Norman Finkelstein (AP via Haaretz)
For those who follow the saga of Norman Finkelstein, a new interview with him by Haaretz reporter Natasha Mozgovaya breaks no new ground but nicely sums up his current perspective. The headline it carries on the Haaretz website – “Norman Finkelstein bids farewell to Israel bashing” – may make most Israeli readers happy, but though it’s based on a quote from the interview, it’s actually quite misleading: While Finkelstein repeats his now-familiar criticisms of the BDS movement, he makes it clear that he hasn’t softened his critique of Israel. Some highlights:
On American public opinion:
“Nobody really defends Israel anymore…. 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… The tide of public opinion is turning against Israel…. And the American Jewish community that for a long time was a huge obstacle to resolving the conflict is breaking up.”
On Walt and Mearsheimer:
“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.”
On J Street:
Finkelstein describes the leadership of J Street as “hopeless”. “It’s simply the loyal opposition. Politically they identify themselves mostly with Kadima.”
On his feelings about Israel:
“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.’”
On Palestinian tactics:
“International law says people fighting for self-determination can use force in order to achieve their independence….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.”
On the future of the conflict:
“I do not see other reasonable basis for resolution of this conflict other then the international law. What else can you use? To say, I have the rights, and solve it by force? Or based on needs – but who decides what are the needs? Dennis Ross decided Israel needs whatever it says it needs – and the Palestinians get everything that is left over. It’s a political problem, so it’s up to the international community to apply sufficient pressure to Israel to accept this map that is fair, within the parameters of law – and reasonable. And then the conflict can be solved. With the regional changes, there will be pressure applied by Egypt and Turkey however things settle with the Arab Spring, there will be pressure applied by the Palestinians and the international community, that is weary of this conflict, to resolve it on the basis of international consensus.”
Finkelstein has two new books coming soon from OR Books. The first is a short (100-page) tract entitled What Gandhi Says: About Nonviolence, Resistance and Courage. Here’s some of the publisher’s description:
There is much that will surprise in these pages: Gandhi was not a pacifist; he believed in the right of those being attacked to strike back and regarded inaction as a result of cowardice to be a greater sin than even the most ill-considered aggression. Gandhi’s calls for the sacrifice of lives in order to shame the oppressor into concessions can easily seem chilling and ruthless.
But Gandhi’s insistence that, in the end, peaceful resistance will always be less costly in human lives than armed opposition, and his understanding that the role of a protest movement is not primarily to persuade people of something new, but rather to get them to act on behalf of what they already accept as right – these principles have profound resonance in both the Israel-Palestine conflict and the wider movement for justice and democracy that began to sweep the world in 2011.
The second book, this one a hefty 470 pages, is entitled Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End. From the website:
Despite Israel’s record of militarism, illegal settlements and human rights violations, American Jews have, stretching back to the 1960s, remained largely steadfast supporters of the Jewish “homeland.” But, as Norman Finkelstein explains in an elegantly-argued and richly-textured new book, this is now beginning to change….
In successive chapters that combine Finkelstein’s customary meticulous research with polemical brio, Knowing Too Much sets the work of defenders of Israel such as Jeffrey Goldberg, Michael Oren, Dennis Ross and Benny Morris against the historical record, showing their claims to be increasingly tendentious. As growing numbers of American Jews come to see the speciousness of the arguments behind such apologias and recognize Israel’s record as simply indefensible, Finkelstein points to the opening of new possibilities for political advancement in a region that for decades has been stuck fast in a gridlock of injustice and suffering.
According to the OR Books site, the official publication date for both books is June, but the Gandhi one is scheduled ship in mid-April and Knowing Too Much in late April. They’ll be available in both paperback and e-book format. You get a 15-percent discount if you pre-order now.