Trending Topics:

Ash responds to critique of Finkelstein on BDS

on 34 Comments

Mondoweiss reader Aaron Maté sent us the following note after our recent post “Norman Finkelstein’s disinformation about BDS“:

Gabriel Ash writes: “The absence of any Palestinian political force that calls for the renunciation of the Right of Return and the abandonment of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, as Finkelstein advocates, further buttresses the claim that the three BDS demands are indeed elements of national Palestinian consensus.”

I was really surprised to see you guys publish this statement, and think it merits a correction. As you well know, Norman has never called for renouncing the right of return (or abandoning Arab-Israelis), as he explains in the very interview Ash takes issue with:

Dr. Finkelstein: “In everything I have ever written on the subject, I have emphasized that Palestinians have a right of return, and no one has the right to tell Palestinians that they should renounce this right as a precondition for negotiations… Negotiations must start from the premises that (1) Israel bears overwhelming responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, and (2) Palestinians have a right of return.  Once these points are acknowledged by Israel, I think a resolution can be found.”

Ash responds:

From the same interview:

Q: 1. You disagree with some of the specific “three tier” demands of the founders of the BDS movement.  Particularly, as per your points above, you disagree with the BDS founders’ insistence on the return of all Palestinian refugees, and linkage with the rights of Palestinians in Israel… 
NF: Exactly correct. 

Whether Finkelstein supports the right of return and equal rights depends on the definition of the word “support.” I am not very interested in that, you can say that he does, or that he doesn’t. My article is about his attack on BDS. Part of that attack, as the quote I provide makes clear, is that he wants BDS to drop two of its three demands, the demand for right of return and the demand for equality, and focus only on ending the occupation. 

Admittedly, it doesn’t follow that he opposes either in principle or even in practice in another context, for example, within partition negotiations. And, I HAVE NOT ATTACKED him for that. I disagree with him on the role of these two demands, but that too isn’t the focus of this article. The focus is on BDS, and his unfair to the point of malicious critique, including the idea that BDS leaders fail to represent the Palestinian people when they insist on raising the refugees issue, a critique Finkelstein formulated at the occasion of the Gaza Freedom March.

The sentence I wrote that is in dispute here can be read as accusing Finkelstein of not supporting the right of return or equal rights. That would be a bad reading, and I agree that it is also a likely reading because of the tendencies of a lot of people to read the questions before us through a purely ideological lens. This is not my intention. I simply refer to Finkelsteins’s calling for dropping these two demands from our current campaigns.

Ash also responds to Norman Finkelstein’s recent postOf cults and flunkies“:

The following sentence that I wrote in an essay recently published in Mondoweiss caught Finkelstein’s ire:

The absence of any Palestinian political force that calls for the renunciation of the Right of Return and the abandonment of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, as Finkelstein advocates, further buttresses the claim that the three BDS demands are indeed elements of national Palestinian consensus.

In response Finkelstein quoted himself to prove that he does in fact support the Palestinian right of return:

In everything I have ever written on the subject, I have emphasized that Palestinians have a right of return, and no one has the right to tell Palestinians that they should renounce this right as a precondition for negotiations.

Finkelstein has caught an imprecision. I did not intend to portray him as opposed to political equality or the right of return. The carelessness was due to the fact that Finkelstein’s substantial positions were tangential to the essay, which focused on BDS, and only concerned himself with Finkelstein’s practical prescriptions and not with his general beliefs. The context of the sentence was the representative power of the BDS call and the inclusion within it, in addition to ending the occupation, of the rights of refugees and of Palestinians who are citizens of Israel.

Norman Finkelstein calls for separating these two demands and excluding them from campaigns to end the occupation. He criticizes the inclusion of these two demands in BDS and other campaigns. Thus, Finkelstein left the Gaza March organizing in anger, over a dispute, according to him,

…not whether one personally supported a particular Palestinian right or strategy to end the occupation. [but]…whether inclusion in the coalition’s statement of a particular right or strategy was necessary if it was both unrelated to the immediate objective of breaking the siege and dimmed the prospect of a truly mass demonstration.

For those who might not know, the Gaza march organizers angered Finkelstein because they insisted on merely mentioning that most of the victims of the Gaza blockade are also refugees; no actual demand or commitment was requested.  I reproduce the key offending sentence:

The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were forced out of their homes during Israel’s creation in 1947-48 are still denied the rights granted them by UN Resolution 194.

