In this wonderful interview on Znet, Norman Finkelstein says that his next book will be called, A Farewell to Israel: The Coming Breakup of American Zionism. Finkelstein is a brilliant historian, and has led the process that he describes:
I lecture at forty
schools a year; I know the campuses, and I see what happens. [Pro-Israel groups] have lost a huge amount of ground. There was a time when I came [to speak at colleges] and it was like a Daniel in the Lion’s Den. But it’s not like that any more; it really isn’t. They’re losing ground, it’s obvious. I see it everywhere I go. They come to where I speak, there’s one row, all primed to attack me, but they don’t say anything at the end.
Funny! And absolutely consistent with Joel Kovel saying the other night that all the Zionist hecklers of yesteryear have crawled off under a flat rock.
More of Finkelstein’s argument:
When you have Israel’s most influential paper saying it’s apartheid, what do American Jews say to that? ‘Oh yeah, we support apartheid’? You can say that if you’re Pat Robertson or Dick Cheney. But it’s very hard if you’re an American Jew who claims to be a liberal to be making arguments like that. And
I think you see the erosion in particular among college students
because they study and they’re better informed, and they see that all
of this stuff Israel is doinghas now become morally indefensible. And
so there’s some who are just embarrassed, and they have become, as it
were, indifferent; and then there are those who have become completely
hostile, in an active way. [Weiss emphasis]
Wow, great. The other fascinating thing about this interview is Finkelstein’s new line supporting the two-state solution and financial compensation to extinguish the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Finkelstein says that the two-state solution has a lot of political support right now, all over the world, and who can fight those politics. (Well Finkelstein fought them for many years). As to the right of return, he compares the Palestinian refugees’ right to his right to return to DePaul. He could have fought for many years to return to DePaul, and chewed up his life, or accepted the acknowledgment by DePaul of his scholarly contribution and a money settlement and gotten on with his life. He settled.
This is doubly intriguing because Finkelstein is now essentially in the left-center camp of Jewish American public life. He’s an ally to Israel Policy Forum and other progressive Zionists. Finkelstein, who changed American opinion of Israel/Palestine thru valiant scholarship, has now become more mainstream. I don’t condemn this process. He’s a brilliant independent thinker, and is intellectually transparent, he lets you see what he’s thinking.
When asked what he’s going to do now that he’s been pushed out of academia, Finkelstein says:
Nothing. I have no idea. Slip, slide to eternity. That’s what I’m going to do.
A beautiful, mystical statement. Reminds me of Dylan saying we’re all souls in bags of skin.
I’ve often criticized Finkelstein on this site, now I’m going to do so again. In this interview, again we see his Marxist insistence that religious impulses in people (the Israel lobby) mean nothing, everything is about business and materialism. America is the strongest country materially, so the religious tail can’t wag the dog. This seems to me reductive and foolish.
If [continued Israeli occupation] became a real, live political issue endangering US interests, the US would impose a full withdrawal, but they don’t…. When theUS feels like they have business to do, everyone falls into line. The lobby falls into line, Congress falls into line, and even the Israelis fall into line.
Unpersuasive. The occupation has been a huge liability to American interests for at least 15 years. We do nothing. And we do it for sociological reasons: because of the power of American Jews in our Establishment, most of whom have never been to Israel but have a Holocaust/guilt narrative about their necessity in keeping Israel alive.
Finkelstein concedes that the Israel lobby has had a policy effect on the "local" issue of the settlements, colonization of the West Bank. This isn’t a local issue. It’s destabilizing a region.
My other criticism of Finkelstein is, he’s vicious.
I was just reading a book by one of the negotiators at Camp David, Aaron David Miller. It’s a horrible book; he’s a complete imbecile. … Miller’s a complete imbecile, of that there can be no question…
This is an ugly statement that only hurts Finkelstein. Aaron David Miller served this country for many years. He is an earnest well-meaning guy, an Establishment type, and now he has written a book of great generosity, with tons of interviews in it, laying out a lot of facts about how the "peace process" worked. I disagree with him, and his book lacks big ideas; but he’s a smart guy who has given a lot. Finkelstein should show a little generosity of his own, and apologize.
Thanks to Dan Sisken for the tip.