In Response to Norman Finkelstein Interview

Imperial College London conducted an interview with Norman Finkelstein on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. I used to listen to Mr. Finkelstein in admiration. It could be because he had a pro-Palestinian stands. But I think most importantly is because he gave facts as is, straight forward. Nonetheless, I believe he tripped when he started advocating for a certain political solution.

In a lecture in University of London last year, he gave a lecture advocating for a 2-states solution, claiming it has a Palestinian consensus. I have no clue how did he decide that. Nonetheless, in the Q & A I asked him a clear question: since there is no consensus on a 2-state solution or a 1 state solution, isn’t it just fair to advocate for what holds a consensus; namely, the right of return? He didn’t answer my question, and went on talking about a 1state and 2states solutions. He has marginalized the right of return in his lecture.

In his interview in February 9, Mr. Finkelstein have continued marginalizing the right of return. He said: “If you are serious about building a mass movement, you cannot go beyond what the public is ready to accept.” Which public does he mean? The Palestinian public? Well we are not ready to accept a solution that undermines our rights. The international community? well they accepted the massacre in Gaza, on flotilla, hundreds of thousands of arrests, oppression, dozens of massacres in the past 64 years. Not doing anything about it is accepting it. Also, they are not part of the conflict. They do not get a vote in this. It does not affect every aspect of their lives. It’s our dreams, hopes, lives on stake here.  Or is it the Israeli public? The Israeli public that accepted Gaza massacre, dozens of massacre in the past years, displacement of Palestinians, building of settlements, and many more oppression.

Mr. Finkelstein criticized BDS movement of being picky about the law. He says that the law is clear. “It is also correct that Israel is a state,” he said. “If you want to use the law as a weapon to reach the public opinion you cannot be selective about the law.” UN Resolution 273 (III) admission of Israel to membership in the United Nations recalls “its resolutions of 29 November 1947 and 11 December 1948” as the basis of accepting Israel as a state. The membership of the State of Israel in the UN is dependent on their respect to resolution 194 and the right of return. UN Resolution 194 (III) article 11 states that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes…should be permitted to do so”. This is also part of the law that you wish to be selective about. He criticizes the BDS movement of being selective about the law for calling for the implementation of a UN resolution! Unfortunately, he joined the new trend of using the expression of “a just resolution for the refugee question based on resolution 194”. This is a deceiving expression. The just resolution is to implement resolution 194. There is already an international consensus, expressed in resolution 194, on how should the refugee question be solved.

Norman says: “There is nothing anywhere in the international consensus for resolving the conflict that says anything about the minority inside Israel, the Palestinian Arab minority.” This statement is completely false. More than 18 percent of the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are refugees. Thus, they are encompassed in UN resolution 194. Also, the United Nations recognised the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the representative of the Palestinian people and granted it an observer membership in resolutions 3236 and 3237. The PLO recognises the Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship as Palestinians. Thus, they are part of every resolution or agreement that the PLO signs or accepts. Nonetheless, if Mahmoud Abbas manages to replace the PLO’s representation by the suggested State of Palestine in his UNBid, then those Palestinians will be excluded. But not yet!

Norman Finkelstein argues if it is reasonable to implement the right of return on the basis of what is more convenient for the Zionist movement, not on the basis of implementing the law. It is okay to talk about laws that does not threat the existence of the state of Israel. I have not heard a bigger fuss on the existence of a political system or state as there is on the existence of the State of Israel. The Soviet Union disappeared and it is alright. Yugoslavia was dismantled and life is seen much better. The state of East Germany and West Germany merged into a one country. Mainly, the communist state of East Germany does not exist any more, so this makes life perfect! When a political system becomes more important than a human right, then our humanity is doomed.

On a last note, I must agree with Norman that if the BDS should focus on mobilising their people if they are a Palestinian organisation. Nonetheless, it is just the fact that BDS is not really a Palestinian organisation. It is mainly led by international activists. And we still need a pure Palestinian movement to mobilise the Palestinian public. Norman is right, Palestinians should not be telling the International community what to do to support us. But we would appreciate it if no one tell us what solution should we accept. We want our full rights. That is not a crime, that is not being illogical. It is simply being determined.

Norman Finkelstein on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Recorded at Imperial College London on February 9, 2012.