I leave it to the reader to ponder the meaning of supporting rights in principle but opposing even as much as mentioning them in actual advocacy work and campaigning. However, Finkelstein’s prescriptions for depoliticizing advocacy has a substantial history, associated in the US with the legacy of Saul Alinsky. There are serious questions about organizing strategies involved which are worth discussing, and which I do not address at all, beyond noting that Finkelstein’s underhanded smears are themselves not conducive to serious reflection.  

In sum, mea culpa! My imprecision unnecessarily feeds an obsession with questions of ideological “purity and danger” that has little to do with BDS but is evident on the comment section of my own essay and others published on Mondoweiss. A more accurate restatement of what I wrote would be,

The absence of any Palestinian political force that calls for the renunciation of the Right of Return and the abandonment of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, issues that Finkelstein advocates that solidarity campaigns drop, further buttresses the claim that the three BDS demands are indeed elements of national Palestinian consensus.

This restatement has no impact on the substance of the essay.

Titling his response, “cult and flunkies,” and ignoring the actual criticism, Finkelstein makes clear that he has no intention of ceasing to spread disinformation about BDS.  Since he has raised the question of hypocrisy, I would like to end by asking, if what I wrote “flunks” because of a tangential imprecision, what grade should Finkelstein give himself for his embarrassing misrepresentations?

Gabriel Ash

Other posts by .

Posted In:

34 Responses

  1. Madrid on July 10, 2012, 9:59 am

    Normally, when one is fighting for a cause, one is tolerant of other voices that are fighting for the same cause, even if they disagree on one aim or aspect of the struggle. For example, I know Gays and Lesbian activists who are active on this cause, and make common cause with Catholics whose main concern is that the remaining Christians of the holy land do not get ethnically cleansed. In other areas of political engagement, they may be on opposing ends of some issue, but on the issue of basic rights for people suffering under never-ending occupation without the most basic rights they agree.

    This is what makes me suspicious of Finkelstein’s motives in attacking BDS. Finkelstein might simply remark in passing that he disagrees with the methodology of the BDS movement, but he is still happy to fight alongside them for justice, and then move on. However, he goes on and on attacking BDS as if activists like himself were so much more successful at bringing this issue to international consciousness.

    But that is simply not the case. The only two methods that I’ve seen that have worked on the public consciousness of the West is 1) the Walt Mearsheimer argument that it is against US interests to support Israeli intransigence (this has worked in the US public sphere) and 2) in the international sphere, the argument that Israel is the same if not worse than South Africa and deserves to be boycotted.

    Finkelstein seems to be making himself a huge distraction to the cause– I’ve seen interviews in which he suggests that Israel is on the verge of a huge capitulation on the issue of two states because of public opinion in Europe, and that BDS is going to derail this potential resolution of the issue, because it will paint Palestinian advocates as extremist. But where is he getting this idea? Israel just released a report saying that there is no occupation, and the settlers are there legally– in other words, they are expanding and entrenching the occupation, not the opposite.

    The only thing that will work is for activists to fight, especially in Western Europe, to make Israel’s leaders and political class as despised as Bashar al Assad and Ahmadinejad in the public consciousness. The mainstream press is constantly trying to avoid such a comparison, so it is an uphill battle, but to the extent that BDS can be one strategy to do this, people like Finkelstein should at least be tolerant, and not provide fodder for the other side.

    • Danaa on July 10, 2012, 1:13 pm

      Madrid, good comments and I agree with all you say.

      I do, however, see traces of intent in what NF is doing now, other than just some disagreement on principle.

      The pattern I see is as follows:

      1. The words he picks of “cults and flunkies” are words meant to elicit reaction rather than just the words used by one not known for temperateness. Them be “fighting words”, just as others, including gabriel Ash, have said.

      2. The reaction / counter-reaction cycle are clearly meant to suck up Oxygen from an increasingly successful protest movement. In other words, it may not be about the argumens themselves but about the “arguing”. The more we argue about the basic “goals” of BDS, the less we have energy to apply the tactics. the same was done to cow the Occupy movement. (as in, where are you going with this? why so vague?)

      3. NF clearly has no intention of admitting what israel is really up to. Since he is such a smart man and a good scholar, this can’t be due to blindness. What is it then that makes the obvious (occupation is turning to annexation de facto) all but invisible to NF? And what is “it” that is so powerful to render the seeing blind?

