Norman Finkelstein Interview, March 20, 2019.

Source: Norman Finkelstein (Parts 1, 2, 3)




Jimmy Dore: Hi everybody! Welcome to the Jimmy Dore Show. 
We have a special guest today. Norman Finkelstein is an American political scientist, activist, Professor and author. His primary fields of research are the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust, an interest motivated by the experiences of his parents who were Jewish Holocaust survivors. He’s a graduate of Binghamton University and received his PhD in Political Science from Princeton University. 

Welcome, Norman Finkelstein. Thanks for being our guest.

Norman Finkelstein: Thank you for having me.

Jimmy Dore: You know, you’re an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I just wanted to… You know, most people don’t really know the cause of the conflict, they just know that there is a conflict and that the United States is friendly to Israel because they’re a democracy and they’re the only democracy in the Middle East, as people like to say.

So how would you explain this conflict to people who don’t really know much about it, which is most of the people in the United States? And they certainly don’t know much about it if they watch the TV news. So I don’t think your average person knows anything really about it. So how do you inform people about that conflict, well, how it started and what it’s about?

Norman Finkelstein: I think the most effective way to inform people is by way of analogy. Effectively, what happened to the Palestinian people over the past century is pretty close to what happened to the Native American population in the United States. If you take for example the fate of the Cherokee Indians, who originally resided in the Eastern coast of the United States, and they were gradually pushed, pushed, pushed, until they were ended up in Arkansas. And then they were pushed into a portion of Arkansas, which then, once all White settlers crowded in that portion, became Oklahoma. And so the Cherokee were effectively the victims of a policy of expulsion, “transfer” as you want to call it in the Israeli vernacular. And basically, there are obviously differences, and one doesn’t want to pretend as if there are no differences, but to look at the big picture, the big picture I would say, it is not fundamentally different than what happened to the Native population in the US.

Jimmy Dore: Wow! I’ve never heard it described that way before. And you know, ironically, most Americans aren’t too aware of how horrible that’s a chapter in our history either. So the United States gives aid and billions of dollars in funding to Israel every year, and people say that Israel is running an Apartheid State, and that Gaza is an open-air prison. Now are those two things true, and how could that be? How could that be if we’re supporting them?

Norman Finkelstein: Well, I think both are true. Israel both benefits from two facts. Number one: they benefit in the fact that there’s a convergence of interests between US ruling elites and Israel on many basic issues. So for example, right now, there’s a convergence of interests between the US and Israel in strengthening Saudi Arabia, strengthening the Gulf and trying to contain Iran. That’s a fundamental convergence of interests, and that in part, probably in the most significant part, it explains US support for Israel.

But there is also another factor, and one shouldn’t pretend as if that other factor doesn’t exist, which is to say there’s a very powerful Israel lobby operating in the United States, not unlike the Gun lobby, the Cuba lobby, etc. The Israel lobby is another lobby, very effective, probably one of the most, if not the most effective lobbies operating in Washington. And its core component is a very powerful, articulate and organized American Jewish community, though even there you have to enter qualifications because among younger Jews, there’s certainly a diminishing of support for Israel. But the big picture is, both because of a convergence of interests and because of a powerful, articulate, organized, strategically placed lobby, a lobby that has a lot of influence in the media, a lot of influence in publishing, a lot of influence in journals of opinion, a lot of influence on Hollywood, that lobby has been a major factor in determining aspects of US policy towards Israel.

Now on the second point, I don’t really think it’s any longer controversial whether or not Israel is an Apartheid state. I don’t say this as a polemicist, I’m trying to be objective and dispassionate about the situation. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, now, you could say there are roughly about 12 or 13 million people, roughly. Now that includes the West Bank, it includes East Jerusalem, it includes Gaza. And Israel has controlled the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, it’s controlled it now for more than a half-century. And the Israeli government has made clear it has no intention whatsoever of returning to the borders from the June 1967 war, that is pre-controlling West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. So we can’t any longer talk about an occupation, we have to be talking about an annexation. The territories have been de facto annexed. After a half-century, that seems to me to be the reasonable conclusion, there has been a de facto annexation. 

