Norman Gary 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 is a graduate of Binghamton University and received his Ph.D in Political Science from Princeton University. He has held faculty positions at Brooklyn College, Rutgers University, Hunter College, New York University, and, most recently, DePaul University, where he was an assistant professor from 2001 to 2007. In 2007, after a highly publicized row between Finkelstein and a notable opponent of his, Alan Dershowitz, Finkelstein's tenure bid at DePaul was denied. Finkelstein was placed on administrative leave for the 2007–2008 academic year, and on September 5, 2007, he announced his resignation after coming to a settlement with the university on generally undisclosed terms. An official statement from DePaul strongly defended the decision to deny Finkelstein tenure, stated that outside influence played no role in the decision.
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I am Norman Finkelstein, scholar of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and critic of Israeli policy. I have published a number of books on the subject, most recently Method and Madness: The hidden story of Israel's assaults on Gaza, but you might know me best from my videos on YouTube. The Israeli elections are today, and I feel that no matter who wins, the Palestinians will lose. Ask me anything.
Why don't you actively/aggressively seek out more high-profile debates and media coverage? You're good at it, your perspective is sorely needed, and it seems like it would do more than anything else you could be doing to further the cause/causes you've devoted your life to.
I can barely get in 'leftwing" and "progressive" media. The Nation magazine has rejected everything I ever submitted over 30 years. The current managing editor of the Nation, named Roane Carey, used to be my personal editor. Now, he routinely rejects all my submissions; I've become a non-person. Matthew Rothschild, who was the editor of The Progressive (I'm not sure if he still is), called me a Holocaust denier during my tenure battle at Depaul. The Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University (just an hour from where I live by subway) has never invited me to speak. I have NEVER been on national television or radio except Democracy Now! NPR had me on once about 30 years ago.
If both parties would act completely logically, what do you think would be the most reasonable resolution that would best serve both people's interests?
If the world acted rationally, it would recognize that Earth is a tiny pebble spinning in the Universe, that most of the challenges currently confronting Humanity can only be solved on a global scale, and that, Life is short, so why squander it on petty egotistical idiocies? But, people are mostly not rational in the bigger sense (see Dostoyevky's NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND). So, we must deal with humanity as it is, not as we wish it to be. The only possible solution is the one endorsed by the international community and international law. Everything else is pie in the sky. As Woody Guthrie put it, "You'll get pie in the sky when you die,/That's a lie." (He was targeting the Salvation Army.)
Are you objective or a stakeholder?
I do have a stake -- in Truth and Justice.
Have the Palestinians ever tried a Gandhi-like non-violent approach?
The first intifada has vanished from historical memory, but it was a remarkably successful attempt at nonviolent mass resistance. Jeffrey Goldberg, the pundit much loved by Mr Obama, wrote a book on the first intifada (PRISONERS). He was a prison guard and a cog in the machinery of torture. He writes in the book that he didn't witness any nonviolence during the first intifada. It gives you some idea of his reliability. Small wonder that Obama, another stupefying narcissist, finds him such a congenial interlocutor.
What do you think it would take, on Israels behalf, to start a path towards reconciliation with Palestine i.e, what do you think is the first necessary step towards brokering a peace deal? Furthermore, do you think a peace deal needs to be overseen by outside forces? Is such a thing done more for the benefit of Israel or Palestine, or both even?
The first thing is, the Palestinians in the occupied territories must themselves act, en masse. There's a huge reservoir of international support now for the Palestinians, while Israel's stock has plummeted. If Palestinians put forth reasonable demands (based on international law) and engaged in mass nonviolent resistance, Israel would be cornered and even Obama would have a hard time explaining why the Palestinians shouldn't be supported.
You have said that Hassan Nasrallah is "among the shrewdest political thinkers in the world today". Can you elaborate?
He's smart, he's serious, he's a shrewd political analyst. I do not agree with his position on Syria, but I recognize he didn't have many options.