      4. Finally, there are indications that something came over NF – as I said in a previous comment, I found his newly acquired “friendly” mannerisms on the DN interview strangely out of character with the way he was. Something changed and it’s not just what he is saying, but also the way he says it. Personality and body language changes are often the result of a discomfort somewhere and/or a state of cognitive dissonance. You know – the way we all start smiling that much broader – or laugh a little out of place, when we know that what we say is not quite what we know, or when we know there’s more to the story than we can say, and are worried something might blurt out.

      So, as much as we all admired NF, we too need to accept that something has come over the man and he is now using his considerable credentials to help usher the movement into some assigned “bull-pen” (nice that he calls it international law. Good one there). We should also remember how much we admired Goldstone before he turned, doing the same kind of left-steering into the ditches. Yes, we thought we knew the pressures applied to Goldstone, and we thought (or hoped) that NF was brave beyond brave, and spiritually incorruptible. But maybe we should also remember that the enemies of justice and human rights do not sleep. In fact, they don’t even take a nap. And just because we can’t quite see NF’s pressure points – him having given up so much already – doesn’t mean they are not there. Maybe there’s something more to give up that he just couldn’t do, and that something finally gave the malevolent forces out there an opening.

      And that’s a lesson to us all because none of us are beyond buckling when the right pressure is applied at just the right place and the right time.

      • Mooser on July 10, 2012, 1:30 pm

        “him having given up so much already”

        How little you understand! See Judaism, as Shmuel will gladly tell you, is a “we” thing (I don’t think he was making a bris pun. If that’s what you are thinking you need a cerebral circumcision, or lobotomy) So it’s not enough that you know you are a Jew, and God knows you’re a Jew (God knows I’m one). No, you’re not really a Jew unless other Jews tell you you are a Jew. And, of course, it’s their job to tell you if you’re not. Hey, you gotta admit, it’s one hell of a religion.
        Once you understand that, everything becomes clear.

  2. Steve Macklevore on July 10, 2012, 10:14 am

    I do wish we could just move on from this issue.

    Infighting is exactly what Israel and it’s supporters want from us.

    Some people think the right of return must be implemented in full, some like Chomsky I believe, say that it’s an impossible demand and wrong to raise Palestinian hopes. Others think there is likely to be a small symbolic right of return, with compensation (which doubtless the poor American taxpayer will fund) for those who remain outside Palestine/Israel.

    The above positions are all honourable, and it’s perfectly possible that people who hold any one of those beliefs can work together to end the occupation.

    • Eric on July 10, 2012, 12:36 pm

      Since Fink opposes BDS, I think the best approach is “ignore and/or excommunicate”, and carry on without him. His negativity is weighing us down, and causing rifts, which our opponents crave. Intense, sustained pressure on the Zionist enterprise is the only thing that will bring the Palestinians a homeland. It can’t be military pressure, as Israel can repel virtually any power on earth, and terrorism is a gift for them to continue stealing and stalling. That leaves economic pressure, as well as ongoing efforts to sway global public opinion. BDS is the main economic lever and must be pushed assertively, otherwise the occupation will endure. Fink knows it, but his priorities have changed, and he wants entree into mainstream society. The price of admission is towing the liberal Zionist line, and he’s happy to oblige, so let him go, please!

      • Sibiriak on July 11, 2012, 7:37 am

        “Since Fink opposes BDS, I think the best approach is “ignore and/or excommunicate”, and carry on without him.”

        That might make sense–except Finkelstein doesn’t oppose BDS.


        “I said clearly. I said I think the solidarity movement has the right tactics.

        I support the BDS.

        But I said it will never reach a broad public until and unless they are explicit on their goal…”

  3. clenchner on July 10, 2012, 11:15 am

    “intention of ceasing to spread disinformation about BDS.”
    Really? You think F is consciously intending to mislead others? This is the dark hole one always digs when hypothesizing the motives of others.
    I think you (and others) are trying to tear down Finkelstein himself as a way of undermining his actual positions. It’s a cheap way to ‘win’ an argument. But then again, it is hard to know what lies in someone’s heart.

    • Evildoer on July 10, 2012, 3:38 pm

      Au contraire, this is what YOU are doing. If you are not happy with the arguments or don’t find them convincing, you could make your counter-arguments. You’d rather simply emote your disapproval.

  4. Les on July 10, 2012, 12:12 pm

    Having a long history of being a minority in many different lands, Jews supported both justice and equality. Justice for minorities in society, not just Jews. And equality (before the law) for all individuals.

    How is it that Finkelstein has broken with these two vital historic tenets of Jewish tradition?

