Citizen Action Monitor

Israel and Palestine have crossed a point of no return, suggest Tariq Ali and Norman Finkelstein – Part 3 of 3

Tariq Ali argues that Israel’s epithetical smear, ’anti-Semitic’, is losing its sting and power to intimidate BDS supporters.

No 1811 Posted by fw, October 27, 2016

Just to recap. In Part 1, Finkelstein focuses primarily on the decades of violence that Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians, alleging the society has become inured to the brutality. “The whole society has just gone over the cliff,” he says. Tariq Ali contends that the long-dreamed of Palestinian state is not going to happen because the occupation settlements have encroached too far into the West Bank. The situation is grim, he says: “It’s pointless prettifying it or finding hope in tiny things.”

In Part 2, Finkelstein has the stage to himself. Paradoxically, he contends that things have never looked better for the Palestinians. For starters, public opinion is on their side. The challenge, he says, is to figure out how to get people to act on what they already know is wrong. Mass non-violent resistance is the answer. To get people to act, Palestinians must choose the right target that will spur a mass movement. And the perfect target is the Israeli occupation of Gaza, which will be marking its fifty-year anniversary next year. However, to be effective, the Palestinians must be willing to continue to get their “bones broken”, figuratively and literally spoken.

Overview of Part 3

In his opening volley, Tariq Ali agrees with Finkelstein — breaking the blockade could spark a big movement in the region, and even mass movements in Europe and America. Ali equates its potential impact to the ripple effect of Bernie Sander’s breakthrough presidential campaign in launching a huge popular movement in the US.

Finkelstein responds to a questioner in the audience about the settlements and BDS as potential targets that could trigger a non-violent mass movement in the region. On the former, the showstopper is that the Palestinian Authority has not shown the political will to act against the settlements. As for BDS, Norman comes across flat because he is not big on the movement. The audience is not convinced.

Tariq Ali has no such reservations about BDS. He is an enthusiastic supporter and speaks with passion and conviction. Because of the effectiveness of the movement, Israel can no longer convince the world that Palestine is an existential threat. In fact, Israel’s efforts to shut down any discussion of BDS has made it a central issue of democratic rights and civil liberties inside Europe and on campuses in the US. Beginning in 2000, Israel stepped up the propaganda; now anyone who opposes Israel in any manner is labelled an ‘anti-Semite’. But this overused epithetical smear has backfired, losing its sting and power to intimidate activists in today’s BDS movements. If anything, the success of the BDS campaign has given activists leverage over Israel.


Below is an embedded video of a 1-hour, 37-minute talk by Norman Finkelstein and Tariq Ali, which challenges common misunderstandings about the Israel-Palestine situation. Below the video are my abridged, paraphrased notes for Part 3, beginning at 59:15 minutes, ending at 1:30:10. A chronological index accompanies the notes to facilitate selective viewing of the video.

Consider this question as you watch the video and read the notes: What implications, if any, do Finkelstein’s and Ali’s informed observations have for Canada’s Israel-Palestine foreign policy?

Tariq Ali and Norman Finkelstein on Israel and the Solidarity Movement
by The Real News Network, June 5, 2016

Paul Jay moderates Ali and Finkelstein in conversation about the fascisization of Israel and need to build a broad movement in support of the Palestinian people.


Picking up on Finkelstein’s praise of Gandhi in Part 2, Ali shares this humourous anecdote —

59:15-01:07:56 — Tariq Ali (TA) – In 1938, the Nobel Peace Prize committee had a short list of people in front of it. They couldn’t decide whether to give the Nobel Peace Prize to Mahatma Gandhi — who, whatever my disagreements, certainly deserved it — or Adolph Hitler. (Laughter). Which shows how deep Western dilemmas go. (Laughter).