So of all that population that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, roughly, roughly speaking, about half has either second-class status or overwhelmingly no rights whatsoever within the [Israeli] State: no voting rights, and then from there down they don’t even have rights to property, property can be confiscated overnight and at whim, with the support of the [Israeli] Courts. So it seems to me, again trying to be rational, trying to be objective and trying to be dispassionate, there’s no other term to describe a situation in which close to half the population, close to half the population either has second-class rights (that would be within Israel proper), or no rights whatsoever (which would be the West Bank and Gaza). That’s an Apartheid situation. 

But again that shouldn’t shock us. You have to remember, I don’t know how old you are, but I have a vivid recollection during the last days of the [South African] Apartheid, Ronald Reagan supported the Apartheid regime, as did Margaret Thatcher. They were calling till the very end, you’re recalling, Nelson Mandela and the ANC, the African National Congress, a terrorist organization. So if our government was until the very end, the end of Apartheid, if our government was supporting South Africa, because it’s sort of a bastion of Western-called, you know, Western civilization, whatever you want to call it, in Africa, so for the same reason, they support Israel in the Middle East.

Jimmy Dore: So you think it’s without… Because I… You know, you say it’s without question that Israel is an Apartheid State, which I agree with. But there are people who question it, people very loudly push back against that and they quote the numbers of Palestinians… Well they say there’s an Arab political party, that’s the third largest party in Israel, and all day they quote numbers of Palestinians who are allowed to vote… What do you say to those arguments?

Norman Finkelstein: Well, first of all, I’m glad you asked the questions, because there’s no effective, no more effective way to have a discussion. And if someone of us has to play the devil’s advocate, in this case it should be you.

First of all, I tried to be clear, I said there’s a gradation of rights in the case of Israel. The Palestinians have second-class rights. Israel has now officially declared Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish people. So I for example am Jewish, and if the United States were declared the Nation-State of the Christian people, I would certainly experience that declaration, especially once it becomes enacted in laws, I would certainly experience that as me being a second-class citizen, that is to say I don’t belong here. It would be the State of the Christian people, not my State. 

But having said that, let’s keep in mind that it’s not only one component of the Palestinian population that’s under Israeli control or has been effectively annexed by Israel. The West Bank, people in the West Bank, they don’t vote in Israeli elections, they’re not represented in the Israeli Knesset. The people in Gaza, they don’t vote in Israeli elections, they’re not represented in the Israeli Parliament, the Israeli Knesset. So far, the vast, the vast preponderance of Palestinians currently annexed to the Israeli State, they have no rights whatsoever.

Jimmy Dore: Okay, alright.

Norman Finkelstein: The only way you can get around that is by saying that well, there’s a peace process. But the Israeli government has already made clear, you’d have to be blinder than King Lear not to see that the Israeli government has said we’re not returning to the old Wars [pre-1967 borders]. Once you’ve made that Statement, it’s a Declaration of annexation, and if it’s annexation, then you have to accept that when deciding whether or not Israel is an Apartheid State. It can’t be limited to Israel and its pre-67 borders: it’s the whole area, including the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, including Gaza.

Jimmy Dore: You know, I’ve heard people say that the majority of the Jewish people don’t support the policy of the Israeli government when it comes to Palestine, Gaza and the West Bank. How could that be? And can you speak about the Likud party, which is like the extremist party, a right-wing party in Israel: what would you say is the percentage of support they actually have in the population inside of Israel and out?