    • American on July 10, 2012, 1:08 pm

      Les says:
      July 10, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      “Having a long history of being a minority in many different lands, Jews supported both justice and equality. Justice for minorities in society, not just Jews. And equality (before the law) for all individuals.”

      O.K,. here we go again. You need to amend that statement to “Some” Jews.
      Can ‘t get away with lionizing ‘all’ Jews or ‘The Jews’ any more than one can get away with stereotyping The Jews as baddies.

      And to stir the pot some more let’s consider….some people who were never, have never, been discriminated against, who were within the majority, also supported justice and equality for minorities…..when ”there was nothing in it for them”…..except their own personal principles.

      So if people insist on getting into group showdowns over ”what group is the fairest and most moral of them all”….then we have to go into some real philosophical debates like the one about whether the man riding in the carriage got out of his carriage to save a dog from drowning in the stream did so because he himself had almost drown in a stream and knew how it felt. or whether he had never experienced near drowning and did so out of some human ’empathy’ quality.
      And then we have to decide which type is the most virtuous …those who act from ‘their own’ remembered suffering or those who with ‘no personal’ remembrance or identification with suffering act with empathy for others.

      Take it away Aristotle.

    • Mooser on July 10, 2012, 1:22 pm

      “Having a long history of being a minority in many different lands, Jews supported both justice and equality. Justice for minorities in society, not just Jews. And equality (before the law) for all individuals.”

      Les, thanks a lot. I used to wonder whether those laudable things you mentioned (civil rights, equality before the law, justice) were the policy of the Jewish religion, or just the praise-worthy actions of individual Jews. But thanks to the veritable plethora of links, citations and references you supply to back up your statement ” “Having a long history of being a minority in many different lands, Jews supported both justice and equality.” I will never doubt it again.
      And if I may, I want to add additional congratulations from my slave-trading, pimping, Jewish ancestors.

    • Mooser on July 10, 2012, 1:25 pm

      “two vital historic tenets of Jewish tradition?”

      Yes, I agree. Preserving our reputation, as well as making it up, is a vital Jewish tradition, and I’m glad to see you doing your part.

  5. AaronM on July 10, 2012, 1:51 pm

    I’m glad that Ash recognizes his original statement is incorrect, and hope Mondoweiss will reflect that in the article. But I’m afraid his suggested correction is still off the mark:

    “The absence of any Palestinian political force that calls for the renunciation of the Right of Return and the abandonment of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, issues that Finkelstein advocates that solidarity campaigns drop, further buttresses the claim that the three BDS demands are indeed elements of national Palestinian consensus.”

    I’m sorry, but you’re again missing an obvious distinction. You cite the one instance of Finkelstein objecting to inclusion of RoR in an organizing statement that was focused on ending the siege of Gaza. It’s fair enough if you object to that position. But to say that means Finkelstein “advocates that solitary campaigns drop” RoR and Arab-Israeli equality entirely is ridiculous. In this case, Finkelstein, as he explained, objected on the grounds those issues were “both unrelated to the immediate objective of breaking the siege and dimmed the prospect of a truly mass demonstration.” I can understand why you would disagree, but can you seriously argue that that means Finkelstein wants solidarity campaign to “drop” these issues wholesale? Who’s doing the misrepresenting here?

    • Danaa on July 10, 2012, 4:19 pm

      AaronM – this is pilpul at its purest. Who the heck cares what exactly Finkelstein wants or doesn’t deep in his heart? is he demi-god that we must spend time and effort to figure the inner workings thereof?

      The facts speak for themselves, as do his words. He is sucking up Oxygen from a movement that is just about the only thing palestinians have going for them. If Finkelstein can’t see what works and what doesn’t, if he clings to Europeans exerting some kind of “pressure” on israel then the has a serious issue with his inner eyesight and/or sense of balance. As if the Europeans who admitted Israel into the OECD, who entertain them at the Eurosongfests, who have no oil but lots of nuclear weapons pointing at their capitals, who rely on anyone with a few dimes to rescue them from the implosion of capitalism – have any have muscle to spare.

      The argument of what does NF believe in is not the one that should be held. There’s only one discussion worth having – what does it take to save palestinians from complete ethnic cleansing, which is what Israel is planning for them. I know Finkelstein has no understanding of what the israeli collective is made of because if he did he’d understand that the struggle is not about the refugees of 1948, or even 1967, but the countless new refugees of the late 2010’s.

