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June 21, 2013

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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March 8, 2013

Anti-Israel Activity Reached Fever Pitch This Week

Anti-Israel activists took a multi-faceted approach to attacking Israel in the public sphere this week. In the span of 7 days, divestment resolutions were considered at three college campuses, ten anti-Israel billboards were put up in Atlanta, over 30 college campuses hosted Israeli Apartheid Week programs and two daylong BDS conferences were scheduled.

These initiatives are formally or informally part of a global effort to advance the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. They demonstrate the anti-Israel movement’s commitment to employing multiple tactics and campaigns to attract support for its positions.

A flyer advertising the first public discussion on the divestment resolution at UCSD

Here’s a closer look at what’s taken place this week:

  • Campus Divestment Resolutions: Student governments at Stanford University, the University of California (UC), Riverside, and UC San Diego considered divestment resolutions targeting multinational companies that work with Israel like Caterpillar, General Electric and Northrup Grumman. The results were mixed: the resolution at Stanford was voted down; UC San Diego did not vote on its resolution (after a discussion that lasted until 2am) and will resume discussing it next week, while UC Riverside passed its resolution in a stealth manner reminiscent of the recent resolution at UC Irvine. The divestment resolution at Riverside was introduced without advance notice and seems to be part of an effort to ensure that pro-Israel students are left in the dark and are therefore not present at the public discussion to voice their perspective and advocate against the bill.
  • Israeli Apartheid Week: At least 35 college campuses in the U.S. are participating in IAW this year, the ninth consecutive year that the program has been held in cities around the world. Most of the events in the U.S. were formally scheduled to take place March 4-8 but some are stretching into next week as well (due to various university-related scheduling conflicts). IAW events this year have primarily included anti-Israel speakers, mock “apartheid walls” and checkpoint displays on campus, and screenings of two critical of Israel films,  the Oscar award-nominated “5 Broken Cameras” and a more extreme film called “Roadmap to Apartheid.” “Roadmap to Apartheid” is narrated by The Color Purple author Alice Walker and analogizes Palestinian refugees to Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and partially condones terrorism as a “symptom” of the conflict.
  • BDS Conferences: This past Saturday the University of Texas, Austin, hosted a daylong “BDS Conference” that featured extreme speeches by Nada Elia, a faculty member at Antioch University in Seattle, and Sherry Wolf, a Jewish socialist and activist. Elia avowed that she would not reject Palestinian extremism because Palestinians “have a right to resist” and compared Israelis to American slave-owners. Wolf used the platform to claim that the notion that Israel is the Jewish people’s homeland is “bulls–t” and accused Israel of “terrorism” and institutionalized racism against the Palestinians. She further described Zionist Jews as “white supremacist racist[s].” On Saturday, March 9, a similar conference will take place on the Auraria campus in Denver. Participants will “learn about the history of both Palestine and the global BDS movement, hear what coalition groups are working on, and participate in BDS and coalition-building training,” according to the event flier.
  • Anti-Israel Billboards: The Council for the National Interest, an anti-U.S. aid to Israel group based in DC, recently started a campaign called “Stop the Blank Check to Israel” which hopes to place billboards in cities across the country. Ten such ads, which read, “$8 Million a day to Israel just doesn’t make sense! STOP The Blank Check.org,” have recently been erected in Atlanta. Ads with similar messages have appeared in the past year in Den­ver, Detroit, Los Ange­les, Chapel Hill and New York.

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December 21, 2012

“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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