Norman Finkelstein bids farewell to Israel-bashing (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Natasha Mozgovaya 04/05/12)
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In June, Norman Finkelstein will mark 30 years of criticizing Israel.
He remembers the exact day - the beginning of the Lebanon war, which
ended his indifference to the Middle East´s troubles. He´ll have a
new book coming out - "Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish
Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End" - that focuses on Jewish
public figures who represent, in his view, the narrative of beautiful
Israel that´s coming to an end. He is sure to make a lot of people
Jobless since losing his tenure in 2007 at DePaul University´s
political science department in an ugly public fight with Alan
Dershowitz, Finkelstein remains in demand as a speaker at
Yet if you happened to walk into one of his lectures, you might be
surprised to hear him say he is "not going to be an Israel-basher
anymore." It´s not that he´s changed his mind on the conflict, he
just says blaming Israel has become too easy.
"Nobody really defends Israel anymore," he said in an interview. "If
you go on college campuses, there are some Hillel faithfuls who are
bringing an IDF soldier to try to explain that not all IDF soldiers
are war criminals. And among the 60 to 100 people in the audience,
there are Palestinian supporters who come with tape over their mouth,
and when the soldier starts to speak, many people stand up and walk
"They´ve lost the battle for public opinion," he says. "They claim
it´s because American Jews know too little - I claim it´s because
they know too much about the conflict, and young liberal Jews have
difficulty defending the use of cluster bombs in Lebanon or
supporting the Israeli settlements. I was bashing Israel in the past
because nobody else was exposing its true record. Many people are
doing it now, so I switched hats from a critic of Israel to a
diplomat who wants to resolve the conflict. I have not changed, but I
think the spectrum has moved."
Finkelstein´s book is suprisingly optimistic about the chances of
settling the confict, and about changing the debate, even among
American Jewry. The tide of public opinion is turning against Israel,
he says, and once support for Israeli policy becomes widely
unacceptable in the United States, the "self-designated voices for
Israel," as he calls them, will quickly drop out. Meanwhile, American
Jewish college students are having their eyes opened.
"The academic research on Israel is no longer the footnoted "Exodus,"
and younger Jews, when they go to college, are walking away with very
different picture of Israel," he said. "And the American Jewish
community that for a long time was a huge obstacle to resolving the
conflict is breaking up. If you put forth a reasonable and principled
goal, I think a resolution is possible. We might be entering the
endgame, but one that might take a long time."
Loyal to his tradition of combativeness, Finkelstein takes on not
only Michael Oren, Jeffrey Goldberg, Benny Morris and others, but
also Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer´s book on the Israel lobby.
"I accept that the lobby is very influential and shapes [U.S.] policy
on Israel-Palestine. But when Walt and Mearsheimer start generalizing
about the influence of the lobby on Iraq, Iran policy and elsewhere -
that´s where I think they get it wrong. I just can´t find any
evidence for it."
Finkelstein describes the leadership of J Street as "hopeless". "It´s
simply the loyal opposition. Politically they identify themselves
mostly with Kadima."
Yet he recently clashed with those to the left of J Street, attacking
the goals of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions ) movement.
"I´ve written a little book on Gandhi, and one of the significant
insights of his is that it´s important not only for your tactics to
be perceived as moral, the public also has to see your goal as moral.
And the problem with BDS is the ambiguity of the goal. Their official
position is: ´We take no position on [the legitimacy of] Israel.´
While BDS is a legitimate tactic to force Israel to accept the two-
state solution, it has to have a just goal, which means it has to
include recognition of Israel as a state. I received mostly hostile
reactions from the BDS activists, and that´s OK - I am not out there
Leftist-turned-rightist historian Benny Morris, who gets a whole
chapter in the book, said once that "for Finkelstein the only good
Israeli is an evil Israeli." Is he right?
"I don´t claim to know Israel. I don´t speak Hebrew, my contacts are
pretty limited. But I didn´t know Vietnam, I didn´t know Nicaragua,
El Salvador or Honduras. It doesn´t mean you can´t reach your
conclusions. I don´t study cafe life in Tel Aviv. I visited Israel
every year for 16 years until I was denied entrance in 2008. I don´t
feel particularly attached to Israel - nationalism, as Noam Chomsky
said, is not my cup of tea - but I feel no particular need to
demonize it. I do feel a certain amount of disgust, that´s for sure.
If my focus was on any other country´s human rights violations, I
would be as appalled and disgusted. It´s just unacceptable, and you
can´t make excuses for that with ´other people do it.´ You probably
will find the comparison offensive - it´s like going to my parents in
the Warsaw ghetto and asking, what do you think about the Volkswagen?
Isn´t it great? Don´t ask people in Iraq or Afghanistan to praise
Hollywood, or whether Whitney Houston did a beautiful rendition of
the "Star Spangled Banner."
Why does he put the blame solely on Israel?
"Because I don´t think both sides are equally responsible. If I were
a Palestinian I wouldn´t have accepted what was offered at Camp
David. On the critical issues, the Palestinians have been willing to
make far greater concessions than are required to by [international]
law - 60 percent of settlers to remain in place, largest Jerusalem in
Israel´s history. How can a rational person conclude that the
Palestinians bear responsibility for the non-resolution of this
How about the violence against civilians they turned to after Camp
"International law says people fighting for self-determination can
use force in order to achieve their independence."
And targeting civilians?
"They do not have the right to target the civilian population. But
now more and more Palestinians are turning to various forms of civil
resistance and civil disobedience. This tactic of fasting in prison
is going to spread. (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 04/05/12)
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