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June 21, 2013 30

Norman Finkelstein Throws Wrench In Anti-Israel Movement’s Claim To A Rights-Based Agenda

A panel dis­cus­sion held dur­ing last weekend’s Left Forum, an annual gath­er­ing of left-wing activists in New York, revealed some star­tling frac­tures and points of dis­sent within the domes­tic anti-Israel move­ment. The con­fer­ence, which typ­i­cally fea­tures a vari­ety of anti-Israel ses­sions and speak­ers, included a panel this year called “How to Solve the Israel-Palestine Con­flict: 0, 1, or 2 State Solution.”

From Left: Stephen Shalom, Lamis Deek, Sherry Wolf and Norman Finkelstein at Left Forum 2013

From Left: Stephen Shalom, Lamis Deek, Sherry Wolf and Nor­man Finkel­stein at Left Forum 2013

Three of the pan­elists expressed sup­port for a one-state solu­tion as one that is more “just.”

The most sur­pris­ing pre­sen­ta­tion, how­ever, came from Nor­man Finkel­stein, a for­mer pro­fes­sor at DePaul Uni­ver­sity and noted critic of Israeli policy.

Finkel­stein, who caused quite a stir in anti-Israel cir­cles last year when he claimed that the BDS (Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions) move­ment has char­ac­ter­is­tics of a “cult” and seeks to destroy Israel, began the dis­cus­sion by argu­ing that Israel is a state rec­og­nized under inter­na­tional law with respon­si­bil­i­ties, oblig­a­tions AND rights. He chal­lenged the latent hypocrisy within the anti-Israel move­ment (and his co-panelists), which con­stantly points to inter­na­tional law to jus­tify its agenda while ignor­ing the fact that inter­na­tional law estab­lished Israel as a Jew­ish state. “How does one pro­pose to win sup­port for the Pales­tin­ian cause based on inter­na­tional law yet not sup­port two states? That just doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

He con­tin­ued to assault com­mon objec­tives of anti-Israel activists. He specif­i­cally took issue with the BDS movement’s claim of being “rights-based” while again not rec­og­niz­ing Israel’s right to exist, say­ing, “That’s pure unadul­ter­ated hypocrisy. And, speak­ing per­son­ally, I don’t want to have any­thing to do with it. And speak­ing polit­i­cally, it won’t go anywhere.”

If Finkel­stein was a pro-Israel advo­cate, his views would per­haps come as no sur­prise. But Finkel­stein has made a career out of demo­niz­ing Israel. He has described Israel as a “satanic state,” accused Israel of caging Pales­tini­ans “into a ghetto” and exalted Hezbollah’s mil­i­tary achieve­ments against Israel as a “vic­tory of lib­erty and a vic­tory for freedom.”

Mem­bers of the audi­ence reacted hos­tilely to Finkelstein’s pre­sen­ta­tion, talk­ing and shout­ing over him and even yelling at him dur­ing the ques­tion and answer period. While he spoke, two of the other pan­elists – Lamis Deek, a founder of Al-Awda; and Sherry Wolf, an avid BDS  activist – who both later expressed sup­port for a one-state solu­tion, fre­quently rolled their eyes and put their heads down, dis­play­ing vis­i­ble dis­com­fort with his positions.

At one point, Deek and Finkel­stein engaged in a hos­tile back-and-forth exchange. After acknowl­edg­ing that she could never “rec­og­nize the right of the entity known as Israel” to exist, Finkel­stein chal­lenged Deek’s use of the term “entity,” stat­ing, “Israel is a state. It has the same rights and the same oblig­a­tions as the 190 other states.” Deek coun­tered that she has “no oblig­a­tion to oper­ate strictly under the aus­pices or within the frame­work of inter­na­tional law despite the fact that Pro­fes­sor Finkel­stein or other pro­fes­sors would like me to do so because they don’t make that require­ment of the Israeli entity.”

 

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February 7, 2013 1

Free Speech Is A One-Way Street For The BDS Movement

In response to the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing a Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions (BDS) event tak­ing place tomor­row at Brook­lyn Col­lege, numer­ous pro-BDS pub­lic fig­ures, activists and groups have labeled con­cerns about the event as a “smear cam­paign” designed to get the event can­celed and sup­press the expres­sion of legit­i­mate viewpoints.

A state­ment by the national coali­tion of Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine (SJP) referred to oppo­si­tion to the event as an “onslaught of intim­i­da­tion.” Al-Awda and Amer­i­can Mus­lims for Pales­tine, two off-campus anti-Israel orga­ni­za­tions, con­demned the pro-Israel community’s reac­tion as a “smear cam­paign” designed to sup­press free speech. Jew­ish Voice for Peace went so far as to call for Har­vard pro­fes­sor Alan Der­showitz to be fired for argu­ing that Brook­lyn College’s polit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment should not spon­sor anti-Israel events.

Sim­i­larly, Roger Waters, the founder and lead singer of Pink Floyd, issued a state­ment of sol­i­dar­ity with the SJP chap­ter at Brook­lyn Col­lege, the group orga­niz­ing the event, that con­spir­a­to­ri­ally claimed: “That you have come under attack from pow­er­ful polit­i­cal and media forces for try­ing to shed light on the predica­ment of the good peo­ples of Pales­tine and Israel is wrong. I stand with you. Sadly, none of us knows what lies behind the closed doors of gov­ern­ment, even though we should for we have a right to know, to speak, dis­cuss, still not your voice, be not afraid. More power to you.”