33 thoughts on “In Response to Norman Finkelstein Interview

  1. Pingback: BBC promotes hatred toward Jews! | Rehmat's World

  2. Al Ghayar (from Wikipedia). The reality is far more complex than the ideology of BDS movement. Quote from Wikipedia:
    In 1932, the residents of Ghajar, predominantly Alawite, were given the option of choosing their nationality and overwhelmingly chose to be a part of Syria, which has a sizable Alawite minority.[3][copyright violation?] Prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Ghajar was considered part of Syria and its residents were counted in the 1960 census.[2] When Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, Ghajar remained a no-man’s land for two and a half months. The villagers petitioned the Golan’s Israeli governor to be annexed to Israel, as part of the Golan Heights, rather than Lebanon, because they saw themselves as Syrians.[2] Israel agreed to include Ghajar in its occupied territory and the residents accepted living under Israeli rule.[4] In 1981, most villagers accepted Israeli citizenship under the Golan Heights Law.

  3. In the article you are omitting the fact that in 1948 there was a war and the wording of the UN resolution 194 is “should” not “must”. The reality is, as Finkelstein says, that there will be no implementation of UN resolution 194. Are there other options?

  4. A state is simply the result of a monopoly of the means of violence. Israel is a racist state in its conception before 1947, in its inception in 1948, and its colonisation and ethnic cleansing of the West Bank now. As a state Israel is predicated on refusing the Right of Return to Palestinians now and in the future. Invoking the law and pragmatism to defend an injustice on this scale does, I am afraid, smack of a Zionist agenda. States come and go, as you say, and neither Jews nor Arabs will be safe in PALESTINE until the Zionist agenda is taken down. In practice this means cancelling the Right of Return for Jews and reinstating the Right of Return for Palestinians. 2 states leaves the Zionist agenda intact. Norman, I am disappointed.

  5. Hi,
    sorry for the delay in responding. Yes, actually I think you are correct. I think he falls more into the post Zionist side of things (but to me “post Zionism” is simply a variation of “liberal” Zionism – although I know others may not see it that way 🙂 Thinking about it again, I think it would probably be more accurate to simply describe Finkelstein as a liberal and pragmatist.

  6. Your description of the UN acceptance of Israel as a member state was simply inaccurate. There is nothing in the UN’s acceptance resolution to indicate that Israeli compliance with Resolution 194 is required for Israel to be a member. Period.

  7. @Matt

    My quoting was accurate, and if it was not, I’m more than happy if you point out the inaccuracy in my quoting. And if I didn’t make a reference as well to what I quoted, please point it out to me.

  8. @matt
    I haven’t changed anything. I didn’t quote comply, if I don’t quote it then it’s obviously my words. I can quote from documents what I like. I don’t have to copy paste full paragraph. I even linked to the original document, so I don’t want to discuss this issue, I’m entitled to my opinion, and I still believe in what I wrote, and I will translate it as must comply. That’s how I understand it. I might be wrong, but that’s what I believe in.

    And I wasn’t referring to you spamming my comments wall, I was referring to both of us in the discussion. We have discussed it enough I believe we both made our points clear and there is no more arguments for both of us, we’ll be going on the same circle after that. If you have any new points you’re welcome to discuss them. Thanks

  9. @PalestinianYouthVoice,

    Don’t change the subject to your rights. We’re talking about how you simply made up that Israel’s admittance to the UN is dependent on non-binding General Assembly resolutions that according to the UN itself has no direct bearing on Israel’s admittance. Do you have the right to just make things up in order to bash Israel? Admit it, you changed the language of resolution 194 from “recalling” and “bearing in mind” to “must comply” and you thought no one would notice.

    I’m not spamming your comments section, I’m participating in a discussion and I like to think I and your readers have the right to distinguish the truth from the inaccuracies and to hold you accountable for what you write.

  10. @Matt

    As you point out in your last paragraph, ” respecting the sovereignty of all UN members”
    As you know Israel continues to occupy the Golan Heights, thus not respecting the sovereignty of other Members of the UN, they continue to occupy Umm-Alrashrash (Eilat) not respecting the sovereignty of Egypt, they continue to occupy Shibaa Farms and Al-Ghajar, thus not respecting the sovereignty of Lebanon.

    If our rights are not non-binding because the majority of the word accept but very few (7 tops) don’t, then I see a problem there. I’m sure you do as well. And that’s being selective about law. International Court of Justice rulings are non-binding, and its rulings on favour of the Palestinians are not implemented, that’s being selective about law.

