Correction: We deleted the original version of this article at 11.30am on 23 August, after it had been published the previous evening. We made the extremely rare decision to take the article down because we got the original headline – Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein says ‘Israel is a nation of murderers’ loved by the far right – very wrong. This decision was triggered during an internal review by senior editors.
Specifically, we felt it was wrong to use Professor Finkelstein’s quote in the headline without context or challenge. It gave the impression that all Israeli citizens were culpable for the actions of the Israeli state. Professor Finkelstein’s point was more nuanced. And The Canary believes that the Israeli state – and not all its citizens – is responsible for the abhorrent actions towards the Palestinian people.
We are sincerely sorry for our mistake and for any distress we may have caused. We published a new version of the article – with a new headline and amended copy – at 12.40pm on 27 August.
Last week, The Canary released Part 1 of an interview with renowned Jewish academic Norman Finkelstein in which he discussed the antisemitism smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. In Part 2, Finkelstein speaks about the alt-right’s love affair with Israel, what he sees as the complicity of swathes of its population in human rights violations in occupied Palestine, and the prospects of a two-state settlement in the possible event of a Bernie Sanders presidency.
The far-right love affair with Israel
Asked about Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s growing alliance with far-right governments around the world, Finkelstein said he sees a strange fetishization of Israel by the ‘alt-right’ because of its brutality to the Palestinians. He said:
A question was asked by probably the world’s leading authority on fascism… Zeev Sternhell… And he raised the question, rhetorically: ‘Why are all these alt-right leaders so attracted to Israel?’… He said [it’s] because they don’t see the Israelis as Jewish. And that’s true. They see them as white übermenschen – like the alt-right everywhere – the ‘white supermen’.
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There are only two countries in the world that have been polled and show that they support Trump. I think Liberia – [which] probably has a very strange media – and Israel. Israel’s overwhelmingly pro-Trump. Not the state, [but] the country, the people. They’re a totally different type, and I think American Jews in particular are now discovering that. Israel is not Jewish; it’s not Jewish in any sense that Jews have ever understood being Jewish. Jewish… means being progressive, kind of pacifist, and liberal.
“A citizen army”
He then went on to speak in strong terms about what he sees as the complicity of swathes of the Israeli population with the occupation and human rights abuses of Palestinians. Referring to the country’s compulsory military service, he said:
Israel is a nation of murderers. Now, why do I say that? Because at some level, Israel… is a very egalitarian society – everybody serves in the army. Everyone serves. You know, there are the marginal exceptions, which I’m sure you know, but it’s a citizen army. Now, this citizen army has periodically been involved in massacres of civilian populations – whether it’s Gaza every two or three years, whether it’s Lebanon every five or ten years. And it’s been involved now for over a half-century in this occupation, the essence of which is to dispossess and dehumanize the indigenous population.
He then goes into some details of the human rights violations that Israel commits:
You take the case of the last UN report on Gaza, the Gaza march of return, and it describes… this seemingly endless list of Palestinian children, medics, journalists, and disabled people who are being targeted by the snipers – doing absolutely nothing. Some of them are just sitting under a tree 300 meters from… the so-called fence, being murdered.
“The two-state solution is dead”
Asked about the prospect of a settlement of the Israel/Palestine question in the near future, Finkelstein was not optimistic. He said that, for the moment, solidarity activists should focus on pressuring for the lifting of the blockade of Gaza. He stressed:
There’s no political prospect of two state, one state, no state, ten states. It’s not on the drawing board now… There’s a horrific, illegal, immoral, inhumane blockade of Gaza. We have to focus on what’s possible. I think lifting the blockade of Gaza is a possibility.
For Finkelstein, there are now a series of impediments to reaching a two-state solution:
The game-changers have been: the open Saudi alliance now with Israel; the fact that there’s been a succession of humanitarian crises in the Middle East which have overshadowed the Palestinian question; the fact that there’s a completely corrupt, collaborationist leadership among the Palestinians, which is incapable of inspiring any sacrifice by Palestinians or inspiring people abroad; and there has been the fact that the struggle has died in the West Bank. There has not even been any political mobilization in the West Bank in support of Gaza. It’s nothing. There is no resistance anymore. And as a result of all of those factors, the two-state solution is dead.
Critical importance of 2020 US elections
Asked about Donald Trump’s influence on the situation, he made clear that it depends a great deal on the outcome of the 2020 election:
If [Trump] loses, he’ll be seen as a kind of eccentric aberration. And all of his decisions – to recognize Israeli control over the Golan, to recognize Jerusalem [as Israel’s capital] – will all be forgotten as part of this kind of lunatic phase in American politics… If he wins in 2020, yes, there’s a possibility it’ll stick – his decisions. But as of now, I don’t attach much importance to them.
He stressed, on the other hand, that a Bernie Sanders victory in 2020 (and/or a Jeremy Corbyn victory at some point in the UK) would be a game-changer. He said:
It would infinitely strengthen the two-state settlement. Because Corbyn and Bernie have been very firm on two points. Palestinians have rights; those rights have to be respected, and they have to also actually be implemented. But number two, it has to be done within the framework of two states. I mean, Bernie and Jeremy have been very clear about that.
“The only rational future”
On the prospect of a one-state solution to the conflict, he remains skeptical. He said:
I don’t see any political basis for it. Can you show me one country in the world that supports it? Can you show me one representative political institution that supports it? Can you show me one legal institution that supports it? Can you show me one major human rights organization that supports it? Can you show me, incidentally, one political party that supports it? I’m talking about leftist political parties.
Of advocates of the one-state solution, he said:
These are posers… and fantasists. It’s nothing to do with politics… Is there at this point in time any likelihood that the consensus is going to radically shift in the near future or foreseeable future? I don’t see evidence of it… Politics is not like a baby shaking a rattle: ‘This is what I want’. Politics is what you desire, for sure. It’s aspirational. But it’s always constrained by what’s possible at the given moment; what’s the most you can extract from the given moment that will bring you closer to the future that you aspire to?
Finkelstein concluded by affirming that he doesn’t support the system of nation-states at all, but that this is not on the cards at this point in history:
So I don’t support two states. Actually, I don’t support one state. I support no states. That’s the future to which I aspire. I think it’s the only rational future. You can’t solve any of the problems confronting humanity today, beginning with climate change, within the framework of… nation states… But I also recognize that, within the current moment, we can’t extract anything that doesn’t function within the world of nation states. And we have to accept that, even though we recognize, as an ultimate solution, that nation states have to go.
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