Tony Greenstein | 10 September 2017 | Post Views:

Finkelstein [NF] is an enigma.  On the
one hand he is a brilliant analyst of Zionist attempts to rewrite history.  He has no difficulty deconstructing Zionist attempts
to paint themselves as the victims but on the other hand he has a blind spot
when it comes to a solution to the crisis.

years he has been pleading the case of the 2 State Solution (2SS) and, as my
quote below demonstrates, he sincerely believed that the 2SS was about to be realised
during the Obama reign.  It is always a
haphazard and dangerous process to draw conclusions from an individual but it
would appear that the reason for the schizophrenic divide between NF’s analysis
of Zionism and his solutions are based on his Maoist background and in
particular his lack of any class analysis.
It is
the lack of a class analysis internationally which results in NF seeing the
world as one big ‘international community’ rather than a set of imperialist
states, led by the United States and the rest of the world which is subject to
the manipulation and at times violent interference by those same Western
states.  NF doesn’t see that when the
West is unable to impose its rule via client rulers and puppets and when, on
occasion, radical leaders like Hugo Chavez come to the fore, then the United
States and its European lackeys have no hesitation in destabilising and if
necessary invading that state.
It is the lack
of any class analysis which results in NF believing that ‘international law’
and its agencies will somehow impose their will on a recalcitrant Israel rather
than that international law itself is a consequence of the imperialist order,
which is only enforced when the powerful want it to be enforced.  I reprinted
the The End of Palestine? in order to show that if anyone doubts what I am saying then they should revisit NF’s
interview with the Left Project to see how he got it so disastrously wrong in
believing that Zionism could ever concede a Palestinian state.  I also published Norman Finkelstein –A Wasted
Opportunity & Self-Indulgence
after his 2011 lecture.
A subsidiary  problem with the 2SS that NF endorses is that
it leaves in place a Zionist Israel.  To
NF this seems to be no problem and at his 2011 talk at the Institute of
Education he dismissed Israel’s racism against its own Palestinian citizens as
no worse than that in Europe or America.
I have
written a number of polemics against NF not least when he attacked BDS as a ‘cult’.  They include The End of Palestine or the
End of Norman Finkelstein?
 and my The Tragedy of Norman Finkelstein – Time to Say Goodbye which Ilan Pappe described as ‘a brilliant refutation of Norman’s position’, e- mail 18.2.12.

