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The attitude of Jews living in the U.S. has changed. The Honeymoon of American Jews with Israel is over, says Finkelstein. They could no longer bring their liberal stance in line with the aggressive conduct of the Israeli state. In addition the so called Goldstone report about the Gaza invasion in 2008 has shown that Israel is extremely vulnerable on the human rights issue. Non-violent resistance in the occupied territories would certainly put pressure on the government in Tel Aviv. „I think that Gandhian tactics can work.” Boycott measures could also be an instrument to bring Israel on course toward international law. But Finkelstein criticizes the BDS movement (BDS = Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) since it doesn’t take a clear stance toward the state of Israel. Instead the movement wants to implement the full right of return of all Palestinian refugees which in the end would mean the elimination of Israel by stealth. But with such an approach one could never reach a broad public. Finkelstein therefore advocates for a two state settlement.


Norman Finkelstein, political scientist from the U.S. and author of several books about the Israel-Palestine conflict. His latest book is: “Gaza. An Inquest into Its Martyrdom”.


David Goeßmann: In one of your latest books, “Knowing too much – why the American-Jewish romance with Israel is coming to an end” – you analyze the change in how the liberal Jews in the U.S. are viewing Israel and the Palestinians. Explain what you mean by that.

Norman Finkelstein: American Jews are resolutely liberal and vote Democratic. And the last election was even more revealing because Prime Minster Netanyahu was very publicly supporting the Republican candidate Mitt Romney. And he effectively said that Obama’s bad for Israel and bad for the Jews. And he was saying that Israel is on the verge of a second Holocaust and Obama was appeasing therein while Mitt Romney was going to go in there and incinerate it and so on. Still, 70 percent of American Jews voted for Obama. They didn’t really care what Netanyahu had to say. They didn’t particularly care that he was saying a second Holocaust is going to happen and so on – the usual Netanyahu roadshow. American Jews are resolutely and overwhelmingly liberal and being liberal means to believe in the rule of law, in equality under the law, resolving conflicts through negotiations, not through force – the usual liberal tenets. And it’s impossible any more for American Jews to reconcile their avowed liberalism with the way Israel carries on. Israel is a kind of lunatic state. It’s a Genghis Khan state – no offense to Genghis Khan, he’s probably gotten a bad reputation and wasn’t as bad as they claim. Or Attila the Hun.  And so, to American Jews this is kind of a weird state. And it’s going over the cliff, politically, ideologically. So American Jews, especially younger American Jews who are pretty secular and assimilated – 60 percent of American Jews are marrying non-Jews – and all the ruling-class families, the political elite, they’re all marrying Jews. So Israel, you don’t want to say it’s in its death throes but it’s clearly no longer a primary item on the agenda of American Jews. Which is not to say if Israel’s physical annihilation were threatened, the American Jews would rally behind it. In my opinion they should – no country should be physically annihilated. But short of its physical annihilation, the Honeymoon with Israel is over. We may not be at divorce stage but I think we’re at the point of a trial separation.

David Goeßmann: You also wrote a book about Gandhi – what Gandhi said about non-violent resistance and courage. Talk about your findings, what has Gandhi said, and relate it to strategies of resistance or mobilization in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Norman Finkelstein: Gandhi attaches a lot of value to non-violence, no question. It is an important value for him, but not the most important one. Gandhi is very emphatic. The most important value to him is courage. It is not non-violence. And he says it over and over again. He says if you have the choice, if you can’t find the inner strength, the inner wherewithal to be non-violent and you’re being assaulted, your dignity is being attacked, if you don’t have the strength to be non-violent, than you sure as heck had better be violent. And the worst thing for Gandhi is a person who in the face of an assault on his or her dignity or assault on his or her life flees and claims: Why am I fleeing – because I’m non-violent. Gandhi says: You’re not fleeing because you’re non-violent. You’re fleeing because you’re a coward. And Gandhi is very tough on cowards. Gandhi as I said, strongly believes in using non-violent language, but when it comes to cowards, Gandhi uses some very tough language. He said cowards – I’m just quoting him – “don’t deserve to live”. That’s his view. Cowards are a disgrace to the human race, that’s what he says, they don’t deserve to live. For Gandhi, if you’re a combatant, you have a weapon. Your opposite on the battlefield also has a weapon. So, in the course of the exchange you have a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. The other person may kill you first, or you may kill the person first. That’s violence. You have a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. Which is of course odds that none of us particularly likes, we all cling to life, we want 99.9 percent. That’s the Obama doctrine: You send out drones and you kill people and call yourself a hero. John Brennan, the current nominee for the CIA sits in the basement of the Whitehouse and decides who to kill. And then Obama approves the list and he claims he has no responsibility to Congress, to courts, to international law. He has the right to kill who he wants. It’s very heroic, you know, to send out drones and kill people.