    Your point is taken, and for the reasons I discussed here and earlier, I can’t accept your arguments. You can wish to continue and believe in what you believe, but you should know that unlike the international community, our issues and rights are not just an enjoyable points of discussion in the comfort of closed rooms, these are issues that affect and touches our lives, they are matter of death or life, they are matter of dignity, they are matters of humanity. These rights are also mentioned in the Universal Human Rights Declaration & Geneva Accords, and well you might say that those are not binding as well, but what’s the point of them if they’re not. The only reason for them is for some states to have the space to be selective about laws under the cover of Human Rights & International Law.

    I think we exhausted our arguments here, so there is no point of continuing, don’t want to spam the comments wall with a side discussion.

    Stay Safe

  11. @PalestinianYouthVoice

    “Well “Recalling” and “Taking note” suggests that these were factors in accepting the membership of Israel. ”

    Suggests that they were factors? That’s a far cry from “required for admission.” You’re spinning the language far beyond its direct meaning.

    “Also, the admittance to the UN means that you should comply with its laws and resolutions, which also didn’t happen in the case of Israel.”

    Admittance to the UN means you must comply with binding (i.e. Security Council) resolutions, but you don’t need to comply with non-binding (General Assembly) resolutions. Resolution 194 is non-binding which means it’s simply a recommendation to Israel, not something Israel must comply with. Again, not a convincing argument about Israel’s admittance to the UN, in fact its completely irrelevant. There are numerous states that are part of the UN that ignore binding resolutions, much less non-binding resolutions. For example, Iraq’s refusal to disarm in the early 2000s. Yet Iraq is still part of the UN today, and was throughout Saddam’s reign.

    “And then the last point here, if the claim would be made that Israel is not forced to comply with the UN resolution, then also the argument would be made that Palestinians are not forced to comply with the resolution that admitted Israel as a state”

    That’s correct. The UN partition plan was a non-binding resolution which means that if the Palestinians were part of the UN, they do not have to accept it. HOWEVER, if the Palestinians are part of the UN, that means they have to accept the UN charter, including the part about respecting the sovereignty of all UN members, including Israel. So that doesn’t help them in their quest to destroy Israel either.

  12. Sorry for posting vimeo vid url again people, I didn’t see faceless32
    had beat me to it … what software did you use to save the video
    Mr(s) faceless32, the usually reliable ‘final video downloader’ I have
    can’t save vimeo hosted videos.

  13. Great response …

    youtube video was taken down, but it’s up here if people want to see it;

    Check out ‘Mondoweiss’.

  14. @Matt

    Well “Recalling” and “Taking note” suggests that these were factors in accepting the membership of Israel. Worth noting that although Israel has not accepted resolution 194 but in their statement that the resolution refers to they said that they will compensate all refugees for their lands. They also said that they were ready to allow back 100,000 refugees to come back (15% o total refugees at the time) (which now they don’t even accept discussing the refugees issue) and they said that the lands of those who remains will be protected (and the fact is most of the land of who remained “like my family” have been confiscated).

    Also, the admittance to the UN means that you should comply with its laws and resolutions, which also didn’t happen in the case of Israel.

    And then the last point here, if the claim would be made that Israel is not forced to comply with the UN resolution, then also the argument would be made that Palestinians are not forced to comply with the resolution that admitted Israel as a state

  15. @ Matt , great cut the UN aid and give us back our homeland .Those who support us already acknowledge the injustice the Palestinians go through under the UN resolutions.We want our right of return to our homeland that was stolen 64 years ago ,decent human beings support it .

  16. Pingback: BDS interview fallout: Finkelstein 'showed his own fear of the paradigm shift in discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict'

  17. @Palestinian refugee,

    Yes, exactly. Keep it up. Share with the world your contempt for international law and the United Nations. Turn away the aid you receive from the UN, since the UN is so “hypocritical” and “has no credibility.” Speak the truth about what you want and all who agree with come stand by your side.

  18. @Palestine Youth Voice

    I apologize for my language. Let me be more clear. You made the claim in your article that:

    “The membership of the State of Israel in the UN is dependent on their respect to resolution 194 and the right of return.”

    But the text of UN Resolution 273 clearly states,

    “Recalling its resolutions of 29 November 1947 and 11 December 1948 and taking note of the declarations and explanations made by the representative of the Government of Israel before the Ad Hoc Political Committee in respect of the implementation of the said resolutions,”

    “Recalling” and “taking note” is in no way equivalent to “must comply”. There is no indication in resolution 273 that Israel’s acceptance into the UN is conditional based on its compliance with resolution 194. Please explain how you reached that conclusion based on the facts.