Re Finkelstein’s breaking the blockade suggestion, Ali sees its merits but hesitates because it would be a “huge leap forward”

I agree on Gaza. I would just say to Norman that what he has described, another political theorist also once asserted that the chain breaks at its weakest link. Quoting Lenin’s words, one can also reach the same conclusion that the weakest link in the chain of oppression in Israel-Palestine today is without doubt Gaza. And one should concentrate all possible efforts to try and break the blockade. But that would be a huge leap forward. And would possibly revitalize a mass movement in the rest of the region.

Whatever the target, there must still be a long-term “overall plan”

Even with the blockade on Gaza being lifted, which would create a basis for a new different type of mass movement for Palestinians and their few allies in that region, we still must have some overall plan which will not be fulfilled today or tomorrow or the day after. And that is where the question what are your aims comes in, because if you have no plan, if the two-state solution is ended, you have to think, however unrealistic it might appear, at least pose the question of something else.

There is growing feeling in Europe that a big movement in the Middle East could spark mass movements in Europe and America

And I think large parts of the world understand this now. Instinctively it’s true, in Europe public opinion now. There have been several polls which asked — Which do you think is the most dangerous state in the world? A large proportion of Europeans, especially the young, replied, Israel. Why? Because they know Israel is a nuclear state. They know it’s carrying out a brutal occupation. They know that the United States backs it. They fear an accidental nuclear war. There is this growing feeling, which the elitist politicians in Europe don’t represent and don’t reflect – but some big shift and some big movement within the region itself could spark real mass movements to put huge pressure on the governments of Europe and North America.

Consider the breakthrough impact of the Sanders’ campaign in launching a huge popular movement in the US

The thing about Bernie Sanders’ campaign is that in all my memory of American politics, I have not seen a campaign like this. His campaign launched a huge popular movement, and a popular political movement, not a single-issue movement, in this country. Why was Sander able to trigger this movement? Because he’s different from the others. The same with Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. He, too is different from the politicians. And politicians are quite a hated sub-grouping now. Globally. But especially in Europe. Sanders is the first serious politician of a political party who did not go to AIPAC. That does mark a small breakthrough, and we should be grateful. (Applause) That breaks the hold this organization has over the political structures.

After 9/11 both the Senate and the House voted a blank cheque to Israel. Whatever you do we will support you. Whatever you do. You can wipe out the entire Palestinian nation, and we will support you. Unheard of.

The lifting of the siege of Gaza could have a similar triggering impact in the Middle East

So, as the decades pass, it would be great to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation being able to celebrate something. And the lifting of the siege of Gaza, the sanctions on Gaza, the victimization of Gaza, would be a huge step forward. In that, I’m in agreement. It’s not enough, but it could be the launchpad for something much bigger in the region.

What is clear is that there’s going to be no help from any other Arab state. The Saudi Arabians are on the same line as the Israeli government because of factional disputes against their rivals within Islam and because they are now fearful that something might happen inside their own country.

This strange situation releases the Palestinian movement in many ways from the Saudis and from these other countries, which helps a mass movement if it’s politically and psychologically independent of some unpleasant regimes in that region.


Question from the audience on two alternative targets to spur a mass movement — the settlements and BDS

1:07:56-1:08:43 – Question from the audience – I want to ask about an alternative focus. First, why are the settlements, the expansion of the settlements, not considered as a target in conjunction with ending the embargo? Second, what about the existing BDS movement, which is gaining strength?

The settlements are a tempting target because they are illegal in the opinion of all major human rights organizations

1:08:44-1:21:06Norman Finkelstein (NF) – In answer to the settlements, it’s complicated. You must think it through. There is a strong argument. They are illegal under international law, in the opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), all the major human rights organizations, and the UN Security Council. The main manifestation of the settlements right now is the wall that Israel has been building in the occupied West Bank. It consumes about 10 percent of the West Bank, including the critical water resources and some of the best land. The ICJ ruled in 2004: 1) the wall is illegal; 2) Israel must dismantled the wall; and 3) if Israel doesn’t dismantle the wall them the international community must see that the wall is dismantled. That makes it a tempting target.

