The old adage that if you manage to offend all sides in a dispute you may be doing something right may have been invented by a misanthrope. If so, then Norman Finkelstein may be a misanthrope. Or maybe just an independent thinker who dances to no one else’s tune but the one he composes himself.
Having earned the rabid enmity of indurated and powerful pro-Israel advocates a long time ago, he turned around and gave a few resounding slaps to the leadership of the BDS by pointing out their inconsistencies. Except he was not polite: he called it hypocrisy.
Thoroughly democratic and fighting for Palestinian human rights, including the right to free speech, BDS got so upset that it expelled him. (No, don’t jump to conclusions, no anti-semitism was involved: they also expelled Ken O’Keefe and Francis Clark-Lowes. Those expelled may have committed the hate crime of anti-BDSism, or so it seems.
For good measure, in the spirit of an old Palestinian cultural tradition called “herem” they declared Finkelstein unfit for communing with bona fides anti-zionists possessing a BDS ID card like themselves. Maybe herem is not exactly Palestinian, it is Jewish, and not exactly in the spirit of upholding free debate and free speech, but close enough: as close as tabouleh is to gefilte fish.
Perhaps, just as anti-zionist zionists (AZZs) maintain that the Jewish “guidance” and leadership of the Palestinian movement is essential in order to “kosherize” the movement against accusations of anti-semitism, just so they may have felt the need to wrap a kuffyieh around the herem to Islamize a bit. The man for the job turned out to be Omar Barghouti, an “Arab Israeli” studying at the Tel Aviv University.
Maybe not the ideal man for the job, Omar, who endorses the struggle against the racism of Israel while railing against “whites,” and calls for boycotting Israel’s academic institutions of higher learning while studying in one of them. Nobody is perfect though.
For all we know he may only take courses taught by Israeli professors who are deeply tanned and he may hang in at TA University only to see its decline from up close.
Having been already “herem’ed” by BDS, Finkelstein has not stopped, however: he calls BDS hypocritical for maintaining that they are defending the rights of Palestinians to obtain higher education in Israel just as Barghouti does so brilliantly (pursuing his PhD), while they castigate Israel as an apartheid.
Stung to the quick, BDS called in its own” little dershowitz”: Gabriel Ash. That made it exciting because Ash is intellectually twice blessed, apparently having assimilated some of the Marxist philosophy fed to him in the land of his birth, which he alloyed with the subtleties of Talmudic reasoning to forge it into a fearsome debating weapon.
In fact he is so devastating he should be reserved only for BDS’s most intractable foes. You don’t bring out a cannon to kill flies with it, which makes me think that someone should advise Finkelstein to feel flattered.
Ash defends BDS very well. To paraphrase him: “No, we are not a cult (as Finkelstein accuses). We do not select the targets of boycott by ideology (zionism) or by nationality. No, the criteria are evolving creatively.”
According to the PACBI’s statement: “All such events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless the Israeli side is explicitly supportive of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and unless the project/event is framed within the explicit context of joint opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott.”
“So, you see,” he seems to suggest, “Israel is an apartheid yet it isn’t, or at least in some cases it isn’t, we need to check the explicit Ausweiss of the event to decide ‘Boycott or Not Boycott?”
Ash also explains further why BDS is not a “cult”—I am paraphrasing again: “It is very successful, especially in Switzerland, where I am active and we collected a lot of signatures in supermarkets. Some groups in the BDS are not what you might call “politically mature,” but in Switzerland we are very advanced, so much so that we succeeded in getting some vegetables and fruit labeled “produced in the Occupied Territories.” It is far from being a cult also because we have a lot of wide diversity of opinion—why, would you believe some of our members even call for a relaxation of the boycott? As for representation—do we really represent the Palestinian civil societies?—representation is always problematic, look around you, even parliaments have problems.”
All the way up to here, in my view, Ash was gold, well worth putting on the job. I was rather disappointed to see him mess up on such a good effort at the end, when he cried out in pain that Finkelstein is “undercutting and declawing us.”
As if that was not bad enough, Ash made it worse by imploring “conscientious persons” to resist being “seduced” (his word) by the evil veterinarian waving pliers at them. Seduced by declawing?! Perhaps Ash imagines “conscientious persons” as a sad bunch of masochists. Maybe he has not met many of their representatives, you know how parliaments are.
In my opinion Ash was wrong—just viewing his effort on its rhetorical merits—to switch from the Marxist argumentation style (“Hey, we’re evolving creatively but we are the most enlightened representatives of the Palestinians, especially the advance detachment here in Switzerland) to the plaintive victimhood wail of the tortured. Maybe, in his defense, between composing the first part of his opus and the rest he was grabbed by the evil veterinarian and declawed, which would explain why the finale ends in soft-paw glancing stroke of the keys in pizzicato.