Norman Finkelstein: A question of principle and practicality

Dax D’Orazio interviews Norman Finkelstein, – 19 Nov 2009

Norman Finkelstein

Norman Finkelstein

Dr. Norman Finkelstein is a renowned American political scientist who specializes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Zionism and political aspects of the Holocaust. An ardent critic of Israeli and U.S. policy and supporter of Palestinian human rights, Dr. Finkelstein has devoted his academic life to exposing and challenging spurious scholarship on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is the author of a number of notable books including Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, The Holocaust Industry and Beyond Chutzpah.

On Oct. 14 Dr. Finkelstein was in Ottawa as part of a cross-Canada lecture tour organized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. Sponsored by Carleton Cinema Politica and OPIRG/GRIPO, his lecture titled Israel & Palestine: What’s Preventing Peace attracted over 250 students, professors and community members.

Dax D’Orazio from Carleton Cinema Politica and Students Against Israeli Apartheid interviewed him shortly before delivering his lecture at Carleton University.

Dax D’Orazio: Tell me a bit about your forthcoming book(s)?

Norman Finkelstein: I have one large manuscript which was entitled “A Farewell to Israel.” The title will probably be changed because it’s rhetorical and ambiguous; things that I don’t intend. But basically it’s about the breakup of American Zionism and in general liberal Zionism because Jews are overwhelming liberal. 79 per cent of Jews voted for Barack Obama in the last election and it’s now becoming more and more clear that it’s impossible to reconcile one’s liberal convictions which generally means support for the rule of law, support for international institutions and support for basic human rights. It’s becoming more and more impossible to reconcile one’s basic liberal convictions or sensibilities with the policies of the state of Israel.

That became very clear with the publication of the Goldstone Report. Goldstone is a liberal, he calls himself a Zionist, and yet he’s calling for Israel to be hauled before the International Criminal Court and I think the reason is obvious. It’s impossible to be what Goldstone claims to be, a liberal and a Zionist, and still support or endorse Israeli conduct and behaviour.

And I wrote another little book, a little brochure really, on Gandhi and the Israel/Palestine conflict. Basically what we can learn from Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha. I read about 40 volumes of Gandhi’s collected works. His collected works come to about 100 volumes. I read about 40 going from 1930 to 1947. It’s about 20,000 pages long. Quite an ordeal but a useful ordeal, basically trying to see how to apply his politics to the Israel/Palestine Conflict. And then there’s a little book coming out to mark the first anniversary of the Gaza Massacre, on what happened in Gaza and also the repercussions and in particular the Goldstone Report.

DD: In your opinion what changed after the Gaza massacre?

NF: I think the Gaza massacre, actually the Goldstone Report says it, I think it’s fair to say, if not a qualitative change there was a quantitative change with the Gaza massacre. Because the Gaza massacre was the first of Israel’s conflicts with its neighbours which wasn’t at all conceived as a military battle. In passed cases, you know the June ’67 War, the ’82 War, you could say there was a combination of both a conventional military war or even a conventional guerrilla war in the case of Lebanon and the targeting of civilians, civilian populations and civilian infrastructure. What made the Gaza massacre different was there was no military target. It was conceived from the get-go and it was executed as a, well I’ll quote Goldstone, it was a disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize, that’s his words, the civilian population. It had no military component. I think that became clear to the international community, that in no meaningful sense, and even in an unmeaningful sense, you couldn’t call this a war. It was the most sophisticated military technology in the world being inflicted on a defenseless civilian population. And so it isn’t possible any longer to defend.

DD: I imagine the lack of accountability in this conflict disgusts a lot of people. Do you see the Goldstone report as an important next step in this regard?

NF: Yes, I agree with your formulation. It’s a next step. There will not be accountability. The U.S. will exercise its veto and block any real accountability but there is a gradual mobilizing, galvanizing of public opinion such that so to speak you can see the writing on the wall, that Israel is getting closer and closer to being held accountable and it will be more and more difficult for Israel to escape accountability. And in that respect you can say the Goldstone report marked a qualitative change. They recognized now for the first time that the shadow of accountability is hanging over them.

DD: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign seems to be reaching all new levels of success each month. What are your thoughts on this?

NF: I don’t want to diminish its significance but I think there is a tendency now to exaggerate its significance as well. There have been some victories. I would not call them trivial but I wouldn’t call them earth shattering either. My own view is that those aspects of the BDS campaign which are key to international law have an excellent prospect for success. So for example, the settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal and any company which is profiting from investment in settlements or in settlement industries or retailing products made in the settlements, those are an obvious target. I think those kinds of targeted campaigns can succeed.

Another campaign which has a good possibility for success is Amnesty International’s call for a total arms embargo on Israel and Hamas. So you know calling for that arms embargo and echoing Amnesty I think that has a lot of possibility, not for actually succeeding, but for mobilizing public opinion and getting your foot in the door to talk to people about what the real issues are.

So I think there are two separate issues.There’s the question of principle and there’s the question of practicality. In principle, you know, short of egregious violence, I’m for doing pretty much anything to end this occupation. Forty years is enough. On the other hand, from a practical point of view I think those aspects of the BDS which target facets or features of the occupation that have been declared illegal under international law, the transferring of arms to Israel is illegal. It’s illegal under international law as well as domestic U.S. law to transfer weapons to a country which is a consistent violator of human rights. And also as I said the settlements and so forth, those campaigns have good possibilities for success.

Back to Top

Readers are welcome to discuss IOA content on our Facebook page. To participate, please click HERE.