      We are trying to prevent a catastrophic atrocity here, the likes of which the modern world has not seen. And Finkelstein is citing international law and “consensus” even as the world under his feet is collapsing.

      All I want to know is – what gave? don’t even need to know why (I already do – NF is mortal, just like the rest of us).

      For once – and I so hate to say that – you are helping mount a show which makes OlegR’s heart beat ever faster. Then again, perhaps someone gave him front row tickets?

      • AaronM on July 10, 2012, 8:26 pm

        Danaa — I agree that the argument should not be about what NF believes. The problem here is that Ash (and Mondoweiss), in falsely representing NF’s views on Right of Return/Arab-Israeli equality, are in turn falsely representing what advocacy of a two-state solution within a BDS context would look like. If NF’s position is linked to pushing for a two-state solution through BDS, then who is going to look favorably upon that view if they believe it entails the “renunciation” (Ash) of the Right of Return?
        I would suggest you re-consider your interpretation of NF’s words. In speaking of a “consensus” he’s not talking about the points of view of European governments or any other — he’s talking about the consensus as seen in polls of the public (including Palestinians:, of the UN General Assembly, of the human rights groups, of the International Court of Justice. That’s not putting stock in European (or any other) governments to rescue Palestine, that’s putting the onus on us as activists to help mobilize the public worldwide on a position they widely agree on.

      • Danaa on July 11, 2012, 2:32 am

        AaronM – I think it’s Finkelstein that needs to adapt to the BDS movement not the other way around. So far, international law yielded very little other than paper. Can they save a single sheep of a single palestinian farmer?

        The RoR at this point is moot – and it’s absolutely none of Finkelstein’s business to tell the palestinians what to do, and personally I doubt he knows much about them or the consensus “public opinions” . We know that Israel doesn’t give a hoot about all the scholarship of NF and the ICC combined. And israel doesn’t care about palestinian opinion but is overjoyed to see Finkelstein call out cults, culprits and other angels on a pin.

        He should get behind Bargoutti’s movement if he want to stay relevant in the real fight ahead. If he doesn’t like something about the platform he is free to continue to not like it and expound on why. We can either take his arguments or leave them on the cutting room floor. I choose the latter, you may choose otherwise.

        As I said above, I honestly don’t care about what Finkelstein believes or doesn’t. That he likes to sling epithets, well he is not the only one. Unlike Ash I have no patience for people busy rearranging chairs on the deck of the titanic. Would rather be trying to help those who are rounding up life boats.

      • Hostage on July 11, 2012, 3:34 am

        AaronM – I think it’s Finkelstein that needs to adapt to the BDS movement not the other way around. So far, international law yielded very little other than paper. Can they save a single sheep of a single palestinian farmer?

        This line of argumentation fascinates me. There has never been a permanent international court with general jurisdiction to enforce international criminal law until now:

        In another courtroom across this Dutch capital, a Congolese warlord named Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was sentenced to 14 years in prison for pressing child soldiers into his militia.

        Lubanga, 51, was sentenced by the International Criminal Court, a permanent institution that was set up 10 years ago this month in the aftermath of the Bosnia and Rwanda conflicts, to try cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. His was the first case to reach completion at the tribunal, to which 121 countries are parties, not including the United States, Russia or China.

        Trials of Lubanga, Mladic show impunity for war crimes ending

        So the only approaches that have even been tried so far are 1) armed conflict, and 2) political pressure. The BDS movement talks about international law a lot, but only proposes the application of more political pressure. So the question could be flipped around and you could ask can more political pressure save a single sheep of a single palestinian farmer?

      • Mooser on July 10, 2012, 9:38 pm

        “We are trying to prevent a catastrophic atrocity here, the likes of which the modern world has not seen.”

        Wouldn’t it (I ask seriously) be more correct to say ‘the likes of which we have seen many times over, and know perfectly well will be engendered by the situation Israel has chosen to impose’

        To me, the real tragedy is not that the situation is unique (the like of which the world has never seen) but that the situation is so common, and we know damn well what is most likely to happen. Even the numbers involved are well within a contemporaneous understanding, as is the role of the GOI the USG, etc.

      • Danaa on July 11, 2012, 2:24 am

        OK Mooser – you are right of course. But I did add “the modern world”. Should have been more specific. I did not intend to shortchange the Vandals or good old Attila from their share on the reknown in the atrocities department. Or the crusaders. Or the Romans. Or Joshua. Gosh, I could be here all night reciting the litany of humanity’s illustrious past.

