In a recent video interview with a Palestinian Solidarity activist, Norman Finkelstein, a leading anti-Israel agitator, spoke frankly about the BDS and Palestinian Solidarity movements. He described these movements as cultish and dishonest and essentially agreed with our long standing criticisms of these movements – that support for the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement is basically a call for the destruction of the State of Israel. The video was originally posted on YouTube and then pulled at Finkelstein’s request. Frank Barat, who interviews Finkelstein in the video, posted the following on Facebook:
Norman Finkelstein contacted me (a common friend was also involved in discussion) and asked me to delete video from youtube account because “video did some harm” (his words). I agreed to do so because I think that, at the end of the day, video ended up creating a fuss/controversy but not much else and my intention was never to divert some people minds from what is really important: daily solidarity with the Palestinian People.
The video has been reposted on Vimeo, and I present it here to you while it’s still up. It must be seen by anyone who cares about the rule of law, the Israel-Palestine conflict and honest political discourse. Should it be pulled again, I am fairly certain that it will somehow keep popping up:
I know the video is over 30 minutes long, but these revelations, coming from a supporter of BDS, are nothing short of explosive. I took the liberty of transcribing some of Finkelstein’s more salient statements:
We have to be honest, and I loathe the disingenuousness. They [BDS Movement] don’t want Israel. They think they’re being very clever, they call it their three tier – we want the end of the occupation, we want the right of return and we want equal rights for Arabs in Israel. And they think they’re very clever because they know the result of implementing all three is what? What’s the result? You know and I know, what’s the result? There’s no Israel… there’s no Israel, full stop… If you want to eliminate Israel that’s your right but I don’t think you’re going to reach anybody. I think it’s a non-starter.
Finkelstein seems to be advocating a more pragmatic approach. He doesn’t say that he necessarily opposes the destruction of the Sate of Israel. He simply states that that position will not generate results:
We have to free ourselves of illusions… how many people are you really reaching? Are you reaching a … mainstream public? I don’t think so… 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’re explicit on their goal. And their goal has to include recognition of Israel, or it’s a non-starter. It won’t reach the public, because the moment you go out there, Israel will start to say “What about us? And they won’t recognize our right.” And in fact that’s correct. You can’t answer the Israelis on that, because they’re making a statement that’s factually correct. It’s not an accident, an unwitting omission, that BDS does not mention Israel. You know that and I know that. It’s not like they’re “Oh, we forgot to mention it.” They won’t mention it because they know it will split the movement, because there’s a large segment of the movement … which wants to eliminate Israel.
Finkelstein reviews the historical record of the BDS movement and admits that their successes have been greatly exaggerated:
You talk about BDS, they make all these claims about their victories. Well you know what? You see these ten fingers? These more than suffice to count all their victories. There are superfluous fingers here, to count all their victories. It’s just, it’s a cult. Where the Guru says we have all these victories and everyone nods their head and nobody sits down to do the arithmetic on their own. I see Veolia mentioned like 20 times a year. They keep repeating it as if it’s a new victory. How many victories are there? Let’s not get carried away! I hear them say BDS is the most successful tactic. Yes it’s had some victories. No question about it. But the way people promote it, as if it’s proven itself, and it’s on the edge, on the verge of a victory of some sort, it’s just sheer nonsense. It’s sheer nonsense. It’s a cult. And I’m personally, I’m tired of it.
Finkelstein also notes that support for BDS within Palestinian civil society is not as strong as BDS activists and Palestinian NGOs claim:
Who are these organizations? They’re NGOs in Ramallah. One person operations, and they claim to represent … Palestinian civil society. If they really were Palestinian civil society as they claim, then why can they never organize a demonstration of more than 500 people? … Have you ever seen a statement by BDS that doesn’t have the first subordinate clause “BDS, the largest civil society organized protest in dadadadada … endorsed by 26 trillion, five hundred and fifty five million, billion you know, organizations. They’re just Ramallah NGOs, represent absolutely nothing … if it were what you said, where are the demonstrations there? … It’s a very strange thing when the people there who claim to be the leaders of civil society, they can’t organize a demonstration of 500 people among themselves but they’re telling everybody else abroad what to do. That’s a weird inversion. When I was first involved in the Gaza Freedom March … they said they were going to bring out 50,000 people in Gaza. 50,000 people! And you know how many they brought out? They brought out 300.
Finkelstein continues his criticism of the BDS and Palestine Solidarity movement by calling it a cult:
It’s a cult. You make up numbers, you fantasize and all the followers are supposed to nod their heads. Well you know what? I’m 58 years old, I’ve been involved in this 30 years … I gave my life to the cause, and I’m not going to be anybody’s fool. I’m not wasting time anymore. I’m tired of it, I really am. I’ve lost patience with it. I’m tired of gurus and I’m tired of cults.
He then concludes:
You know and I know exactly what we’re talking about because if we end the occupation, and we bring back 6 million Palestinians and we have equal rights for Arabs and Jews, there’s no Israel. That’s what it’s really about. And you think you’re fooling anybody? You think you’re so clever? That people can’t figure that out for themselves? No, they understand the arithmetic perfectly well. Are you going to reach a broad public which is going to hear the Israeli side “they want to destroy us?” No, you’re not. And frankly you know what? You shouldn’t. You shouldn’t reach a broad public. because you’re dishonest … it’s dishonesty, and I don’t want that kind of leadership. At least be honest with what you want: “We want to abolish Israel, and this is our strategy for doing it.” Ok, be straight forward about it. But this kind of duplicity and disingenuousness “Oh we’re agnostic about Israel.” No, you’re not agnostic, you don’t want it. Then just say it! But they know full well that if you say it, you don’t have a prayer of reaching a broad public. That’s where the public is now. You’re not going to reach them, and it’s a waste of time.
This is a truly remarkable set of statements. Strategically, it’s about the worst thing that could have happened to the BDS movement – to be spanked so thoroughly by one of the leading Palestinian activists in the West. Finkelstein is forcing BDS advocates to clearly state their position on the existence of the State of Israel. If they agree to accept the right of the State of Israel to exist, the movement will splinter. If they don’t they will lose public support. Either way, they’re screwed. Many people are critical of Israel, but how many want to destroy the State? Justice for Palestinians is one thing; eliminating a legally constituted state is quite another.
Judging by the comments all over the Interwebs, it’s clear that BDS activists are having a difficult time trying to spin Finkelstein’s bomb shell, difficult because it can’t be spun. Finkelstein hasn’t left the movement, he hasn’t renounced any of the beliefs that have motivated his 30 year career as a critic of Israel and supporter of the Palestinian people. He just called it like he saw it.
And how is that? What does it boil down to? That when someone supports BDS, they are supporting a movement that primarily advocates Countrycide – the destruction of the State of Israel. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying and they are not above lying for the sake of promoting their agenda. Which is, again? Yes. The destruction of the State of Israel.
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