The showstopper is the Palestinian Authority which has not shown the political will to act

The problem is, in the case of the West Bank, between Israel and the Palestinians, there’s both the wall and the Palestinian Authority. There’s a political wall and there’s the physical wall. At this point, I see no evidence of any kind of movement that would have sufficient potential and power to break through both the political wall of the PA and the physical wall. Objectively, there’s a real possibility there. The crucial question is: Where is public progressive opinion?

To answer that, you must look at the mainstream human rights organizations. But even if they were supportive of targetting the wall, the problem is the PA is not formerly committed to bringing down the wall. In contrast, Hamas, the political leadership in Gaza, while formerly committed to ending the blockade, is not doing much about it.

Re BDS, Finkelstein comes across flat because he is not big on the movement

Having said that, there’s a kind of paradox in the BDS movement between what they actually do and what their platform says. If you look at the BDS resolutions, say on the 8 college campuses that declared BDS victories in 2015, calling for divestment, in every case the settlements were targeted. In a couple of cases, the resolution explicitly said, we are not BDS. We have nothing to do with BDS because they recognize the Palestinian BDS platform is legally correct: return of the Palestinian refugees, full citizenship rights of Palestinians living in Israel, and ending the occupation. That is legally correct.

But politics is not just about what is legally right. You must look at where public opinion is. And BDS activists who are committed and conscientious have achieved impressive victories. But they recognize the limits of public opinion. You can’t get a resolution passed if you start calling for full implementation of the right of return. So, they focus on the settlements.

We are glad to hear of the spectacular achievement of Bernie Sanders. I’ll say two things, one about him and one about us. One of the reasons he has been able to do what he’s done is that for 40 years he has been staking out a place in the mainstream spectrum. He didn’t go over the top. He always starts out saying you must recognize Israel. Once you recognize Israel, we can talk. Otherwise, conversation over. Does the BDS campaign recognize Israel? No. It explicitly doesn’t recognize Israel. Do you want to hug your principles or do you want to play this game of constructive ambiguity, whatever that means? Or are you going to do what international law requires you to do, because Israel is a state, under the state system. That’s the law. If you want to appeal to the law and say the blockade is illegal under international law, because it’s collective punishment; if you want to appeal to the law because the settlements are illegal…

Paul Jay interrupts Norman and gives the nod to Tariq

1:20:29-1:21:06 — [At this point Paul Jay interrupts because time is running out. Norman wraps up with a final point that Bernie is going to make Israel-Palestine relations as one of the issues he’s going to fight for at the DNC, demanding that democrats commit to take a more even-handed stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. As we now know, the initiative failed to pass].


On BDS, although Tariq respects Norman’s opinion he doesn’t agree with it

1:21:06-1:30:10 — TA – I don’t live in the United States. I tend to see these issues from a different vantage point. Here I must say that the BDS campaign, despite Norman’s criticisms, we are not all wrong. I think some of the attacks on Norman have been unjustified. It’s a perfectly legitimate debate. The BDS movement is the first global mass movement on the question of bringing Israel to heel and putting it in the court of international public opinion. And on that level, one cannot deny its effectiveness. (Applause). And the country where it’s had the largest impact is South Africa, where huge numbers of delegations have gone [to the occupied Palestinian territories] and come back shocked by what they’ve seen, and said don’t even compare these Palestinian enclaves to Bantustans. Bantustans had more power. That is something that must be recognized.

Because of BDS campaigning, people can see Israeli brutality, and public opinion can change very quickly in response

Public opinion is mobile. Today public opinion is worked up. There’s no doubt about Gaza and the siege of Gaza, but it wasn’t always this way. It has happened recently. Because of the campaigning, most people have observed with their own eyes Israeli brutalities against the people of Gaza. Public opinion can change on other issues as well, if properly handled. I have seen the BDS activists in South America and elsewhere work reactively and very well in countries like Chile, Colombia, and in the Bolivarian countries where they were backed by the state. Even in countries where they weren’t backed by the state, working effectively to try to isolate Israel internationally, at a time when Israel is waging an offensive to become accepted as a normal state.

