Finkelstein disowns 'silly' Israel boycott

Norman Finkelstein

Norman Finkelstein

Controversial American anti-Zionist academic Norman Finkelstein has launched a blistering attack on the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, labelling it a "cult" led by "dishonest gurus".

He made his comments during an interview with anti-Israel activist Frank Barat at Imperial College, London, earlier this week. A 30-minute video of the event was posted online by BDS supporters before being removed once they realised that Prof Finkelstein had gone "off message" after supporters of Israel circulated it on the internet. A copied version is available on YouTube.

Commentators called the comments "close to unbelievable", given Prof Finkelstein's status among BDS supporters.

Initially signalling his support for the movement's "non-violent civil disobedience" and tactics including the flotillas, Prof Finkelstein then attacked what he said was boycott campaigners' hypocrisy over international law issues.

He said: "I'm getting a little bit exasperated with what I think is a whole lot of nonsense. I'm not going to tolerate silliness, childishness and a lot of leftist posturing." He said the Palestine Solidarity Movement's campaigns for refugees' right to return and equal rights for Israeli Arabs were a cover for its desire to see the destruction of Israel. "I loathe the disingenuousness," he said. "We will never hear the solidarity movement [back a] two-state solution."

Holding up his hands, he said: "BDS makes all these claims about their victories. You see these 10 fingers? These more than suffice to count all their victories.

"It's just a cult where the guru says 'we have these victories' and everybody nods their head. I see Veolia mentioned 20 times a year. They keep repeating it as if it's a new victory. Yes, BDS has had some victories, but the way people promote it as if it's proven itself - it's just sheer nonsense."

Discussing Palestinian civil groups and their claims to represent a cross-section of Palestinian society's views, Prof Finkelstein denounced them as largely "one-person organisations" in Ramallah, unable to organise demonstrations of more than 500 people. "I gave my life to the cause. I'm tired of it… trying to play these silly little games."

A clearly shocked Mr Barat attempted to interject, but Prof Finkelstein continued. Questioning BDS's ability to reach the wider public's conscience, he said: "You should not reach a broader public because you are dishonest. I do not trust these people."

He said the solidarity movement should be "straightforward" about its desire to "destroy Israel". But he concluded that a "reasonable" resolution to the conflict could be found.

The Union of Jewish Students protested against Prof Finkelstein's previous tour of campuses last November, during which the JC described him as an "extremist speaker".

The son of a Holocaust survivor, he was deported from Israel in 2008 and banned for 10 years after he had earlier travelled to Lebanon and expressed solidarity with Hizbollah.

Professor Gerald Steinberg, of NGO Monitor, said the most significant aspect of Prof Finkelstein's comments "is that it's evidence of internal divisions.

"Prof Finkelstein has in some ways lost his premier status. This was an attempt to reassert himself. He always goes against the grain.

"These comments do not rehabilitate him in any way for the past and the anti-Israel propaganda that he has voiced. He is not embracing Israel; it's about the internal boycott campaign dynamic."

Last updated: 1:36pm, February 16 2012