Norman Finkelstein: Well, we should be clear that number one, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, he’s been the Head of State now for about a decade, and he’s gone through many elections. And even though he’s surrounded by what scandal after another, none of these scandals have actually made a big dent in his popularity. And the reason for that, I think, is pretty straightforward, it’s pretty uncontroversial at any rate in my opinion. That is to say Benjamin Netanyahu is an obnoxious, racist, Jewish supremacist. And on all of those descriptives: obnoxious, racist, Jewish supremacist, he’s wholly representative of the Israeli population. And the reason they keep reelecting him despite the scandals, which are always said to be imminently going to bring him down, despite the scandals that never bring him down, it’s because when they look at Benjamin Netanyahu, most of the Israeli population, they see themselves. And they vote for him because in his mental outlook, I wouldn’t really call it values because I don’t think people like Mr. Netanyahu have any values per se, but in terms of mental outlook, contempt for Arabs, contempt for Muslims… Actually, with all due respect to you, Mr. Dore, and to all your listeners, unless they’re Jewish, he has contempt for all of you. These are Jewish supremacists.

But he also happens to be in a separate category a racist, and now even though I don’t like to use the terminology, because it’s too simple and too sloganeering, it happens to be, I think, in these particular circumstances, it’s illuminating. Why do Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump get along so well? Why is Mr. Netanyahu Mr. Trump’s biggest cheerleader in the world? Well, the answer is simple: they both like walls. Mr. Trump wants to build a wall to keep out Mexicans, Mr. Netanyahu wants to build a wall to keep out Arabs.

They both hate Black people. Mr. Netanyahu, when President Obama, the Head of State in the United States, Mr. Netanyahu, he didn’t see it at all amiss, he didn’t see it at all awry for him to come barging in the United States, barging into the Capitol building and instructing, telling Obama what American policy should be towards Iran. I dare say, and of course you’re free to contradict me, it’s inconceivable, it’s inconceivable, had there been a White Head of State, had it been George Bush or even a Jimmy Carter, had it been even a Jimmy Carter, Mr. Netanyahu would not have dared carry on the way he did with Obama. He’s a racist.

And just like Mr. Trump the racist loathes Muslims, so Mr. Netanyahu loathes Black people, which is why he made it a part of his policy to expel the Arab migrants [from Erythrea, Soudan…], about 30,000, who were fleeing a war situation, fleeing very serious, life challenging situations, and came as refugees to Israel. And he ruled it because you have to remember, Mr. Netanyahu, he grew up, a large part of his life was spent in the United States. His father was a professor at Cornell University, and they hated Black people, the Schwartzs, the Schwartzs as it’s called, the Black people. They loathe them. And so now, for Mr. Netanyahu to have to face the prospect that the Schwartzs are invading Israel [is unbearable], so they have to go.

And so it’s that same mindset. It’s not values, it’s a mindset. You can choose what descriptive you want for that mindset: some people would say it’s a Nazi mindset, some people would say it’s a fascist mindset, some people would call it a right-wing racist White supremacist mindset, whatever you want to call it. And they have it, and that’s these ruling people. 

It’s a sorry thing to have to say, but I’m not one of those people who in the name of political correctness recoil at generalizations. If you could say most White people in the American South, in the pre-Civil Rights era, if you could say most of them were mean, White racist supremacists, very few people would take issue with that quote-unquote “generalization”. But the moment you use exactly those same terms to describe Israel or Israelis, it suddenly becomes politically incorrect. I disagree. If you want to understand the Israeli mentality, these are the Palestinians or Arabs or Muslims, it’s very easy for an American to understand: just look at Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern States in the pre-Civil Rights era. That’s the mentality. That’s the Israeli mentality. And Mr. Netanyahu, in his mindset, he’s not very much different from a George Wallace or a Lester Maddox, with those who remember that era.

Jimmy Dore: So let me ask you: the Jewish people or the people of Israel, do they not see the tremendous irony that’s actually being played out right now, that the Israeli State was invented as a safe haven for the Jewish people because they’ve been persecuted, and now they turn around, and for the last couple of decades they’ve been doing the exact same thing or a very horrible thing, not the exact same thing, but a very similar thing to the Palestinian people, you know, making them be second-class citizens, stripping them of rights, controlling their movements in and out of wherever they go, and also having economic blockades and medical blockades… And you know, like we’ve said, it’s an open-air prison. Do they really miss the irony of that? Do they not see that?

