Tag Archives: Norman Finkelstein

Norman Finkelstein’s metamorphosis

It’s nothing short of Kafkaesque: when Norman Finkelstein, a veteran hero of Israel-haters left and right, criticized the BDS campaign in a recent interview, his erstwhile admirers turned on him with a ferocity that is positively delightful.

The +972 blog – which the New Israel Fund supports in order to help it become “sustainable” – posted this scathing verdict (which is real fun because it starts off with what can only be described as a Freudian typo):

Normal [sic!] Finkelstein has made a career out of being the son of holocaust survivors who doesn’t shy away from picking a fight with Israel’s backers, and who unabashedly defends the rights of Palestinians. […] Everything about the interview is classic Finkelstein: his demeanor, his tendency to raise his voice, his adversarial, passionate approach, everything, that is, except for the things he’s saying. In a bizarre turn of events, he comes off as a Zionist bully, or for that matter, any other angry right wing pundit.

[…] Finkelstein even resorts to the desperate tactic of denial. When the interviewer puts forth his contention that the BDS movement is growing in popularity, Finkelstein rejects the idea out of hand, comparing the movement to some Maoist group he apparently was affiliated with at some point in his more idealistic youth.

Here you have it: Norman Finkelstein transformed into a “Zionist bully”…

It really shows you how little it takes in the world of +972 – or, for that matter, of Mondoweiss, which approvingly linked to the +972 post – to earn the label of “Zionist bully”.  Norman Finkelstein most definitely doesn’t deserve it…

Just one additional note: for the author of this +972 post, it is apparently a sign of “idealism” to have been affiliated with a Maoist group — but it’s the sort of ideological “idealism” that isn’t much bothered by the fact that one expert on China’s modern history has argued that Mao “qualifies as the greatest mass murderer in world history.”

 

Showcasing Israeli wrongs: +972 and the BDS campaign

Last Thursday, a terrible accident involving a Palestinian school bus and an Israeli truck killed eight children and left an additional 36 children injured; some of the victims suffered serious burns caused by a fire that broke out after the crash. As the Jerusalem Post reported, Israeli rescue services were immediately mobilized, and some of the seriously injured children were evacuated to Israeli hospitals to receive the most advanced care.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was abroad, offered the Palestinian Authority (PA) ”any aid requested,” and President Shimon Peres telephoned Palestinian President Abbas to convey his condolences.

However, as the Jerusalem Post also reported, several Palestinian officials immediately blamed Israel for some of the deaths, claiming that rescue services were prevented from quickly coming to the scene of the accident and didn’t treat the injured adequately. Israeli officials rejected these accusations and pointed out that all of the injured had been evacuated to hospitals within 30 minutes after the accident.

In a post aptly entitled Where Also The Truth Goes Up In Flames, Aussie Dave at IsraellyCool concluded that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to blame Israel” and pointed out that this was a “sickening accident and sickening attempts to exploit it as part of the demonization campaign against Israel.”

However, the far-left online magazine +972 chose to highlight a very different angle. Completely ignoring the attempts of Palestinian officials to exploit the tragedy for political purposes, a blog post by  Fady Khoury, an intern at Adalah, an organization promoting Arab minority rights in Israel, focused on a selection of disgusting reader comments at the Facebook page of Israel’s Walla News.

Khoury noted that “there were a lot of readers who condemned these and other racist comments,” but he justified highlighting the repulsive comments:

Israelis tend to accuse Palestinians of being immoral because once and again [sic] the Israeli media shows Palestinians gloating and celebrating over the death of innocent Israelis. The reaction of these ordinary Israelis to the death of Palestinian children shows that the “moral” party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not so moral after all.

[…] My only intention is to show an example of the consequences of continuous occupation, which is affecting Israeli society as well as Palestinian society. […] there cannot be any doubt that these individuals feel comfortable openly expressing their hateful and racist opinions in a public domain mainly because discriminatory political discourse has legitimized this type of expression.

In my view, these comments should cause concern to Israelis more than Palestinians. Once hateful speech becomes legitimate, even if not explicitly, it tend [sic] to seep inwards, and in a divided and fragmented society – which is clearly the case in Israel – the risk is even greater.

It is worthwhile to read Khoury’s words carefully, because he provides an excellent example of the efforts to mainstream the demonization of Israel.

Presenting himself as fair-minded and objective by acknowledging that the repulsive comments were immediately criticized, he appeals to an audience that is not a priori ready to condemn Israel. However, Khoury then goes on to claim that the comments illustrated “the consequences of continuous occupation” and that “these individuals feel comfortable openly expressing their hateful and racist opinions in a public domain mainly because discriminatory political discourse has legitimized this type of expression.”

Khoury’s short post offers no evidence to back up his assertions; indeed, his own acknowledgment that “there were a lot of readers who condemned these and other racist comments” obviously contradicts his subsequent claims that a “discriminatory political discourse has legitimized this type of expression.”

The plain fact of the matter is that in every country, you will find individuals who are posting vicious comments about their objects of hate – and evidence for this can easily be found by looking at talkbacks for articles about Israel…

It is also important to note that +972’s professed goal is “to provide fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis of events in Israel and Palestine;” in addition, the name of the site – derived from the telephone area code that is shared by Israel and Palestine – is presumably meant to convey the message that events should not be seen in a compartmentalized way, but as interconnected.

This is therefore a site where you can expect to find a commentary on Israel’s social protest last summer complaining about the protesters’ lack of interest in discussing the occupation of the West Bank.