Reprinted from Mondoweiss
Tony Greenstein on September 8, 2017 
 Finkelstein being arrested in New York during a protest against Israel’s assault on Gaza. (Photo: Eamon Murphy)
In an
article last month, ‘Lessons
from Finkelstein: International Law and equal rights should be the focus for
Palestine solidarity,’
 Seth Anderson maps out a strategy for the
Palestine solidarity movement by drawing on the analysis and prescriptions of
Norman Finkelstein.
There is
no doubt that the movement owes Finkelstein an enormous debt of gratitude for
his incisive polemics and analysis.  There is no one who did a better job
in deconstructing and destroying Joan Peter’s fraudulent From Time
, which claimed that the Zionists colonised an empty Palestine.[1]
Daniel Goldhagen wrote his execrable book Hitler’s
Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
, which argued
that the Germans, not Nazis, killed Jews because they were a sadistic and cruel
nation that had imbibed eliminationist anti-Semitism with its mother’s milk,
Finkelstein took
him apart. So devastating was Finkelstein’s criticism, that Goldhagen
threatened to sue him for libel initially rather than reply to the substance of
the criticism.
problem with Finkelstein’s analysis of Zionism and his proffered solutions is
that they exist in intellectually watertight compartments, ne’er the twain
shall meet.  Finkelstein’s devotion to the Two State Solution, or 2SS, has
entirely distorted his understanding of the relationship of power both inside
Palestine/Israel and internationally.
Norman Finkelstein was arguing against BDS and for a 2 State Solution and behind him a banner said the exact opposite
I can remember
attending, at the Institute of Education, London University in November 2011, a
two-hour lecture from Finkelstein on how a 2SS was around the corner.[2] Over two years later and he was even more
certain that the solution to the Palestine question was about to be resolved.
In an interview
for the New Left Project Finkelstein
declared that:
“framework agreement” will shortly be reached, and a final settlement will
probably be signed in the last six months or so of President Obama’s term in
office. When the Kerry process was first announced I was virtually alone in predicting
that it would actually go somewhere; now, it’s widely assumed. Many respected
Israeli commentators now take for granted that an agreement is just a matter of
By way of
contrast I wrote, after the 1993 Oslo Accords that:
agreement will lead not to an independent state but to further misery and
defeat. The one concession, recognition of the PLO by Israel, means little when
all that the PLO symbolised is now forsaken. Maybe a biblical analogy is most
appropriate: Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a mess of pottage.[4]
repeated prediction of a settlement cannot be divorced from his basic
premises.  Finkelstein fails to understand not only the dynamics of
Zionism but the world’s power relationships and the political order.
Anderson asks, “Who are we talking to?”.  The answer to that is
simple. We are talking to all those who can be won to support for the
Palestinians and the struggle against Zionism.  We are campaigning against
Israeli Apartheid and its practical application.
might be the name of a hairspray or cologne “for most people,” Finkelstein
has said
, but it isn’t for Palestinians or Israeli Jews. Zionism is a
political movement and ideology, based on the doctrine of racial supremacy,
that functions as the Israeli state’s principal guide. Zionism is the backdrop
to the Israeli State’s day to day assumptions and practice.
Netanyahu urges opposition to the immigration of even a single refugee (or
‘infiltrator’), he does this by appealing to the Zionist axiom of a Jewish
majority state and Jewish identity. [5]  When Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s
Justice Minister, attacks the Supreme Court for not recognising that universal
values and human rights take second place to Jewish nationalism and racism she
does it in the name of Zionism. [6]  When the Jewish National Fund
responds to a Supreme Court decision that the JNF cannot refuse to allocate
land to non-Jews, by saying that “a survey commissioned by… JNF reveals that
over 70% of the Jewish population opposes allocating… land to non-Jews, while
over ‘over 80% prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than
as the state of all its citizens” — this is done in the name of Zionism. [7]
is not an ideological construct or a perfume. It is a lived reality for the
Palestinians.  Our task is to persuade people through our campaigns that
Israel is not just another example of human rights abuses.  It is because
of Zionism that the Israeli state has developed a unique system of
institutionalised discrimination found historically in such countries as
apartheid-era South Africa and Nazi Germany.
argues that we should be ‘pragmatic’ in the way we go about creating a ‘broad
public opinion in favour of the Palestinian cause’.
  I’m not opposed
to pragmatism but I don’t believe you should subordinate your principles to
it.  We need to argue that Israel cannot be reformed precisely because it
is a settler colonial state. Would our task have been easier if we had simply
concentrated on South Africa’s human rights abuses and ignored the structural
discrimination and racial segregation inherent in Apartheid?
Far from
making our job easier, Seth’s and Norman’s answer makes it more difficult.
South Africa’s response to criticism was to say ‘what about the Black
African states’
. Israel’s response is not dissimilar – it points to the
gross human rights violations in the surrounding countries. Of course our
criticism of Israel must encompass its human rights violations but in arguing
for equal rights we cannot avoid the question of Israel as a Jewish state. The
Palestinian issue is not fundamentally a human rights one.  It is a
political question.