  19. @ Matt , since the recognition of Israel by the UN ,Israel has been committing state terrorism and war crimes openly.Israel violates human rights , UN resolutions , international law and geneva convention ,yet no sanctions were imposed on it ,thats hypocrisy .The UN gave away our homeland to a bunch of burglars after they butchered the indigenous population, so it has no credibility ,bcz it was created to benefit those who control it .

  20. if you want an editor to look over your piece before publishing let me know. The English isn’t correct. @agm13

  21. Amna, check with the people from Imperial college a lot of people have downloaded it before it goes off..

    Peter, well yes, what I know is that he has abandoned Zionism long ago…but if you can find me a link where he explicitly says that he’s not a Zionist I appreciate it, I have been looking but I havent found anything yet although I’m almost sure he is not.

    Matt, your comments makes no sense to me, I will leave it there although you are crossing the lines by accusing us of being liars and other things, watch your language, any more similar offensive comments, all your comments will be removed.

    Palestinian Refugee, you are right, International law did not give us anything, but it’s not because the laws were bad it’s because they were not applied….So yes we are not waiting for anyone to hand us our rights, will just take it, but it won’t hurt to play on all fields, it won’t hurt…

  22. @Palestinian Refugee,

    Well said. I completely agree with you on both points.

    In regards to international law: it’s high time you guys stopped the hypocrisy with regards to the law. You demand Israel comply with every single UN resolution while committing war crimes with every rocket fired from Gaza. Just admit you don’t care at all about international law and the air will be a lot clearer.

    Ditto with your desire to destroy Israel. If you want to destroy Israel, shout it from the rooftops. Tell the truth. It’s obvious to anyone paying attention (what with your election of Hamas and all), but just in case there was any doubt, make it completely clear. Good thing you’ve already disregarded international law, so you don’t have to worry about the fact that it’s illegal to destroy a sovereign state and member of the United Nations. And that way you can put aside your lies of wanting “truth” and “justice” in exchange for a more concrete goal. I couldn’t agree more.

  23. I think he is right we should no longer mention the international law ,why should we believe in the international law while it gave us nothing but our misery ,the UN resolution gave burlgars the right to occupy and resettle in our land while gave us nothing.Israel doesnt have the right to exist in Palestine and if our ROR will eliminate Israel, as it is today, then to hell with Israel ,justice is justice .We arent worried about preserving the Jewish majority inside Israel ,they want to have a Jewish state let them have it somewhere else .How the “public” thought it was reasonable to expel 700,000 people out of their homeland and replace them with burglars who “descended” from Europe? I wish I can send Dr Finkelstein a message

  24. “The membership of the State of Israel in the UN is dependent on their respect to resolution 194 and the right of return.”

    That is simply not true. The text states,

    “Recalling its resolutions of 29 November 1947 and 11 December 1948 and taking note of the declarations and explanations made by the representative of the Government of Israel before the Ad Hoc Political Committee in respect of the implementation of the said resolutions,”

    “Recalling” and “taking note” is in no way equivalent to “dependent on compliance”. Finkelstein was talking about people like you when he said BDS is dishonest.

  25. A very informative post, thank you. As for N. F. I think because of his scholarship, fame and indeed notoriety people expect too much from him. He can’t be expected to be right about everything and in fact there are many who think he is off his head. I find him courageous and fiercely loyal to his principles.
    He will never have all the answers, nobody will ever have all the answers, he can only continue to use his voice and his intellect to offer possible answers. BTW I found it very distressing to hear others in this thread refer to him as any kind of Zionist.

  26. Pingback: That awkward moment when even your supporters think you’re all idiots (BDS) « Major Karnage

  27. Thank you Kim,
    Is Norman really a liberal Zionist? I thought he has abandoned Zionism long ago.
    Usually, “liberal Zionist” when they talk about other Zionists they like to refer to them as extreme or right if it’s any different. But he speaks about them in the third person point of view

    I’m not sure if he’s anti-Zionism but I think he’s an academic who believes in “post-Zionism”. I might be wrong though.

  28. Hi,
    Thanks so much for getting back to me. After re-reading your article, I got the feeling that this is what you meant but wasn’t sure, so thank you for clarifying.

    I agree with your point that the focus of BDS is predominately focused on building an internationalist campaign in support of Palestinians and not necessarily a campaign to mobilise Palestinians in the OPT in the same way – precisely because of the reasons you outline (I think it would be safe that the campaign has done a fairly good job of mobilising a section of Palestinians living in exile outside, but there is still work to be done in relation to this as well).