    • Inanna on July 10, 2012, 10:26 pm

      It seems that what NF wants is theoretical rather than practical adherence to ROR. NF is free to think and advocate what he wants but his views are not being taken up by Palestinians nor their supporters en masse. He has failed to persuade. I just wish he was more gracious about his loss rather than continuing the attacks.

  6. ritzl on July 10, 2012, 1:53 pm

    At this point, the only way to end the occupation (make a 2ss even remotely viable again) is to convince Israel of the impending reality that something very much worse is coming. That “very much worse” (from their POV) something is One State. BDS, with One State as its goal supports that. BDS with Two States/end the Occupation as its goal is a half measure that ensures a 25% or less outcome.

    You have to ask for it all in order to negotiate for what you are willing to settle for. If the “ask” is only half, then the ultimate result is diminished accordingly.

    Whether One State is the ultimate outcome of BDS, or whether BDS, with success, scares the pants off Israelis enough to get them to collectively want to avoid a 1ss at all costs by moving aggressively toward a 2ss is unknowable and therefore irrelevant. It’s the claim that’s important and necessary at the moment.

    • Inanna on July 10, 2012, 10:26 pm

      Well said ritzl.

    • Sibiriak on July 11, 2012, 7:14 am

      It well may be that a 1SS-oriented BDS movement might “scare the pants off the Israelis” enough to get them to move toward a 2SS (they certainly arn’t going to move to a 1SS!)

      But that’s a dangerous game, and, imo, misjudges Israeli politics.

      As Uri Avnery put it:

      “Let me tell you what I find most frightening in your proposal, more than anything else. You say that the Two States Solution is inherently bad and should be rejected. Your alternative is a solution which 99 percent of Jewish Israelis do not want, and which has no chance to be accepted. What does that leave? It leaves the slogan of the Israeli right wing: that there is no solution to this conflict.

      That is what I am afraid of: of those who say that “There is no solution to the conflict”, the conflict will last forever, that it is our fate to suffer an eternity of it. This is what I am afraid of, because it can serve as justification to all horrors, up to and including ethnic cleansing.”

  7. Dan Crowther on July 10, 2012, 2:55 pm

    Crowther responds to Finkelstein and Ash:

    Why don’t y’all shut the F up?? How ’bout some shit like that?

    This back and forth goes nowhere, this intellectual masturbation – reminds me of the stupidity of the meetings at Occupy, “point of process- oh wait, I didnt use the right hand signal, can we get consensus on the correct procedures for introducing a point of process, should we form a committee and a listserv on this issue?”

    Seriously, enough.

    • dbroncos on July 10, 2012, 9:16 pm

      Thanks, Dan.

    • Mooser on July 10, 2012, 9:40 pm

      Like I say, Dan, they’re either trying to out-Jew Mondoweiss, or they’re trying to out-Palestinian Mondoweiss. I wonder if it doesn’t come to the same thing.

      • Dan Crowther on July 11, 2012, 10:11 am

        This whole back and forth, and the kind of “trying to be more catholic than the pope” -which me and the moose man both find distasteful- that comes with it was PERFECTLY illustrated in a video I saw yesterday on the real news network. Harry Fear, this british kid goes to Gaza, does a video from the airport that was destroyed. His five minute video had not a single palestinian or jewish israeli interviewed, in fact, the whole video was of Harry, telling a story of what happened to the airport, as he stood in one of its ruins. A real “look at me” moment. “look ma, im in gaza, all by myself, isn’t this crazy!?!” Had a real anthropological edge to it. Reminded me of a Onion article headline from years ago, “Darfur is now safe, thanks to that speech George Clooney made, and that tee-shirt Sharon Stone wore”

  8. Ladidah on July 10, 2012, 3:22 pm

    Let’s talk about “tactics” and “tactical differences.” Certainly, people do have tactical differences, which is why people engage in letter writing campaign, mass permitted demonstrations, and smaller unpermitted demonstrations and civil disobedience actions, for example.

    However, when such “tactical differences” become the subject of extensive political debate and discussion, it is reasonable to assume that the differences are not merely tactical, but are, in fact, substantive – even if one party to the conversation does not want to acknowledge their substantive nature.

    Let’s also acknowledge that the history of extraordinarily substantive “tactical differences” in the Palestinian movement is quite substantial. Everything from the Oslo Accords, to joining the PA, has at one point been labelled as a “tactical option” by its proponents. Every concession on Palestinian rights has been categorized by generations of Palestinian leadership (and their supporters) as “tactical.” (This is particularly true around the issue of the right of return, the meaning of the Oslo accords for refugees, etc.) That doesn’t mean that a debate about the Oslo accords is really just a matter of “tactical differences” and not really a big deal, and just the debate within the movement, after all.