But the usual combatant, not the repugnantly cowardly doctrine of Mr. Obama, is that you have a fifty-fifty chance to survive. But in the Gandhian doctrine of non-violence, you have zero chance to survive. Because Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violence is – and he says it very clearly – you’re supposed to march smilingly and cheerfully into the line of fire and get yourself blown to bits. That’s what Gandhi means by non-violence. Because Gandhi starts from a basic premise: The only thing that moves sympathetic bystanders to act, to do something, is when they see suffering. If they don’t see suffering, it’s not on their radar screen. Or it’s in one ear and out the other, in one eye and out the other. They’ve got to see suffering. So for Gandhi you have to be willing – ready, able and willing – to get yourself killed. That’s the Gandhi doctrine. Smilingly and cheerfully you march into the valley of death and you get yourself blown to bits.

It doesn’t take too much understanding to grasp: that is more heroic than a battlefield fighter. That’s why there is no inconsistency between Gandhi attaching the highest value to courage and also attaching a very high value to non-violence.  The two are completely reconcilable when you understand what Gandhi means by non-violence. Non-violence means getting yourself killed.

David Goeßmann: And how does it relate to the Israel-Palestine conflict and mobilization for it?

Norman Finkelstein: How it relates is: Gandhi starts on a basic premise. He says, you can accomplish anything with non-violence that you can accomplish with violence. With the additional fact that it will probably cost much less in blood in the end. I think there are real prospects for a mass civil disobedience in the occupied territories. I think Israel will have a big problem trying to repress it because Israel is now very vulnerable on the issue of international law and violations of human rights. Israel is always fearful of that Goldstone II report as they call it. They’re terrified because this time it might go to the International Criminal Court which the first one was supposed to go to but it never got there.

David Goeßmann: Could you just explain what the Goldstone report is?

Norman Finkelstein: During the assault on Gaza from December 27th to January 18th 2008/09, Israel committed massive atrocities – by its own admission by the way, or I should say the admission of its soldiers. Afterwards the U.N. Human Rights Council appointed Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist, to investigate what happened. He went with a team over there and he wrote a pretty damning report on what happened. And then the report made clear that Israel is going to be held accountable this time. And it looked like it might actually come near – the U.S. of course is going to block it – but come near the International Criminal Court or some other legal body and then the Israelis hounded Goldstone for about two years. He eventually recanted, nobody quite knows why, what happened. My own suspicion – I fully admit I can’t prove it – is they found something on him or his daughter who is an Israeli citizen and blackmailed him into recanting. But the Israelis have been very worried about this prospect. When the Goldstone report was still alive, Prime Minister Netanyahu said we’re facing three existential threats: Number one: Iran, number two: the Hezbollah/Hamas missiles and number three: Goldstone. Goldstone was a very serious concern for them. And so Israel is feeling very hemmed in on the issue of human rights. You saw it with the last assault on Gaza where because there were foreign reporters there – unlike in the first attack – because Goldstone II hovered over them and because of the Turkish-Egyptian message to Obama: Israel will not do another “operation cast lead” (that’s what it was called in 2008), those days are over. Gaza is not going to be a shooting gallery any more for Israel; it’s not going to be fish in the barrel. And for those various reasons, even though Israel committed its usual atrocities, killed about a 150 people, it was much less then in operation cast lead. And that was in the face of – theoretically, I don’t believe the height – the 1,400 or 1,500 Hamas missiles and projectile attacks. They still were very limited in what they could do because they had the extreme vulnerability on the human rights issue. If you bear in mind how little Israel was able to do in November 2012 when it attacked Gaza for eight days, if there is a non-violent resistance, I don’t think they can do much. I think they’ll have a very hard time. And I think that Gandhian tactics can work.