But when it comes to appalling comments, it’s apparently fine and dandy to simply highlight that they can be found on Hebrew websites and to tout this as proof that Israel is “not so moral after all.”

The obvious implication is that Israel has no reason to complain when Palestinians glorify terrorism – but the obvious problem is that there are countless well-documented examples showing that, very different from Israel, this is a mainstream phenomenon in Palestinian society that is openly endorsed and promoted by political, religious and social leaders, and that Palestinian criticism of this phenomenon is quite rare.

Any “fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis” of this by +972?

If there is anything “fresh” or “original” about yet another website that joins the already crowded field of sites that push the simplistic narrative of Israel as the perpetrator and Palestinians as the victim, it is perhaps the fact that +972 usually refrains from the shrill anti-Zionism and scrupulously tries to avoid the open antisemitism that is quite popular among the “blame Israel firsters.”

But like so many others, +972 pushes the popular notion that “without dramatic pressure from abroad […] Israelis will continue the occupation and the current political trends forever.” While this message ultimately reflects a deep despise for the majority of mainstream Israelis, there is definitely an audience that appreciates the endless repetition of this empty claim.

The traffic attracted by +972 has reportedly “grown exponentially since its inception” in the summer of 2010 – driven presumably also by the fact that some well-placed writers like the New York Times Lede editor Robert Mackey have repeatedly quoted the site – and, in addition to some smaller funds,  +972 has recently received a one-year, $60,000 grant from the Social Justice Fund intended to “help support the site becoming a sustainable operation” as well as a $10,000 grant from the Moriah Fund.

Given that the New Israel Fund wants to help +972 to become “a sustainable operation,” it should be legitimate to scrutinize the basic world view propagated by the site.

The initiative for +972’s establishment came reportedly from Noam Sheizaf, who serves as editor in chief and CEO. According to a recent admiring feature by Sarah Wildman in The Nation, Sheizaf is “magnetic, intellectual and articulate” – and Wildman assures her readers that  the “same is true” for all the other +972 contributors she has spoken to. However, Wildman admits that the “writers are fringe,” though she insists that “they are on the whole far smarter and more nuanced than most who attract that label.”

But all the smartness and nuance cannot conceal that ultimately, +972 has as little sympathy for the experience of the mainstream Israelis who, after supporting the Oslo process in the 1990s, learned from the bloody violence of the Al-Aqsa intifada and the continued rocket threat from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip that their hopes for “peace now” were not realistic.

While +972 writers may feel that they “are all part of a process of redrawing the Israeli political map,” there is reason to think that, unwittingly or not, they may actually be part of a very different process: it turns out that editor in chief and CEO Noam Sheizaf  thinks that the “Palestinian problem is a human rights problem disguised as a diplomatic problem; this was Israel’s greatest success, making it look like a geopolitical issue.”

This is of course exactly the position of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that campaigns frantically to delegitimize Israel as an “Apartheid state” – indeed, this issue was highlighted in the tempestuous debate that followed Norman Finkelstein’s recent criticism of BDS. Consider the following passage from a scathing rejection of Finkelstein’s criticism published by +972:

There is an increasing consensus among Israel’s critics to see the issue as one of civil rights, rather than a conflict between two nations. Indeed, some BDS activists harbor a desire to see the end of the Jewish state, and others believe this is the inevitable outcome of a civil rights movement, whether they desire it or not. But many others, I would argue most Palestinians among them, simply don’t care about this abstract One State v. Two State argument. They just don’t think civil rights – indeed human rights – can be trumped by someone’s nationalist claims.

Very different from Sheizaf’s spiteful notion that it “was Israel’s greatest success, making it look like a geopolitical issue,” it is actually the BDS movement’s greatest ambition to ignore the history of the conflict and repackage the rejectionist Palestinian view that Israel’s mere existence as a Jewish state constitutes some basic violation of Palestinian “rights” into slogans that will appeal to activists – many of whom care primarily about human rights violations that can be blamed on Israel.

The BDS movement is dependent on a steady stream of stories about Israel’s wrongdoings – whether real, invented or just liberally embellished – and by showcasing Israeli wrongs without much regard for context and reinforcing a simplistic perpetrator-victim narrative, +972 is doing its part, even if its writers may not openly support BDS.

Moreover, ignoring the long history of Arab and Palestinian rejectionism and pretending that the conflict is a “human rights problem disguised as a diplomatic problem” inevitably implies that efforts to negotiate a two-states-for-two-peoples solution will not solve the Palestinian “human rights problem.”

That is exactly the message BDS activists want to get out – and, couched in Islamist terms, this also happens to be the message of Hamas:

From time to time there are calls to hold an international conference in order to seek a solution for the [Palestinian] problem. Some accept this [proposal] and some reject it, for one reason or another […]  However, the Islamic Resistance Movement […] does not believe that these conferences can meet the demands or restore the rights [of the Palestinians], or bring equity to the oppressed.

I think anyone who agrees with the view that the “Palestinian problem is a human rights problem disguised as a diplomatic problem” and that this “disguise” is somehow due to Israel’s nefarious machinations should wonder what exactly distinguishes this position from the stance of Hamas.

Moreover, anyone who sincerely believes that the Palestinian problem is exclusively or primarily a human rights problem should insist that this problem is illuminated in all its aspects – including abuses by Hamas and other Palestinian groups, and including the longstanding severe discrimination suffered by the descendants of Palestinian refugees who are denied citizenship and related rights in the countries they were born.

Anyone who is interested in Palestinian human rights only when their violation can be blamed on Israel is not a human rights activist, but an anti-Israel activist – and there is absolutely nothing “fresh” or “original” about that.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.