to see that the one-state effort is quixotic. BDS’s hysterical reaction to Finkelstein was inevitable, because it’s much closer to a religion than it is to a political idea.”
Finkelstein is unrepentant. “I made significant errors of political judgment when I was a Maoist, and I think the same thing can be said of the activists in the BDS movement,” he says. “They’re committed, they’ve accomplished and achieved many significant results, but I also think they’ve made errors of judgment, and I don’t think it’s my responsibility to just be a cheerleader.”
Finkelstein is aware of the fact that he is more isolated than ever. If it’s not something he’s happy about; it’s something he’s prepared to live with.
“Sometimes I have this reputation of being a kind of wild man, but actually everything I say and do is quite careful,” he says. “But perhaps I’m less reticent to take chances than most other people.”
ordan Michael Smith is a contributing writer at Salon and theChristian Science Monitor.

While still reeling from sporadic suicide attacks during the final stages of the Second Intifada, many Israelis a decade ago were also allowing themselves some tentative hopes for, if not peace, then at least more tranquility. Ariel Sharon was prime minister, and the Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas was seen as more peace-minded than the late, largely unlamented Yasser Arafat.

Then, exactly 10 years ago, on July 9, 2005, as the final preparations were underway for the disengagement of Israeli settlements from Gaza, a collection of 170 Palestinian activists and organizations launched the first call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions from Israel.
The impetus of that first BDS call was ostensibly the lack of response by Israel and the international community a year after the publication of an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which stated that the portions of Israel’s security fence built on occupied Palestinian territory are illegal.
The security fence, an idea first floated in 1992 by prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, was approved in 2000 by prime minister Ehud Barak. Its construction was fast-tracked during the Second Intifada and the fence, alongside wide IDF incursions into the West Bank, is widely credited with the dramatic decrease in suicide bombings, and thus the saving of hundreds of Israeli lives.
For the Palestinians, however, the fence is a humanitarian millstone, signifying reduced freedom of movement and lessened access to basic needs such as water sources. As stated by a March 2005 United Nations report, “It is difficult to overstate the humanitarian impact of the Barrier. The route inside the West Bank severs communities, people’s access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities.”
Much like in the first recorded organized boycott, staged in Ireland in 1880 against British land agent Charles C. Boycott, the Palestinian organizers launched the BDS initiative with a three-point platform. Called in BDS parlance its “three tiers,” the document asks “people of conscience” to force Israel to meet “its obligations under international law” by:
  • Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the security fence
  • Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
  • Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194
The original document’s supporters included a large swath of Palestinian political parties, trade unions and organizations that “represent the three integral parts of the people of Palestine: Palestinian refugees, Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
On the face of it, BDS is a nonviolent form of grassroots social protest: What is more natural than activists asking people to put their money — or not put their money — where their mouths are? Certainly for many who subscribe to the movement’s BDS methods, they are used purely in protest and as a criticism of the Israeli government’s policies.
What makes it so controversial — and insidious — is the self-stated goal of its tactics by some BDS movement founders and organizers: the end to the state of Israel.
Across the globe, from college campuses to supermarkets, communities are increasingly polarized into pro- or anti-BDS camps. And as of this week in Hillary Clinton’s flurry of strongly worded letters to Jewish leaders, fighting BDS is part of the 2016 United States presidential elections.

What is BDS? And why is it so scary?

A recent survey of the American intellectual opinion elite conducted by political consultant Frank Luntz found that although 60% said they were not familiar with BDS, once they had been briefed on the campaign, 19% of respondents supported it — 31% of Democrats and 3% of Republicans.
“Israel is already having trouble with BDS, and Americans don’t even know what it means. Can you imagine how bad it will get?” Luntz told The Times of Israel this week.
‘Israel is already having trouble with BDS, and Americans don’t even know what it means’
But supposing BDS does continue to catch on, a newly released report by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates it could cost the country some NIS 40 billion (over $10 billion) a year. Were the EU to boycott all Israeli products and stop foreign investments in the country, 36,500 people would be jobless in addition to the loss of revenue.
In an effort to partially waylay this worst case scenario, at the end of June US President Barack Obama signed the Trade Promotion Authority legislation, which contained provisions that make BDS rejection a priority for US negotiators on a free trade agreement with the European Union.
Such a step underlines the impact of a movement that originally had Jewish leaders shrugging and assuming it would quickly pass.
Ten years on, part of BDS’s staying power and success is through its eminent versatility. Although largely decentralized and grassroots by nature, Omar Barghouti is credited as one of the founders of the BDS campaign. He talked about the movement’s chameleon-like adaptability in a 2010 debate.
“BDS is not a one size that fits all. It’s context-sensitive. In every situation, we target companies that are complicit in Israel’s apartheid and occupation that we can win our battle against,” said Barghouti.
The BDS movement pushes for boycotts of Israeli products and institutions, divestment from companies and institutions “complicit” in the violation of Palestinian rights (i.e. with investments in Israel) and sanctions against Israel, such as pushing for the rejection of its membership from international forums, etc.
‘There’s a large segment of the movement, component of the movement, which wants to eliminate Israel’
Its triptych of goals, in particular the “return” of millions of “refugees” — most of them second, third and fourth generation descendants of former Arab residents of what is today Israel — necessarily rejects the two-state solution promoted by Israel, the PA, and most of the Western world through the negation of the essential nature of the Jewish state.
In a candid 2012 interview, long-time pro-Palestinian activist Norman Finkelstein denounced the “cult” of BDS and its three tiers.
“They know what the result of implementing all three is… there’s no Israel… But if you say it, you don’t have a prayer in reaching a broad public,” said Finkelstein.
“There’s a large segment of the movement, component of the movement, which wants to eliminate Israel,” said Finkelstein. The son of Holocaust survivors was once the darling of the pro-Palestinian circuit. Since this 2012 interview, he said in a New Republic interview this week, he has suffered complete ostracization.
(For a more systematic breakdown of the latent potential harm of the BDS movement, see pro-Israel American jurist Alan Dershowitz’s 2014 Haaretz article, “Ten reasons why BDS is immoral and hinders peace.”)

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