Kontext TV: You criticized the international campaign, boycott divestment and sanctions, short BDS. First of all Explain what BDS is and why you criticized it.

Norman Finkelstein: First of all, I don’t like the abbreviation BDS. I don’t like these in-group abbreviations. In my day it was DOP, Dictatorship of the Proletariat, no we have BDS. It’s a sanctions campaign against Israel trying to get international sanctions modeled in some respect on the South African anti-Apartheid movement, AAM it was called back then. A sanctions campaign to try to impose sanctions on Israel, basically at multiple levels. The level of course of the United Nations, to get U.N. sanctions, and at the popular level various forms of people’s boycotts and so forth to get sanctions, and also at the national level, by trying to get states, either on their own initiative or through popular pressure, to impose sanctions. As a matter of principle of course I support sanctions being imposed on Israel in order to try to get it to conform to international law. So there, there’s no dispute or argument between me and what’s called the BDS movement. What I don’t find particularly appealing about the BDS movement is, No. 1 its hypocrisy and No. 2 its dishonesty and I’m kind of old-fashioned about that – maybe I don’t belong in politics – and I often think I don’t belong in politics because I find hypocrisy and dishonesty distasteful. The hypocrisy of BDS is if you read their publications, they always claim, that they’re just trying to implement international law. That they’re anchored in international law. If you read for example, one of the leaders of BDS’s book “BDS” every other page is international law, international law, international law. So they say they want to implement three aspects of international law. 1) Israel has to end the occupation. 2) There has to be equality of Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel. 3) There has to be full implementation of the Palestinian right of return. I’m not going to discuss those three aspects for the moment. But there’s another aspect of international law, and that’s Israel. Israel is a state. Under international law it has the same rights and responsibilities, the same rights and obligations as any other state. You ask me, yes, OK, we’ll implement international law. So that means of course recognizing that Israel as a state has the same rights. They say “No, we don’t take any position on Israel.” How can you take no position on Israel? If you want the right of self-determination for Palestinians as they claim they do, up to and including the creation of an independent Palestinian state – that’s what self-determination in one of its versions is: the right to statehood and independence – then Israel is a state. That’s its expression of self-determination. It’s a state. But they take no position on that. How can you be for upholding and implementing national law and take no position on Israel. That doesn’t make any sense. That’s literally non-sensical. It’s like the play Hamlet without the prince of Denmark. Israel is part of the conflict. How can you have an Israel-Palestine conflict upholding the rule of law and having no position on Israel? That doesn’t make any sense. In my opinion this is completely hypocritical. You may say “I don’t agree with the law. I don’t think Israel has any right to be there.” That’s for example the Hezbollah position. That’s fine, that’s a perfectly legitimate position to have. But then don’t claim you’re upholding international law. Sheikh Nasrallah doesn’t claim this is international law. He says, “I don’t believe Israel has any right to be there.” Fine, that’s your position. But don’t invoke international law. Because then it just becomes pure unadulterated, unequivocal hypocrisy. So that’s at the level of the hypocrisy of BDS. Then there’s the level of dishonesty. They do take a position on Israel. Their position is, they don’t want it to be there. They just say it. Don’t pretend to something that’s not true. You don’t really take no position on Israel. You have an implicit position. Your view is: If we end the occupation, we implement the law of return, we get equal rights, we’ll eliminate Israel by stealth. OK, you’re entitled to that position, but then admit to it. And don’t play this duplicitous game of saying: We take no position. Of course you take a position. You just do the addition. You have a position there. So let’s be honest about that. And then there’s the third thing which is politics. I dealt with the hypocrisy, I dealt with the dishonesty, and I’m dealing with the fantasy. There is exactly zero support in the world today for eliminating the state of Israel. Now you can talk about “Oh, we don’t mean physically eliminating it.” No, I agree. Most of you, not all of you, but most of you aren’t talking about physically eliminating it. That’s true, I agree with that. But there’s no support for eliminating it in any way. Is there any forum in the world today, any forum, where even one member speaks about eliminating the state of Israel? Is there any? The United Nations – obviously no, there’s no member. The Arab League talks about a two-state solution on the June 1967 border. Organization of the Islamic Countries, the OIC – 57 Muslim countries – all speak about a two-state settlement. Including Iran! Is there any significant legal or human rights body that speaks about eliminating Israel? The answer is: No!