Norman Finkelstein: Yes, I do think they don’t see it. I do think they miss the irony. First of all, remember that a large portion of Europeans who came to the United States, the Pilgrims, the Puritans, they were fleeing religious persecution. And then they proceeded to inflict a really quite grotesque crimes on the indigenous population when they came here. The fact of the matter is just as the European settlers, White settlers who came here, the Euro-Americans, they couldn’t conceive the domestic population, the indigenous population, they couldn’t conceive them as being human beings of the same order as themselves. They were savages. And in the same way, the Israeli people can’t conceive Arabs or Muslims as being on the same moral order as themselves. They’re terrorists or they’re savages. So I think it’s correct to say that they don’t see anything awry in the way they’re carrying on.

In fact, if you read most of the testimonies of Israelis on the situation there, most Israelis haven’t the slightest of interest in what goes on in the West Bank and Gaza. They live very good lives, they have a very high standard of living, they travel a lot, but for them, the West Bank and Gaza are far-off distant, almost exotic places for Israelis. I know that might come as a surprise, but remember, for example, when I was growing up living in New York City, it’s a compact city as I suppose you know, 99% of White New Yorkers talked about Harlem, were terrified of Harlem, but had never stepped foot in Harlem. They had never seen it, let alone physically placed themselves there. And there was a funny thing back then, when Europeans came over, visitors, you know, young people, you’d ask them where do you live, and they would all say “Harlem, of course”, [Laughter], yeah, because Harlem was exciting, you know, it was clubs, it was jazz… But for White New Yorkers, Harlem was some sight of terror. “Harlem?! You live in Harlem?! Oh my God!” 

And I remember when I first went over to the Occupied Territories in 1988, I lived with some families in the West Bank, and when I told Israelis “You know, I went to the West Bank”, they’d say “You went to the West Bank?!” I mean their eyes buldged. It’s a foreign place to them.

Jimmy Dore: That’s a fascinating… I mean it’s amazing these analogies you’re making, they’re very helpful actually.

So let me just shift really quickly to the BDS movement, because Chuck Schumer has said that the BDS movement is… You know, that’s really what… God, I mean I don’t know how… It had a big effect in South Africa, you know, getting rid of that right when people divested off their investments, and celebrities wouldn’t perform in South Africa. And it raised everyone’s consciousness. And so now, they’re trying to do the same thing to affect Israel’s conduct with how they treat the Palestinians, and pushing it towards a solution. And people are saying that that’s anti-semitic. Chuck Schumer gave a speech, I saw him give a speech at an AIPAC convention where he said that BDS is anti-semitism because there’s a lot of other countries around Israel that do bad things too, and people aren’t boycotting them. So what do you say to that ?

Norman Finkelstein: Well, you know, people have finite resources and finite energy. There are a few people who have this mental range and physical energy which is stupendous, you know. For example somebody like Noam Chomsky, who is able to move every piece on the chessboard of the world with his eyes blinded. But most of us have to make choices where we’re going to invest our energy, where we’re going to invest our resources.

Now in the case of South Africa, the claims that Chuck Schumer is making, that was exactly what the South African government said. It said ‘Why are you attacking us? Why not the Eastern Bloc? Why not the Soviet Union?’ They would say that Blacks in South Africa have a higher standard of living than Blacks elsewhere in Africa, which was actually statistically true. So why are you focusing on us? Anybody can make the argument ‘What about?’ What about Eastern Europe? What about Saudi Arabia? What about the rest of Africa? What about the rest of the Middle East? That’s a very easy argument to make. But it doesn’t change the fact that the United States, our government, and in particular Chuck Schumer, is investing a huge amount of money and resources in propping up a regime which is guilty of massive human rights violations. And to me that’s justification enough for focusing on Israel.

If you were to ask me to focus on another issue, show me the facts. If I’m convinced, I’ll support it. But you can’t… You can’t use the argument, well, ‘What about?’, everybody uses that argument. That was the South African argument.