    On the issue of Finkelstein and the Right of Return, he may “believe in the right of return,” or “believe it is valid in international law.” Fine. But he spends a huge amount of actual time arguing against anyone supporting it!

    I will note, in this context, that unlike Finkelstein, the BNC, Omar Barghouti, and PACBI, do not spend a lot of time doing anything similar. The BNC – and Barghouti personally – are huge proponents of large BDS campaigns that engage in selective divestment, focus on the occupation, focus on settlement goods or US military contractors, and barely mention the right of return, such as the TIAA-CREF campaign. To the best of my knowledge (and I believe my information on this is substantively correct), the BNC has never pressured the organizers of this campaign to adopt principles that were further than they saw as useful, and in fact has responded to critiques of this and other campaigns *on this issue* as insensitive to the US context, etc!

    So there’s *not* a BDS cult insisting that people have to frame their local or institutional boycott campaigns in specific frameworks; what there is, is a call that lays out the fundamentals of the Palestinian national movement and the 3 sectors of Palestinian nation. There’s basically a very clear acceptance of tactical differences, eyes focused on the enemy.

    (Those 3 issues did not arise at the time of the BDS call. If they were not included, the call would NOT have the broad support it has among Palestinian groups and institutions, including movements and organizations representing refugees. )

    NF’s Gaza Freedom March, I’ll note, was quite different than the BDS campaigns supported by the BNC, Unlike those campaigns, it involved international activists exercising their expression in Palestine, on Palestinian land, making demands about what “freedom” means for Palestinians. Contrary to NF’s apparent belief that it gives the March credibility among others for Palestinians to not be involved nor set the demands of the march, that very thing led to a lack of credibility for the March among many Palestinian and Arab activists in Gaza and elsewhere! It was not an action that took place primarily in the space of solidarity activists, but one that was intended to take place in Palestine. The “political context document” was an extraordinarily mild political statement.

    BTW, NF does in fact say all the time that the Right of Return is a right. He then proceeds to talk about how reasonable people disagree about it; how rights can be negotiated; etc. His talks and his lectures in which he dismisses the right of return, says it should be negotiated away, and says people should understand Israeli “demographic concerns” are not billed as “Norman Finkelstein’s Views on Tactics for Palestinians and Solidarity Activists,” they’re solutionist talks about “How To Solve The Conflict”. So one can assume that he supports his recommendations to negotiate away the right of return, and that he finds the insistence on “full” right of return (an important distinction) in the BDS call to be uncomfortable because it contradicts with his prescriptions on “How to Solve the Conflict.”

    I mean, sure, he could be lying! It could all be a “tactic!” Maybe he really supports the full right of return for all Palestinians and thinks it’s the core of the conflict and the cause. But in the end, it’s just the “tactics” of Oslo all over again, and people moved past that twenty years ago.

    • Sibiriak on July 11, 2012, 6:44 am

      “His talks and his lectures in which he dismisses the right of return, says it should be negotiated away,”

      That’s not at all accurate. There’s a big difference between “negotiating away the right to return” and having a right of return accepted by all, and negotiating the implementation of that ROR.

      Finkelstein has never dismissed the right of return, nor said it should be negotiated away.

      • Ladidah on July 11, 2012, 10:01 am

        But he *does*. Because he insists, in the same lectures and talks, that one of the untouchable, immovable “realities that must be faced” in order to “solve the conflict” are “Israeli demographic concerns.” So, yes, Israelis have to “acknowledge that Palestinians have a right to return,” and then negotiate what that means. In light of accepting that Israelis will not compromise! on “Israeli demographic concerns.”

        While discussing how demanding the “full right of return” (as opposed to the theoretical framework of it, without its reality) is unacceptable, unrealistic, and consigns Palestinians to live under occupation forever.

        Yes, that would in fact be a proposal to negotiate away the right of return for the vast, vast majority of Palestinian refugees. (Yes, a “right of return” to the “Palestinian state,” something that Finkelstein himself has alluded to in his discussion of why one cannot advocate for *both* ending occupation *and* the right of return, is also negotiating that right away, because the right is to return to where a refugee was displaced from, not somewhere else with a different “demographic character.”)

