Though Israel always gets caught in the crossfire no matter what the battle, I admit to experiencing bouts of schadenfreude whenever its enemies engage in internecine warfare. I am not, for a change, referring to Fatah-Hamas struggles or Arab Spring strife -- though they certainly apply on occasion. Far more enjoyable, I find, is when the hard Left in the West gets entangled in imbroglios born of its own relentless and tiresome idiocies.
A recent case in point is an interview with Norman Finkelstein, conducted by Frank Barat at Imperial College London on Feb. 9. The two rabidly anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian radicals could have been, and indeed were, expected to have a more-than-friendly one-on-one chat, particularly since the topic of “debate” was the boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) campaign led by the Palestinian Solidarity Movement.
After all, Barat, like Finkelstein, is a great admirer of Noam Chomsky. Barat, like Finkelstein, considers Israel to be an abomination. And Barat, like Finkelstein, thinks Hamas and Hezbollah have every right to target Israelis with missiles and bombs in “retaliation” for having been targeted first, if not for merely breathing the same air as the rest of the world since 1948.
Imagine Barat’s astonishment, then, when Finkelstein went characteristically ballistic -- but on the wrong side of the argument. It is no wonder that the young activist became so agitated, even hurt, by the esteemed professor’s rant.
What Finkelstein clearly had been expected to do was praise and encourage BDS, a campaign whose means he openly supports.
What he actually did, however, was to lash out at the whole BDS movement and its Palestinian NGO buddies. “I’m getting a little bit exasperated with what I think is a whole lot of nonsense,” he said irritably. “I’m not going to tolerate silliness, childishness, and a lot of leftist posturing.”
Then he went even further. He acknowledged that the state of Israel not only exists, but that it does so by virtue of international law. (One can only picture his shocked sycophants watching the video of the interview and vomiting all over the banners they’ve been busily preparing for their favorite annual event -- “Israel Apartheid Week” -- that kicks off later this month.)
Lest you are falling off your seats at the thought that Finkelstein -- who has been banned from Israel until 2018, due to suspicions of his ties to Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon -- has changed his view of the Jewish state, you can relax. His anti-Israel credentials are still as impeccable as ever.
The argument he makes against the BDS-ers is that they are hiding their true agenda, which is to eliminate Israel. Now, I’m no expert, but I would say that Finkelstein is exaggerating somewhat. I mean, BDS never looked to me like it was keeping its desire to destroy Israel a secret.
Still, he makes two valid points. The first is that a movement cannot succeed if it doesn’t garner mainstream support. The second is that a movement can’t demand the application of international law selectively. It is necessary for BDS, he argues, to stop behaving like a closed “cult” with “gurus” and followers, and go for a two-state solution, something for which there is widespread international support. If BDS doesn’t do that, he says, it will have to come clean.
“If you want to eliminate Israel, that’s your right,” Finkelstein says. “But I don’t think you’re going to reach anybody.”
The first thing BDS did after realizing what the content of his interview contained was to remove the clip from YouTube. But it was too late. Pro-Israel bloggers had already begun circulating it over the Web. They have been doing so to show that there is a crack in the armor of the radicals. And they are using quotes by a staunch enemy to give weight to their own claims about BDS. If someone like Finkelstein says this stuff, the logic goes, it is all the proof that’s needed.
But let’s not get too excited about this particular pearl that we uncovered in a sea of oysters. It, too, will come back to bite, rather than adorn, us. Finkelstein may be right about the need to woo the mainstream in order to accomplish anything in politics. But he’s wrong about the headway that the Palestinian Solidarity and BDS movements have made in that direction. Just as the idea of Palestinian statehood that used to be associated with the fringe Left has become openly accepted even by the Israeli government, so too could a campaign for a one-state solution take hold among the chattering classes within the blink of an eye. This is why any schadenfreude I might have felt at the sight of Finkelstein letting Barat have it during their little tete-a-tete quickly faded to black.
Ruthie Blum is a former senior editor and columnist at The Jerusalem Post. She is currently writing a book about the radicalization of the Middle East, to be published by RVP Press in the spring.