Israel is engaged in a constant battle for acceptance of the state that it is – an occupying state in Palestine

And here, the country that has gone the furthest, even worse than the United States, is the Syriza government in Greece, which has recognized Jerusalem as the international capital of Israel, which even the United States has not done and refuses to do. And the links between the Syriza government and the Netanyahu government are now very close. This is a constant battle by the Israelis for recognition of the state that it is – an occupying state in Palestine. That is what is at the heart of the debate. And that is the dispute – Who can question the existence of Israel? Who can challenge the existence of Israel – a nuclear country, the sixth most powerful army in the world, protected by the United States, which has threatened that anyone who tries to damage Israel will be blown off the face of this earth. And Hillary Clinton threatened to do that to the Iranians if they dared to acquire nuclear weapons. Just think and look at the double standards.

Israel can no longer convince the world that Palestine is an existential threat

So, when the question of Israel security is raised, no one doubts that. The people who aren’t safe and secure are the Palestinians. And it is for them that the BDS campaign, with all its weaknesses – which campaign doesn’t have weaknesses – has been effective. That is why it should be supported. People who organize these debates, even on university campuses in Britain, are told no, you can’t have a conference on this subject. Why? It threatens our security. We can’t afford it. All these things are now coming in. Local councils that want to participate in the sanctions campaign are told by the British government it’s illegal. In France, the Jewish Defence League can organize a demonstration through the streets of Paris, the BDS movement is not allowed to do so.

BDS has become a central issue of democratic rights and civil liberties inside Europe itself

Therefore, apart from everything else, BDS has become a central issue of democratic rights and civil liberties inside Europe itself. Which is why, whatever disagreements you have, I would urge everyone to support it. One doesn’t have to agree with every single dot and commas in it because the work that it is effectively doing is good and it is also uniting anti-Zionist Jewish activists, and Palestinians, and people who are neither – precisely because they see it as part of a peaceful campaign.

Even though BDS is a non-violent movement, Israel still attack the activists as anti-Semites

When there was armed struggle being waged, as Norman has pointed out, by the Palestinians, of course they were attacked as terrorists, as violent – we can’t talk to you until you stop using violence, etc. When a peaceful, non-violent campaign – which is what BDS is – we get exactly the same attacks – you’re anti-Semites, you’re not allowed to do this, you want to question the integrity of Israel? The people who question the integrity of Israel are these Zionist leaders of that country. They are the ones who have brought Israel to this pass. It’s not been the Palestinians. (Applause)

Since 2000, Israel has stepped up the propaganda; now anyone who opposes Israel in any manner is an anti-Semite

Ever since the Second Intifada [Sept, 2000 to Feb. 2005] the Israeli government has decreed through its foreign ministries that all Israeli embassies are to step up the propaganda, saying that anyone who opposes Israel is an anti-Semite. They didn’t do this before, but they’ve done it since the Second Intifada. It’s part of Israeli policy.

Israelis’ overused epithetical smear, ‘anti-Semite’, has lost its sting, its power to intimidate activists in today’s movements

The problem is this: the people of my generation know what anti-Semitism means, and knows how deep its effects are, and why is should be opposed. But if you say this to kids who are active in the movements against Israeli occupation today, they’re not as affected as we were. And if you carry on like this the kids will reply we’re going to carry on doing what we’re doing, and if you want to call us anti-Semites, so be it. And unfortunately, some of them are saying it: We don’t care a damn what you call us. It doesn’t affect us anymore. They’re saying it in France. They’re saying it in parts of Britain. They’re saying it in other parts of Europe. They’re certainly saying it elsewhere.

So, it’s against all of this that movements like BDS, by raising deeper, central issues are, I think, extremely important.

END OF PART 3 of 3

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