    This is where I see a problem with Finkelstein’s argument against BDS when he argues that it’s not Palestinian led because it does not mobilise mass numbers of Palestinians into the streets – he fails to understand that the focus of the BDS campaign is actually on mobilising international support. So while I can agree with you that there is a need to develop within the Occupied Territories a movement which develops its own tactics etc and which mobilizes the majority of the population (like in the first Intifada), I still see BDS as being Palestinian led.

    The main reason for this is because the campaign was developed by Palestinians such as Barghouti and others and they continue to play an active role in shaping its politics. It is not centralised as you rightly point out, but I do think it does represent a broad consensus within Palestinian civil society and has gained a reasonable amount of support so I think it is possible for BNC to say it does represent a significant section of civil society – but the campaign is as we noted focused on international solidarity, not on Palestinian self-organisation within the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

    I agree with you that because BDS is an internationalist grassroots-decentralised campaign that it has developed many “leaders” who are not necessarily Palestinian (eg, in the UK, Canada, Germany, Australia etc), but again I still see it as being Palestinian lead for the reasons I have outlined above.

    If it was the activists in the UK, Canada, Germany, Australia etc, who actually shaped the primary tactical politics of the overall campaign, I would then probably agree that the campaign is not Palestinian led, but I would argue that this is not the case (while we as international solidarity activists do decide and choose best how to implement BDS on the ground in our own countries, we still operate within the broad political framework of the campaign set out by the Palestinian BNC)

    I agree with you that Finkelstein contradicts himself when he says that BDS is not led by Palestinians and then says Palestinians should not tell the international community what to do. This of course was not the only place in the interview he contradicted himself, as you note in your article.

    The split between Finkelstein and the wider international Palestine solidarity movement has long been coming, but I suppose what I am surprised by is the stunning intemperance in the way Finkelstein has gone about things in this video. Finkelstein has always been a pragmatist and a liberal Zionist, so this was always going to happen once the Palestine solidarity movement got stronger internationally.

    With the complete failure of the Oslo/Peace process, as well as the complete failure of the PLO/PA, which helped give rise to BDS and with BDS growing in strength, anti-normalisation is well and truly back on the cards both inside Palestine and is growing internationally at a grass roots level (I know the anti-normalisation has always been part of the Palestinian national movement, but it was sort put somewhat in hiatus during the Oslo years and now is starting to make a stronger comeback). So this was always going to challenge liberals like Finkelstein.

    Thanks again for the clarification and for your excellent article. I have posted it around to a number of places and people have been very interested to read it. A few people also asked, as I did, what did you mean by your last paragraph – in relation to the issue of Palestinian leadership. I will also paste your response to me for them to read or direct them here so they can read your comments for themelves! 🙂

    Thanks again and solidarity!

  29. Thanks Kim,

    Well on BDS, theoretically it’s lead by Palestinians (Omar Barghouthi anf others) who do a great job, but on ground practically it is lead by internationals. And that is completely understandable. You need an English to organise it in England and a German to organise it in Germany etc.. Since it is an international grass-root movement and not a centralised movement. Saying that the whole movement is lead by Palestinians would suggest it is centralised.

    And this makes perfect since. Grass-root movements should not be centralised. And that’s a strength point. Now on Palestinians living in Palestine, boycott is a really difficult tool that is hard to implement since they live under occupation and economically they’re string-attached to the Israeli economy in every aspect of their life.

    So saying it is not Palestinian led is not really a bad thing to say. So it is true that BDS is disconnected from the Palestinian public. And that’s fine. It’s meant to mobilise the international community to support the Palestinian cause. Its main focus is not to mobilise Palestinians.

    So a movement that will succeed to mobilise Palestinians should be a movement that provide the tools Palestinians are capable of using.

    So although Norman got a valid argument there, but he contradicts himself. He says that BDS is not lead by Palestinians, and then he says that Palestinians should not tell the International community what to do assuming that it is completely led by Palestinians.

  30. HI, over all I think your article is really terrific and I agree with nearly everything you say. The one thing I disagree with, however, is your last comment that supposedly BDS is not led by Palestinians. I would be interested to understand why you say this.

    For me, BDS is not an organisation, instead it is a movement or a campaign. And while it is true that it is based on international law and solidarity, this does not mean that it is not lead by Palestinians or involve Palestinians. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

    I agree with you, however, that there needs to be a Palestinian movement within Palestine, which is led by Palestinian and seeks to mobilise the majority of Palestinian.


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