That awkward moment when even your supporters think you’re all idiots (BDS)

A video (below) is being sent around of Norman Finkelstein aggressively criticising what he calls the “Solidarity Movement”, referring to the movement of people who claim “solidarity” with Palestinians. For those of you who aren’t aware, Finkelstein is a crackpot “academic” who is the son of Holocaust survivors, yet he has made a career out of downplaying the significance of the Holocaust by claiming that it was “just another genocide” and creating a conspiracy theory whereby it has been turned into some sort of “industry” to further the goals of a “Jewish elite”. Well I say “career”, he was denied academic tenure and has become pretty marginalised and discredited over the years. For more on this, see Harry’s Place HERE, Will Yakowicz HERE and Armin Rosen HERE.

As you may have guessed, Finkelstein has for a while been a poster-boy for the anti-Israel and antisemitic world. Amongst other things, he has the dubious honour of being named as one of the “good Jews” by John Mearsheimer, when Mearsheimer was distinguishing between the few righteous Jews out there and the rest. This is why his criticism of that very movement is so significant.

Note: contrary to what some have been saying, particularly in pro-Israel circles, Finkelstein was not criticising the BDS movement. In fact, Finkelstein is in favour of BDS and was quite clear about that – what he was criticising is the Solidarity movement in particular, which is the movement behind BDS but is not the same as the tactic of boycotting Israel. That said, I will use them interchangeably below, nuances aside.

Finkelstein’s flaws aside, he makes a very important point in the last five minutes, one that he is in a rare position to actually make first-hand, having been immersed in the BDS movement for years: the claim about BDS being supported by “Palestinian Civil Society” is complete rubbish. BDS is supported by a few hundred NGO’s and Unions based in Ramallah and under the direct control of the Palestinian Authority, most of which don’t seem to actually do anything except support BDS. The idea that this is “Palestinian Civil Society” is a complete propaganda exercise; these groups have no legitimacy at all in making that claim, they are all following the agenda of what amounts to a dictatorial regime.

The other important point that Finkelstein makes is that the Solidarity movement is a small, inward-looking cult whose members constantly reaffirm each other’s viewpoints and think they are duping the rest of the world, when in fact their goals are completely transparent.

For instance, he points out that while the Solidarity movement tries to maintain that it has no stance on whether they support a one or two state solution, it is quite clear that they actually support a one-state solution and Israel is not that state. This is well-documented, but it’s good to hear it from an insider – especially since, as he points out, the BDS architects “think they’re so clever” by arguing for “human rights” and “the return of refugees”.

Finally, he makes a good point about selective use of international law: despite the fact that Israel was recognised as a “Jewish state” under international law, they seek its destruction, and yet they use international law to criticise Israel’s presence in the West Bank etc. I would argue that the pro-settler Israelis demonstrate the same hypocrisy, but the status of the West Bank is far more ambiguous than the recognition of Israel.

Anyway, I did see one response to this amongst the numerous (and pretty amusing) outraged members of the Solidarity movement, so allow me to rebut that quickly:

In Response to Norman Finkelstein Interview «.

Mr. Finkelstein criticized BDS movement of being picky about the law. He says that the law is clear. “It is also correct that Israel is a state,” he said. “If you want to use the law as a weapon to reach the public opinion you cannot be selective about the law.” UN Resolution 273 (III) admission of Israel to membership in the United Nations recalls “its resolutions of 29 November 1947 and 11 December 1948” as the basis of accepting Israel as a state. The membership of the State of Israel in the UN is dependent on their respect to resolution 194 and the right of return. UN Resolution 194 (III) article 11 states that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes…should be permitted to do so”.

This is one of the worst pseudo-legal arguments I’ve read. The funniest part is that it can be completely rebutted just by looking at the words that the author decided to omit between “return to their homes” and “should be permitted” – there was a huge qualifying “and live at peace with their neighbors” there. Kinda disqualified all of the refugees at the time, and it is now no longer “practicable” to let them all return, so there goes that argument.

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  1. #1 by Liam on February 16, 2012 - 8:18 pm

    I think what Finkelstein is saying is that he supports the tool of boycotts in pressuring Israel. Few would say that boycotts are an illegitimate tool — they’re commonly used, by people on each side of every conflict. That’s different to being “pro-BDS”, which means, for all intents and purposes, “pro-BDS movement/solidarity campaign.”

    • #2 by MK on February 16, 2012 - 10:02 pm

      I can answer this “from the horse’s mouth“, or so to speak:

      On the question of tactics, I support the boycotts which are anchored in international law. So, if the settlements are illegal, settlement products are illegal, marketing those products is illegal and the protesting the marketing of illegal products from illegal settlements, I think is perfectly legitimate. Under international law, it’s illegal to transfer weapons to a country which is a consistent violator of human rights. Israel is, according to Amnesty International, a consistent violator of human rights and Amnesty International says there has to be a comprehensive total arms boycott on Hamas and Israel. So, the protesting of arms transfers from the U.K. to Israel, I supported. That’s the law.

      But when you start going towards political boycotts which include anything and everything Israeli, I consider that problematic because if you were saying ‘I’m boycotting anything Israeli until the end of occupation’, I could see that. The problem is people don’t say ‘until they end the occupation.’ They say ‘we’re boycotting anything Israeli’ and then you’re not really clear. Do they want to dismantle the occupation or do they want to dismantle Israel? I don’t support dismantling Israel. Yes, Israel does horrible things, but so does the U.K. and whatever Israel does that’s horrible, it’s a tiny fraction of what the U.S. does that’s horrible every minute, of every hour, of every day. So, since I don’t see any boycotts calling for the dismantling of the United States, or the dismantling of the U.K. , then I’m not supporting the dismantling of Israel. There’s a deliberate ambiguity about whether you want to end the occupation or whether you want to end Israel.

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