justifies Finkelstein’s reliance on ‘international law’ by asking us to engage
in a false choice. He counterposes ‘feel(ing) good about myself’ to
wanting Palestinian children to go to school unharmed. Of course presented like
this, who would not choose the latter?  Not content with this rhetorical
device, Seth then offers us a non-sequitur. Choosing Palestinian children going
to school also means him having to put aside his own moral standards.
I’ll let
Seth into a secret.  I am not an anti-Zionist in order that I can assuage
my conscience.  If I thought that it was really possible to force Israel
to comply with ‘international law’ and grant equality between Israeli Jewish
children and Palestinian children, then I wouldn’t have a second thought. 
However my anti-Zionist politics tell me that Israel, because it is a Zionist
state cannot grant equality to non-Jews.  That is the whole point of a
state which defines itself, not as a state of all its own citizens but as a
Jewish state.
to Finkelstein, we have to work ‘within the existing framework’ and ‘the
law is the framework’.
  But don’t despair, because, as Finkelstein
points out, the law is completely on our side. Seth reels off a list of
examples – the Occupation, the Siege of Gaza, the Annexation, the Wall. 
As regards the Right of Return, Seth disagrees with Norman. This too is guaranteed
by UN resolution 194. What could be simpler? How could a Jewish Marxist
dogmatist impose his beliefs on the Palestinians and thus delay their day of
The key
here is ‘within the existing framework’.  Given the existing
constellation of forces in the Middle East, with Israel as the United States
strategic watch-dog and with its de-facto alliance with the most repressive
regimes in the region, no solution to the Palestine crisis is possible. 
Without a thaw in the political permafrost no change is possible, either for
the Arab masses or the Palestinians. When Netanyahu says that no settlements
will be removed or Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely states that ‘This
land is ours. All of it is ours. We expect as a matter of principle of the
international community to recognize Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in
their homeland, everywhere.
[8] which part of these statements does Seth
or Norman not understand?
But I
forget ‘the law is completely on our side in this matter. The Palestinians
won in every aspect.’
The International Court of Justice voted unanimously
in favour of the Palestinian cause. Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, are
Palestinian territory under International Law.’
Of course
if this was Britain or France or even Donald Trump’s United States, once the
highest court in the land had thus ruled one would expect the Wall to crumble
along with the settlements.  But here is the rub.  Although
‘international law’ is indeed on the Palestinians’ side, it makes not a blind
bit of difference.  True, the Palestinians have a President of the
make-believe Palestinian state, but no one is deceived.
law is a strange beast. There is no one body of law which is accepted by all.
It consists of a series of conventions, treaties and UN Security Council
resolutions.  There is the International Criminal Court and the
International Court of Justice, but they apply primarily to states not
There is
no single Supreme Court and more importantly there is no enforcement
mechanism.  In other words International Law only works where the United
States is in agreement.  Most people would agree that the pre-emptive
attack on Iraq in 2003 was a war crime according to the Nuremberg Trials in
Germany.  Yet neither George Bush nor Tony Blair were indicted at The
Hague. Who was going to arrest them?  Or prosecute them?  I suspect
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman sleep fairly soundly knowing
that they are unlikely to be arrested for defiance of international law.
If within
a state the application of the law reflects the class nature of that state, in
that it falls most heavily on the poorest and weakest in society, it does at
least formally apply to rich and poor alike.  Both rich and poor alike are
prosecuted should they steal food, but of course the rich have no need to
steal!  It is not surprising that the ICC has only prosecuted African or
Serbian dictators.  International law is only enforced against the
If it is
the case that we must work within the existing framework we can never
win.  There is an old Zionist saying.  ‘The facts come first and
the law comes after.
’  Zionist strategy in Palestine operated on the
basis of creating facts on the ground.  First establish the settlements
and the law will adjust accordingly.
Of course
most states, the USA excepted, adhere to the notion that the settlements are
illegal.  But the hypocrisy of these same states can be measured in the
degree of their opposition to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).  If
the European states were at all serious about their opposition to the
colonisation of the West Bank or the illegal blockade on Gaza then they would
not be granting Israel most-favoured-nation trading status.
is correct that the return of the refugees would mean the end of the Israeli
state as it currently exists.  It is arguable whether the UN in
1947 intended for Israel to become an apartheid state via the expulsion of the
majority of the Palestinians but that was the effect of the decision. Here
however is the conundrum. As long as Israel remains an ethno-religious state
then there will be no dismantling of the settlements, nor will there be any
equality of rights.  The Right of Return does indeed spell the end to
Israel as we know it but that is an essential precondition to a
Palestinian/Israeli state of all its citizens.
disagree with Seth that a 2SS represents the best or indeed any hope for the
Palestinians.  Given the disparity of power, a Palestinian state could
only be a fiction, not even a Bantustan.  But if Israel were forced to
de-Zionise, why would one want to repartition the area?
Seth says
that decolonization has to come from within and the idea that it could come
from the outside ‘is a colonial idea in itself’.  So presumably when we
supported decolonisation in South Africa we were being colonialists?  Or
those who supported Indian independence were also colonists in disguise? 
This is a mere playing with words.
bases his schema on international world opinion as represented by the United
Nations.  He places his faith in the basket of the ‘international
community’. It has as much relation to reality as Alice’s Wonderland. The UN is
a body whose Human Rights Council was chaired by Saudi Arabia!  It is a
gang of thieves and imperialist cut throats.  The Security Council
represents the interests of the major powers, no less and no more.  In
practice the UN is under the thumb of the United States, as we saw when the UN
Secretary General insisted that the Report of the Economic and Social
Commission for Western Asia, which defined Israel as an Apartheid state, headed
by Professors Virginia Tilley and Richard Falk had to be ditched.[9]
intellectual edifice that Finkelstein has constructed in support of a 2SS is
built on sand.  It fails to comprehend the unique features of the Israeli
state and why it is unique. The position of Israeli Palestinians, a population
that is seen as a potential fifth column and temporary non-Jewish residents of
a Jewish state,  is also unique. Finkelstein sees a rational world order. 
I see one in which the United States maintains a world empire through deceit,
corruption and military might. Only a mass movement from below will be able to
change the political geography of Palestine and the Middle East.
Finkelstein on Joan Peters legacy (and Dershowitz’s legal troubles)

Finkelstein –A Wasted Opportunity & Self-Indulgence

End of Palestine? An Interview with Norman G. Finkelstein
, by Norman
Finkelstein, Jamie Stern-Weiner, 11 January 2014,

          Birthright sold for mess
of pottage, Labour Left Briefing, November 1993.

PM: illegal African immigrants threaten identity of Jewish state
, 22/5/15.

Posted in

Tony Greenstein

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.