Are there more UN resolutions against Israel than other states? If so, why? Is this anti-Semitism, as disproportionate targeting of African states for war crimes may be viewed as anti-African racism, and what are the implications? Does this negate any of the resolutions?
I just wrote a long article on this subject. I kindly ask you to await its publication shortly.
Do you have any opinion/observations on the recent sex-slave allegations against Alan Dershowitz?
It's caused me to doubt my atheism.
In your book "Method and Madness", you've mentioned if the Palestinian drop the violent approach, and instead use peace tactic like Martin Luther King/Gandhi method. Do you think if this tactic is used, the current conflict would be solve as soon as possible?
I've been your fan for very long time. Thank you for the braveness and support! Thank you Dr. Finkelstein!
^I'm ^sorry ^for ^my ^rusty ^English.
I am afraid you make is sound too easy. It's not easy to get the Israelis to budge under any circumstances. They're like the Whites in the American south during the Civil Rights era fighting integration. But just like diehard racists were made to budge, so can Israelis be made to budge if the tactics are right, if the strategic goal is right.
Will a government led by Herzog change anything for the Palestinians (positively or negatively)?
It will probably make things worse, by relieving Israel of a lot of international pressure. Everyone will be celebrating the end of Netanyahu's rule, just as the world celebrated the end of Bush--only to get the awful Mr. Obama.
What books do you think most accurately describe the Palestinian Israeli conflict and the Israeli conflicts with Arab countries (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon)?
Benny Morris, Righteous Victims
Zeev Maoz, Defending the Holy Land
Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation
Do you agree with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Israel treats the illegally occupied Palestinian territories like an apartheid state would treat different groups in their country? Is 'apartheid' too strong of a word to use or is it just a dirty word that people do not want associated with Israel? Or is our former President just an anti-Semite like our current POTUS, Obama, is being labelled by 'certain groups'?
Many respected commentators have described Israel's policy in the occupied territories as an apartheid regime--including Haaretz, Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B'Tselem), former Israel ministers of education Yossi Sarid and Shulamith Aloni, distinguished Israeli journalist Danny Rubinstein, "father" of human rights in post-Apartheid South Africa, John Dugard. So, I see no point in disputing this description.
In the past you have said that the next round between Israel and Hezbollah was inevitable in the near future. Do you still believe this? What is the likelihood of another war on the scale of the second Lebanese given the current situation in the middle east?
The Arab spring happened shortly after I made this prediction. It shuffled the deck.
As an advocate for Palestinian rights, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
That I didn't move on or give up.
I stuck to it, come what may.
How far would they expand the illegal settlements if they can continue?
Probably to Brooklyn, New York.
Do you agree with Noam Chomsky's opinion that Israel’s Actions in Palestine are "Much Worse Than Apartheid" in South Africa?
Should situations like Israel and Palenstine be compared to historical atrocities or should they be condemned for their own sake?
It used to be the case that to convey the horrors of the occupation, it was necessary to make historical analogies. But at this point, the Palestinian case can stand on its own. Do we really need to invoke the Nazi holocaust or South African apartheid to illuminate the horrors of israel's periodic massacres in Gaza?
British person here. I'd be interested to know if you think that pressure from Britain/Europe, if the political will were there -- e.g. diplomatic pressure, an arms embargo etc. -- could help bring about peace, or is US influence just too overwhelming?
if the Palestinians engage in mass nonviolent resistance, and the Solidarity movement does its job, sufficient pressure can be put on European governments (which are already fed up with the conflict, and with Israel in particular) such that the US might be neutralized. i recognize that they are a lot of IF's, but possible is anyhow almost impossible to predict. It's at any rate a realistic possibility.
1) What would you like to see happen ultimately? Would you like a single fully democratic state with one person one vote within what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza? Do you want a "two state solution?" with Palestine given all the rights and privileges of an autonomous actor including the right to import and export military equipment? If your choice happened what do you think the result would be for the Jews living in Israel?