Jimmy Dore: So I hear what you’re saying. What you’re saying is well, if you think other countries are doing horrible things too, start a movement and I’ll support that. [What Israel and its supporters are saying, it’s] ‘Because other people are doing bad things, please don’t hold me accountable for the bad things I’m doing’, which is what Chuck Schumer’s argument is.

Norman Finkelstein: Look, Chuck Schumer went to my High School. He’s an extremely bright man, nobody can take that away from him. And he came from humble beginnings, nobody can take that away from him. His father was an exterminator. I didn’t know Chuck, he was three years ahead of me, but I did know his sister Fran, an extremely bright young woman, extremely bright young woman. And I would say that 40 years later, she lived up to that impression. But the fact of the matter is, and I don’t say this gleefully, I don’t say it happily: Chuck Schumer is just a paid thug now. 

Jimmy Dore: Yes, 

Norman Finkelstein: He just takes the money from right-wing Jews and from Wall Street and he does their bidding. That’s his function in life. It’s a very sorry thing to have to say, and it’s actually an interesting tale. One day, maybe, you can have them both on your show, because not only did Chuck Schumer go to my High School, but so did Bernie Sanders. And they took as you can tell radically different paths. Sanders also came from humble beginnings. And he often says growing up in his home was not easy because there were a lot of fights between his mother and father over money issues. His father was a door-to-door salesman or Traveling Salesman. So they both came from quite similar backgrounds but took very divergent paths.

Chuck Shumer, he called, he called for the strangulation of Gaza. He did that in 2010. Now bear in mind what that means: Gaza has two million people. Of those two million, one million are children: they’re under the age of 18. So Charles Schumer, the great Holocaust [victims] defender, the great defender of persecuted peoples, he called for the economic strangulation of one million children. That’s a thug. That’s a murderer. And we should not recoil from using that language out of some sort of deference to the fact that he’s Jewish, or deference to the fact that he came from humble beginnings, which he did. He ended up a thug, a paid agent for right-wing Jews and for Wall Street. And that’s a very sad commentary. 

But then of course, there was the redeeming part sight, which is that for each Chuck Schumer, there’s another Bernie Sanders, who is also Jewish, who also came from humble beginnings, but has shown a heart, a heart, and who remembers where he came from, and understands what it means to be poor, what it means to be powerless. So it’s not an entirely bleak picture.

Jimmy Dore: So let me just wrap it up here, and just say where do you see… It doesn’t seem like there’s going to be a solution. I just don’t see it, especially as long as Benjamin Netanyahu is in power. What do you see happening in the next decade with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? 

Norman Finkelstein: Listen, I’m not a religious person. I grew up in a resolutely secular home. But I do believe with the adage ‘God helps those who help themselves’. It’s in the hands of the people of Palestine. If they can find the strength, the moral fortitude, the willingness to sacrifice… And I’m saying that from the safety of my home in Brooklyn, New York, so I’m not telling them what to do. But if they find the strength… As Fannie Lou Hamer once said, ‘You can pray to God as much as you want, but if you don’t get up and do something, nothing is going to change’. And she was a God-fearing woman. God helps those who help themselves. 

Right now, the people of Gaza have tried to seize control of their destiny. And since March 30th [2018], every Friday, that March [of Return to denounce] the case of that concentration camp called Gaza, they’ve marched those gates, trying to get not to freedom even, just to get that murderous, murderous, brutal blockade of Gaza lifted. So long as people continue to fight, continue to struggle, I will continue to support them. And then… you can’t predict.

Jimmy Dore: Okay.

Norman Finkelstein: Maybe they’ll win. Maybe not.

Jimmy Dore: Okay. Norman Finkelstein, thank you very much for being our guest, thanks for enlightening us, thanks for your… You know, I like that you don’t pull your punches, that’s what we like here at this show. So thanks again and we look forward to talking to you soon again.

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