Norman Finkelstein

Back in 2007, Norman Finkelstein was supposed to take part in an Oxford University Student Union debate about the future of Israel and Palestine. Incongruously to the British-Jewish organizations that vociferously objected to, and torpedoed his participation at the time, Finkelstein was scheduled to debate for a two-state solution.

Widely known as a stridently anti-Israel writer-activist, the former academic supports Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) as tactics against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, but condemns the global BDS movement for being dishonest about its real agenda of displacing Israel as a Jewish-majority state. He also views a full right of return for Palestinians as unrealistic.

To the outrage of the anti-Israel far-left, he denounces the BDS movement as a “cult.” Finkelstein says he’s “not going to be in a cult again,” as he admits to having been a Maoist in his youth. In this connection, he argues that the BDS (or Palestinian solidarity) movement cannot realistically meet its goal of displacing Israel, because this is a non-starter with most Israelis and with the international community as a whole.

This pronouncement by Finkelstein has also generated a flutter of positive buzz from the pro-Israel community. This links to Bradley Burston’s column in Ha’aretz; Burston is a very liberal writer, known for sharply criticizing the Israeli right but also believes in a two-state solution. In the mainstream American-Jewish press, NY Jewish Week correspondent Stewart Ain has written a news analysis, “Norman Finkelstein: From Hezbollah to ‘Zionist Bully’,” in which he quotes some unhappy BDS supporters, as well as at least one pro-Israel view.

Finkelstein remains a resolute critic of Israel and continues to advocate a full withdrawal from the occupied territories (and not a territorial compromise including a negotiated swap between Israel and the Palestinians which I see as necessary). Yet he is totally in favor of a two-state solution, based on the pre-June 1967 border and as originally validated by the UN partition plan of 1947 (i.e., the border was different in 1947, but he speaks clearly of an international consensus for the 1949-’67 armistice line). (BTW, Noam Chomsky, also a harsh critic of Israel, is likewise a supporter of two states, and has long applauded the two-state model agreement known as the Geneva Accord.) Click here to view a 31-minute video in which Finkelstein states his case. Although I largely agree with him on the substance, he is still peremptory and dismissive in his tone, a trait apparently left over from his days as a Maoist.

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