2) Related" What do you think, in the short term the Jews and Americans should do/concede?
3) What do you think WILL happen in the next fifty years? What does the Middle East look like in 2065?
I am an old-fashioned communist (with a lower-case "c"). I don't think borders and States make sense. The world is a tiny place, the fundamental challenges confronting humankind - climate change, economic dysfunction-- can only be solved on a global scale. My heartstrings still resonate to, "The Internationale shall be the Human Race."
As you are no longer in academics, what are you doing in your daily life?
Counting the minutes until, thank goodness it's all over. As I like to say, God in his almighty wisdom, made us mortal.
(I still read, occasionally write, and I am also teaching one week each month in Turkey.)
What do you think is really the reason of this war , is it religion or is it politics ?
It's always hard to separate out where rational self-interest ends and ideology begins.
Historically, what Israeli and Palestinian leaders have done the most to advance the peace process. And, on the flip side, what Israeli and Palestinian leaders have done the most to damage or sabotage it?
I do not like Palestinian leaders, but it cannot be said of any of them from Arafat to the present has blocked a settlement of the conflict based on international law, where no Israeli leader has ever accepted the terms of international law for resolving the conflict.
You state that Netanyahu is a maniac, yet you defended both Stalin and Mao. Would you care to explain to us simpletons how you form your psychiatric evaluations?
Even I have my redlines.
If the conflict ended tomorrow, on a fair and just basis, and you suddenly had more time and free energy to devote to other matters, academic or recreational, what would you study or do?
I often ponder this question. The thing is, I don't believe in "punditry"--i.e., learning a little about this and a little about this. I am of the opinion that the "devil is in the detail." That means, to say anything useful on a topic requires a comprehensive knowledge of it. But, at this point in my life, I am too depleted mentally to undertake such a project.
If you were to publicize three key points that inform your view of the conflict, and which are little known or poorly understood, what would they be?
The basic injustice inflicted on the Palestinians is now better known.
The principal misapprehension is that both sides are responsible for the impasse in the "peace process." In fact, Palestinians have offered concessions that go well beyond what is required of them under international law. The obstacle is israel's refusal to withdraw. In fact, why should israel withdraw: it's a cost-free occupation. The Europeans foot the bills in the occupied Palestinian territories, the PA does the dirty work of policing, arresting and torturing, while the US protects Israel diplomatically. Unless pressure is imposed on Israel, it will never withdraw.
Why doesn't Israel want to make peace with the Palestinian people?
Why should it? It gets to have its cake (the water and arable land of the occupied Palestinian territories) and to eat it. Israel bears zero burdens of occupation, except for an occasional firecracker or Roman candle fired from Gaza,
Who's the best Israeli PM in history, in your opinion?
The early Zionist leaders (Ben-Gurion et al.) were ruthless but were also truly committed to the cause and ideal of a Jewish state, The more recent crop of leaders are just run-of-the-mill shabby politicians.
The Palestinians are set to join the ICC on April 1st, a move which will enable them to file war crimes charges against Israel, of which there are many. What do you envision will be the outcome of this, in light of the U.S and Israel leaning on the ICC and making all sorts of threats against them. Could this be the beginning of international law finally being imposed on the Israeli's?
Not much. The PA doesn't have its heart in this. Their first concern is their paychecks (from the US).
Should Israel have ever been created?
Why not ask a Native American if the US should have ever been created?
What's your personal life like? Do you have a significant other? What are your hobbies? Favorite alcoholic drink? Ever tried pot, even just back in the day?
Got an opinion on the Tibetan independence movement?
"Personal life"-- I'm checking my dictionary. Is it an idiom?
Do you think such a thing is possible in Palestine? Is it possible relations between Palestine and Israel have reached the point of no return?
It already happened once, during the first intifada (1987-1990). It was remarkably successful. Unfortunately, the first intifada climaxed in the disastrous Oslo Accord, so many people regard it as a failure. But it wasn't. It caused israel huge headaches.
