VIDEO: Norman Finkelstein’s harsh words for the BDS “cult”


Harsh, harsh words. Finkelstein has never been important to me and this video is the first time I’ve seen or heard him. Here, he expresses some surprising and intense frustration at what he perceives as the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement’s “dishonest” and “cult” behavior.

In this interview, Finkelstein faults his BDS-sympathetic interviewer for a failure of pragmatism. By not taking a position on Israel, he charges, the BDS movement has foolishly taken a very public stand against a “non-starter” of the general public: the State of Israel’s survival as the homeland of Jews. If they don’t believe in a state of the Jews, he repeats, then the movement should just say so. It will remain hypocritical and irrelevant, but at least it won’t be dishonest. The international community has established through law the State of Israel, which the BDS movement silently opposes. Finkelstein doesn’t impune their methods or their morality, but their dishonesty. He says if the movement wants to be effective in persuading the broad global public, then it should continue to boycott, divest and sanction but only as far as forcing Israel to reach a two-state compromise.

Those of us in the mutually pro-Israel, pro-Palestine camp have always felt this about the pro-Israel right-wing and the pro-Palestinian left-wing: the ideologues on both sides are willingly intellectually dishonest and morally single-sided. Pro-Palestinian advocates, like pro-Israel boosters, selectively view international law and morality, often ignoring how ethnic conflicts the world over are solved in common practice.

I think about this often. I’m not someone that’s comfortable with ethnic nationalism, of any stripe. But philosophically, either you believe in collective rights or you don’t. Nationalism is one form of collective rights. Opposing collective rights requires the upending of whole canons of international law. It is a major plank of global legal adjudication. Law that those of us who care for Palestinian independence rely upon inseparably for its statehood and a redress of Palestinian life and property losses in 1948 and 1967.

There is indeed a tension between collective rights and individual rights, one that frustrates anybody who cares about justice for individuals. But successfully solving ethnic conflict usually requires “class action” solutions where often millions of competing individual claims are resolved en masse, albeit imperfectly. For example, many survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants never reclaimed their personal property from European governments, but Germany and European nations paid massive reparations to the State of Israel and Jewish global communities. Likewise, many Palestinians will not receive back their homes in Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem and some 200+ villages across Israel, but will receive other compensation. (Same with Jews expelled from Arab nations.) That is the inevitable compromise between these two negotiating bodies.

If one believes in collective rights, then one must stand behind the decision of the UN to partition two states for two peoples. One must also recognize that the State of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization were established as the collective bargaining entities of the two parties — Jews and Palestinians. And while one can organize to support a fair, stable deal between these two unequal parties, there is no way around that basic formulation. And if one does not believe in collective rights, then use of international law and its deliberations selectively is willfully hypocritical.