Thursday, May 07, 2015

Finkelstein, BDS, & Whitney Houston

Today, I read a nearly three-year-old Tablet Magazine interview with Norman G. Finkelstein, a scholar who's been frequently and affirmatively quoted in this blog. The piece, taken as a whole, provided interesting insights into Finkelstein, not the least of which concerns his choice to live in the "most densely populated Jewish ZIP code in America" and his telling contempt for "critics like Alan Dershowitz, who ... claim to love Jews but 'live among the goyim.' " The interview underscores the extent to which gifted and otherwise principled intellectuals can be blinded by prejudice and arrogance.

Given the subject matter of Finkelstein's life's work and this blog, I will focus first on a revealing bit in the interview relating to his blinkered Left Zionism and misguided rejection of the Palestinian BDS movement. Finkelstein says:
My own view is, you can't claim as a foundation the principle of international law and what BDS calls a rights-based approach and deny the fundamental principle that under international law, Israel is a state. That's a fact. There are no "ifs," there are no "ands," there are no "buts."
When you look at the International Court of Justice opinion, the very last sentence of the opinion—just read the very last sentence. It says two states. I mean, you just can’t get around that. You can't say you support a rights-based position and then you're ignoring what the law says. This is the law! And this is what I find completely unacceptable.
The problem for Finkelstein here is that there is nothing in the Palestinian civil society's call for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel that is inconsistent or in conflict with international law. The BDS call says nothing about one or two states and the very first paragraph references "the state of Israel". The BDS call and the BDS movement do not deny that Israel is a state. It is an outlaw, apartheid state but a state nonetheless and the BDS movement does not assert otherwise or ignore "what the law says".

The deeper, barely hinted at issue for Finkelstein is Jews' ability to continue to call the shots in Palestine. Earlier in his critique of the BDS movement he says:
The problem is, there are conflicting sets of principles. There's the principle of equality before a single unitary secular state. Then there's the second principle, and that's the right of self-determination of peoples. And the right of self-determination of peoples is, "No, we don't want to live together, and we want to live separately."
However, international law has never recognized a right of self-determination for colonizers and their descendants or any other dominant group to maintain a subject population in a subservient status or to keep them in exile. Two analogues to Finkelstein's Zionist reading of the right of self-determination in Palestine would be the right of Whites to maintain apartheid in South Africa or the right of Whites to maintain Jim Crow in the American South but no authority has ever interpreted international law in this way. Israel was created in flat defiance of the Palestinian right of self-determination; yet, perversely, Finkelstein invokes the doctrine to justify Jews locking in the subjugation and exile of Palestinians and locking them out of the Jewish state.

In paragraph 162 of the ICJ opinion we find the sentence Finkelstein emphasizes above:
The Court considers that it has a duty to draw the attention of the General Assembly, to which the present Opinion is addressed, to the need for these efforts to be encouraged with a view to achieving as soon as possible, on the basis of international law, a negotiated solution to the outstanding problems and the establishment of a Palestinian State, existing side by side with Israel and its other neighbours, with peace and security for all in the region.
The same paragraph, however, also says: "The Court would emphasize that both Israel and Palestine are under an obligation scrupulously to observe the rules of international humanitarian law ..."

The International Court of Justice advisory opinion which Finkelstein quotes in support of his criticism of the BDS movement is no more nor less part of international law than UN General Assembly Resolution 194 which states: "that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible."

Resolution 194 begins by expressing "deep appreciation of the progress achieved through the good offices of the late United Nations Mediator" in reference to Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte, who helped save thousands of Jews during WW II. No good deed, it is said, goes unpunished and for his efforts Bernadotte was murdered by Jewish assassins—"a criminal group of terrorists in Jerusalem"—in Sept. 1948 during a ceasefire. You see, Bernadotte had the unmitigated gall to report to the UN Secretary-General that:
It is ... undeniable that no settlement can be just and complete if recognition is not accorded to the right of the Arab refugee to return to the home from which he has been dislodged by the hazards and strategy of the armed conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. The majority of these refugees have come from territory which, under the Assembly resolution of 29 November, was to be included in the Jewish State. ... It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.
Folke Bernadotte's mistake was to think Arabs haves rights when Jews think otherwise. On the matter of the Palestinian right of return under international law Finkelstein, apparently, sides with Zionist assassins.

Okay, so admittedly this next section is a little bizarre. Finkelstein professes admiration for the late Whitney Houston. Yet, he cannot resist engaging in psycho-babble at her expense. Concerning her abuse at the hands of Bobby Brown, Finkelstein offers up this pearl:
Her daughter came home and said, "Mommy, he [Bobby Brown] spit on you," and she said, "It's all right, it's all right." And she said her daughter said, "No, it's not all right." And I thought, how could anyone spit on Whitney Houston?

[Interviewer:] Maybe she had to find the man who would spit on her.

Because she had so much power, she wanted somebody in charge. She liked that.
In case any more evidence was needed that Finkelstein has no idea what he's talking about, the interview ends with him opining: "I wish she had done gospel." Whitney Houston produced the best-selling Gospel album of all time. The Preacher's Wife soundtrack went triple platinum in the US alone and she included Gospel music in her performance repertoire throughout her career (see, e.g. here and here and here and here). Perhaps Finkelstein never cared much for her music, he just secretly admires her for once performing in Israel and hobnobbing with Ariel Sharon.

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