Can you describe your thoughts on the BDS movement?
I've already done so on many occasions. Check youtube.
Hello Mr. Finkelstein, what do you think awaits for Mr. Netanyahu, do you think he will be able to re-elect or would you say he is done for in his political career?
If I had my way, what awaits Netanyahu would be an appointment at the International Criminal Court, if only for being so obnoxious. But it ain't gonna happen.
How does Israel manage to retain its huge international support in the face of the atrocities it commits? In other words, where does their influence on the US and other governments originate? I refuse to give credence to the silly and racist conspiracy theories about wealthy and powerful Jews/Illuminati and stuff, but the pro-Israel double standard of western countries borders insanity!
Israel has an excellent public relations machine, it's convinced many Jews who are rich and powerful, that the Israeli cause is just, while many Jews are very chauvinist, so will support anything the "Jewish" state says or does. But it's also true that Israel has lost a lot of support among public opinion in general and Jewish public opinion in particular. The challenge now is to formulate reasonable demands such that Jews who claim to be liberal (which is a large chunk of the Jewish population) will either support or be shamed into supporting.
First of all, your performance on Juice Rap News was outstanding :)
I was wondering about this: Do you think that the current "divide" between Obama and Netanyahu is real? Or is it just some sort of fake PR thing now that more people are getting aware of Israel's insane policy?
Thanks, keep up the good work!
It's real but unlikely to have significant consequences.
Netanyahu might soon be out of office, and Obama will follow.
But the US-Israel relationship, based on deep common interests in the Middle East, will continue.
Do you think a completely secular government is the answer to peace considering this is considered a holy war? Allowing both parties to vote and move freely within the country without allowing either side to impose religious pressure on the other seems like a great place to start, or is that too simple?
I am not so keen on "completely secular government" if France is an example of one, of Bill Maher is an example of a "completely secular person." I like the African-American spirituals. "Every time I feel the sprit,/ Moving in my heart,/ I do pray."
In the United States, why do republicans seemingly support Israel more than democrats?
Loons of a feather flock together.
Or, if my other questions would take too long to answer, do you believe Americas devotion to Israel does more harm than good? If so, why?
It's hard to answer such a question in generalities. US support for Israel obviously serves some people's interests; otherwise it wouldn't have endured so long. The relevant question, in my opinion, is whether such support serves the cause of Justice. The answer, manifestly, is No.
Why can't we all just get along?
We can all get along, if we just put a check on our egos and our selfish propensities. I remain an optimist when it comes to people. Most folks I meet in daily life are reasonably decent. However, I no longer work in academia. Maybe if I did, I'd reach a different conclusion.
You have repeatedly criticized supporters of the so-called 'one state solution' because their proposal has no basis in international law and can therefore, in your words, "not reach a broad public". However many people sympathetic to the Palestinian cause see the two-state solution as increasingly unfeasible, due to the entrenchment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the OPT. These people then regard the one state solution as the only remaining realistic option. Do you genuinely still believe a two state solution is still viable, and that all those settlements will really be dismantled for the creation of a Palestinian state?
The Palestinians presented maps at the Annapolis negotiations in 2007, which suggest that the 2-state settlement is still possible. The problem is, new versions of the 2-state settlement will be presented (e.g., Israel's annexation of the major settlement blocs) that will turn the Palestinian State into little more than a garbage dump.
What do you make of the buffer zone argument where Israel's supporters claim that if Gaza and the West Bank are returned, the Palestinians will change their demands and seek to take over all of pre-67 Israel?
What is your take on the "Right of Return" issue? To me, it seems to be a chip that Palestinians might ultimately have to give up to secure their own state...
In a two-state solution, what problems do you seen occurring in Jerusalem? Are we to assume that there would need to be a "Berlin Wall" separating East and West?