Other more main­stream com­men­ta­tors have also used abra­sive lan­guage to lam­bast those who dis­ap­prove of the department’s spon­sor­ship of the event. Glen Green­wald, in a piece over the week­end on The Guardian’s “Com­ment is Free” site, described those urg­ing the polit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment to drop its spon­sor­ship as an “ugly lynch mob” and claimed that elected offi­cials in the U.S. sup­port Israel for less than earnest rea­sons: “It is all but impos­si­ble to suc­ceed in New York City pol­i­tics — or US national pol­i­tics — with­out faith­fully embrac­ing pro-Israel ortho­dox­ies. That’s the nature of pol­i­tics in gen­eral: it requires sub­servience to empow­ered fac­tions and majori­tar­ian sentiment.”

It is the BDS move­ment, how­ever, that is inher­ently pred­i­cated on the sup­pres­sion of speech and “free exchange of ideas,” which Green­wald claims to vehe­mently sup­port in his arti­cle. Sup­port­ing boy­cotts of Israeli aca­d­e­mics, diplo­mats and per­form­ers is sim­ply not con­sis­tent with free speech val­ues.  Fur­ther­more, anti-Israel stu­dents can­not legit­i­mately claim to sup­port a “free exchange of ideas” when they reg­u­larly dis­rupt and heckle pro-Israel speak­ers on cam­pus. One anti-Israel stu­dent who heck­led Israeli sol­diers at an event at UC Davis last Feb­ru­ary flatly admit­ted, “My only pur­pose today is that this event is shut down.”

In fact, an increas­ing num­ber of anti-Israel groups do not sup­port a free exchange of ideas and explic­itly argue that the pro-Israel voice does not even deserve to be heard. The tac­tic, known as anti-normalization, is increas­ingly being felt by pro-Israel groups on cam­puses across the coun­try whose coun­ter­parts refuse to engage in dia­logue with them and often try to dis­rupt or shut down pro-Israel events. It seems that the BDS movement’s com­mit­ment to free speech and an open exchange of ideas is only a one-way street.

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December 21, 2012 1

“Violent Resistance” Makes Comeback in Wake of Pillar of Defense

Through­out Oper­a­tion Pil­lar of Defense, the recent clash between Israel and Hamas oper­a­tives in Gaza that came to an end almost a month ago, anti-Israel activists expressed sup­port for Hamas and vio­lent resis­tance against Israel. Ral­lies across the U.S. included chants of “intifada, intifada” and hos­tile mes­sages posted on Face­book and other social media plat­forms also sided with Hamas and joy­fully announced that the “resis­tance has reached Tel Aviv!”

Inter­est­ingly, this sort of extreme rhetoric has not fully ebbed since the lat­est oper­a­tion came to a close. At an event on Wednes­day called “Resis­tance and Rev­o­lu­tion: Gaza, the Arab Spring, and the new Mid­dle East,” which was held in down­town Brook­lyn, sev­eral pan­elists acknowl­edged that vio­lence is a nec­es­sary part of the “rev­o­lu­tion” against Israel.

Lamis Deek, a founder of Al-Awda, even crit­i­cized the Mus­lim Brotherhood’s lead­er­ship in Egypt for seiz­ing and con­fis­cat­ing an arms ship­ment en route to Gaza from Libya, using it as an exam­ple of Egypt’s exces­sive “pro-Israel” posi­tion. She also included in her remarks, which were titled “Pales­tine and the Right of Resis­tance,” praise for the lan­guage of the cease­fire agree­ment between Israel and Hamas pre­cisely because the text did not include a call for the recog­ni­tion of the state of Israel.

Sherry Wolf, an activist with the Inter­na­tional Social­ist Orga­ni­za­tion and the event’s spon­sor, sim­i­larly claimed that out­siders “can’t dic­tate the type of resis­tance” used by Pales­tini­ans and that there should be no expec­ta­tion of a “resis­tance ‘Dream Team.’” Wolf has pre­vi­ously advo­cated an explic­itly pro-terrorist posi­tion. On Novem­ber 20, a day before the cease­fire was declared, Wolf pub­lished an arti­cle on the Social­ist Worker’s web­site titled, “Gaza’s Right to Resist Israeli Ter­ror.” In the arti­cle, she called “Hamas’ mil­i­tary resis­tance” a “source of tremen­dous pride” and said that those who stand with the oppressed ought to defend the “right of Pales­tini­ans to resist the ter­ror of the Israeli mil­i­tary machine.”

Wolf has been invited to speak on sev­eral col­lege cam­puses in recent weeks, includ­ing at New York Uni­ver­sity and Williams Col­lege in Mass­a­chu­setts. Her appear­ances are gen­er­ally spon­sored by social­ist stu­dent groups and Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine.

There is also evi­dence of increased sup­port for Pales­tin­ian resis­tance beyond the U.S. At the Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don tomor­row, an event called “Gaza: Refo­cus­ing Resis­tance, How the resis­tance in Gaza has refo­cused the Arab Spring” will take place. Speak­ers sched­uled to appear at the event include Roshan Muhammed Salih, a cor­re­spon­dent for Iran’s government-run Eng­lish lan­guage news net­work PressTV, and Sukant Chan­dan, a London-based activist who sup­ports Hezbol­lah and praised the sec­ond intifada dur­ing his speech at an Al Quds Day rally in Lon­don last August.

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