David Goeßmann: So what should be the realistic steps to a settlement?

Norman Finkelstein: The realistic steps are right there: You have to force Israel to enforce the law. That’s very simple. Israel has to enforce the law. And that’s a message that a broad public can understand. People understand the rule of law, in particular Jews. Some of them are lawyers. They understand the rule of law. And you have to force that issue. But the law is inclusive. It’s not just Palestinian self-determination. Sure, Palestinians have the right to self-determination, that’s a fact. That’s not up for grabs. That’s a fact. Their right has been validated – the right to self determination. But Israel is a state. That’s its expression of its self-determination of its population under international law. And if you want to abandon international law I don’t’ see any way to reach a broad public. Because the Palestinians claim the right to self-determination – fine. But there are other people in the world. And this principle of self-determination applies across the board. If you don’t want to accept that, you have every right not to. Nobody forces you to accept those principles. As I said the Hezbollah does not. I completely respect them but that leads you – if you don’t accept them – then two things. 1) Stop pretending that you’re trying to enforce international law. You’re just enforcing the right to walk at the green. But you refuse the reciprocal obligation to stop at the red. You have the right to walk up to the green line. The line separating Israel from the occupied territories. You have the right to walk up to the green. But then you have to stop at the red. That’s the law, it’s a red line. If you get my point. 2) If you want to abandon international law, I don’t see you have any possibility of reaching a broad public because a broad public can understand this is the law, let’s enforce it. But if you just say this what I think justice is, this is my opinion of justice – who’s going to care? You can have your opinion on anything. My opinion is, we should abolish money. But that’s not really a solution to the financial crisis and the current state of the world. Who cares what your opinion is, it’s … It has nothing to do with politics. Which is one of the good things about Gandhi. He understood that politics is about not trying to change public opinion. Politics is about trying to get people to act on what they already know is wrong. That’s the challenge of politics. You have to see where the public is. The problem, he says, with people, is not that they’re ignorant. The problem with people is they’re lazy. Everybody knows there are a thousand things wrong with the world. They just don’t do anything about it. So the challenge of politics is not to change the minds of people – they already know there are things wrong. The problem is to get them to act on what they know is wrong. And here most people understand this is the law, the law should be enforced. You can reach people on that. But if you want to change the whole conception of the world and prove Israel has no right to be there. From the river to the sea it belongs all to the Palestinians, which is the position of the leader of the BDS. He says, that the only ones who have the right to self-determination from the river to the sea are Palestinians. Israelis, Jews have no rights – that’s his view. Except if we – meaning Palestinians – are magnanimous enough and give them rights. But they have no rights. The only ones who have the right to self-determination from the river to the sea are Palestinians. Well I don’t think you are going to convince anyone of that. I don’t think that has a snowball’s chance in hell of reaching a broad public. So there’s a so to speak moral issue, ethical issue – being consistent, being honest. And then there’s a political issue – can you reach people? And I say you can’t.