        I really don’t care what Norman Finkelstein or Saeb Erekat *believe in their hearts* about the right of return. It doesn’t matter. When they advocate for negotiating it away (whether full stop, or under the cover of “return to the Palestinian state,” or “symbolic implementation after recognition”), it is the exact same attack on Palestinian refugees’ rights. Their “beliefs” don’t really matter. Finkelstein wants to believe himself “a diplomat to solve the conflict.” Really there’s more than enough of those from the US, EU, et al, and no one really asked for more. Fine, as “a diplomat to solve the conflict,” he spends a lot of time attacking Palestinians for demanding their rights. So it’s really quite rational to take from that, that he means the same thing that other “diplomats seeking to solve the conflict” do when they attack Palestinians as extremists for demanding their rights – that they shouldn’t particularly have them, because Israeli racism is more important.

  9. Hostage on July 10, 2012, 3:32 pm

    If we’re all going to run around chasing our tails and quoting the international humanitarian laws contained in the Geneva Conventions, then let’s not forget that Omar Barghouti wants to obtain equal rights as a citizen of an enemy state, not equal rights in the State of Palestine. It’s axiomatic that the representatives of “Palestinian Civil Society” cannot include citizens of an enemy state during the settlement phase of an international armed conflict, without raising dual loyalty/fifth column issues.

    Furthermore, there are plenty of Arab citizens of Israel who have been adamant about their opposition to the proposals to strip them of their Israeli citizenship and incorporate the territory that they inhabit into the State of Palestine. So, discussing “abandonment” obscures a very important aspect of their political status and the legal principle of self-determination. Palestinian civil society organizations and their organs of State do not have locus standi to speak on behalf of the citizens of Israel. Furthermore, Palestinian civil society can support the positions taken by Arab citizens of Israel in ways that would automatically be viewed as unlawful intervention in matters pertaining to Israel’s domestic jurisdiction if they were undertaken by the organs of a belligerent State, like the PA or the PLO.

    The PLO was recognized as a national liberation movement of the entire Palestinian people after the Rabat conference. But ever since the 1988 Algiers UDI, the PLO Executive and Central Committees have been responsible for carrying out the functions of the Provisional Government of a State in-line with international law and the resolutions of the United Nations. The declaration cited the UN resolution that partitioned the territory of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states as the source of the government’s legitimacy. The overwhelming majority of other countries have recognized Israel and Palestine as entities with all of the rights and responsibilities that statehood entails.

    So its bizarre when the citizen of an enemy state writes editorials about dismantling the PA or opposing statehood for the inhabitants of the territories governed by the PA/PLO because they have “abandoned” their responsibilities to the citizens of Israel. The whole idea is a non-starter to anyone who accepts the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all of the states in the region. If the BDS movement doesn’t respect those rights and responsibilities, then it’s acting like a co-belligerent.

  10. Mooser on July 10, 2012, 9:26 pm

    Gabriel ash, as everyone who is anyone know perfectly well, is the very soul of modesty. And since he would never tootle his own shofar it remains to me to remind readers that It was Gabriel Ash who wrote the simplest, shortest most understandable and direct, yet brilliant, analysis of Hasbara: How to make the Case for Israel- and Win!

    For you Hasbaratchiks who want to be on-line soldiers (hey, sure beats front-line, any day) defending Israel, you can make rank if you study this and use it’s 4 simple steps….

    • Evildoer on July 13, 2012, 7:20 am

      As we know, “the work of the righteous is done by others.”

  11. marc b. on July 11, 2012, 3:04 pm

    put me in the ‘ash’ column. this controversy over finkelstein’s position is of finkelstein’s making (and little if anything to do with ash’s ‘misinterpretation’ of finkelstein’s position on the right of return) further inflamed by the bombastic nonsense of referring to BDS supporters as a ‘cult’ . and see elsewhere, earlier, his dopey commentary that precisely mirrors the argumentation of the ‘new anti-semitism’ crowd (because the ‘old anti-semitism’ wasn’t clearly enough defined) that there are worse international outrages that don’t elicit the same reaction as I/P, and that this is evidence of bias among palestinian supporters or more precisely proponents of BDS.

    finkelstein is the problem here, not ash, not myopic overemphasis on tactical considerations, not ‘lefty’ egotistic in-fighting, and this is why people should be extremely discerning when placing someone like finkelstein on a pedestal: progress shouldn’t be placed at risk because some ‘star’ of the movement spins off his/her axis.

Leave a Reply