Palestinians recognize that once an agreement is signed, it will be nearly impossible to escape its terms. Which is why they'v been cautious about what they do sign. If this Israeli argument were true, why haven't Palestinians just agreed to whatever Israel offers, and then use it as a "base" for future expansion? The answer is obvious. Whatever they agree to is all they'll get.
What do most of the people in Israel think of the assaults on Gaza? What are some mistakes that the Palestinians have made that exacerbated things?
Israel is probably the most polled place on Earth. They have lots of time to spare, and love to be asked about themselves. So, there's no mystery what Israelis think. In all of Israel's major operations, going back to Operation Defensive Shield (2002), the 2006 Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead (2008-9), and Operation Protective Edge this past summer, more than 90 percent of Israelis supported the murderous assaults. Palestinians have the right under international to use violent force in order to achieve their self-determination, but I don't think it's been a prudent tactic.
Mr. Finkelstein, thank you for your time doing this.
If no matter who wins the Palestinians lose, then what do you feel would be a democratic solution for normalization?
What are your views on the Unified List (Reshima Meshutefet)?
A mass Palestinian movement must develop from below. Otherwise, it's pretty hopeless.
What are your views on the state of Jews in Europe? Are they safe, and what do you think the future holds in store for them? What do you think of the normalization of 'Jew Jokes'? Does Israel, or their actions make prospects any better or worse for them?
In the face of so much ineffable suffering in the world today, I couldn't care less about the "state of Jews in Europe". Would any of these "suffering" Jews want to change places with a refugee from Gaza, or Africa or Syria or Afghanistan or Iraq? Enough with this solipsistic navel-gazing!
I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I first learned of you through someone else's documentary on the conflict, in which you were among many different people interviewed with snippets throughout, and I thought, "This is the only completely realistic, level-headed, plain-spoken person I've seen talk about this."
As a legal assistant, your analogies were crystal clear to me, in a way that so many people's are decidedly not. Of course you can't wall in your neighbour's possessions merely on the pretence of security. Of course you can't 'concede' anything you had no claim to the in first place. And so on. That anyone debates these questions as if they're murky or complicated is simply asinine. And a foreign policy that does not acknowledge what is plainly obvious has little hope of achieving lasting peace or stability.
I only wish my mother was still alive to appreciate your voice of reason. She was highly critical of Israel's foreign policy for many of the same reasons. As an historian, she appreciated the importance of grounding politics in plain truths that everyone could see and agree on, and we agree that modern Israel is not doing that -- to the inevitable detriment of itself, its people, and many others.
I believe in Israel and I accept the UN mandate that created it, for better or for worse, and I want it to exist as a nation in the world. And I have little personal stake in their problems or wishes or beliefs. But I also want a stable and peaceful Middle East, because I have a substantially higher stake in that as a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the world, and I want good things for everyone everywhere, which must begin with peace and stability, so that prosperity can thrive. That must begin with honest dealings by all parties there, and that must include the Israeli government.
My instinct -- and perhaps you will correct me or sharpen my perspective, which I'd greatly appreciate -- is that these problems are rooted in conflicts between factions of the Israeli electorate, those who elect and lobby the government from below; those to whom the government is most obliged, especially for practical reasons of being able to remain in power. If that electorate, like ours here in the U.S., is deeply fractured along important policy lines, then perhaps the government can't help being so also? What would be the solution, if that's the case? Asking the government to stand against its own people for their own better good is not an outrageous proposal, in my mind, but I do think it's probably political suicide, and whomever replaces them will simply not repeat that mistake. So I'm not sure where solutions begin. Would it require a massive effort to educate the Israeli people to the fragile reality they're in, and what must happen in order to improve it?
Thanks for writing and the kind words. The problem is, the Israeli electorate is NOT fractured on the question of the Palestinians. They are some disagreements, but they are relatively minor. The problem is, virtually no one in Israel accepts the terms of the international consensus/international law for resolving the conflict.