Norman Finkelstein on why HRW finally turned their back to “the lunatic state” of Israel

The title of the Human Rights Watch report is “A Threshold Crossed”. The paradox there is the threshold was not crossed by Israel – like you say, this is all old news – the threshold was crossed by Human Rights Watch. They crossed the threshold. They now were looking square in the face without any extenuations, any qualifications, any caveats; they said Israel is based on Jewish domination… I mean I can barely say that.

I have a small public career denouncing Human Rights Watch – many of the chapters in many of my books are devoted to denouncing its whitewashing of Israel… Who would have thought the day would come to pass that Human Rights Watch would make us look like milquetoast? Taking positions that frankly I’ve not taken publicly – I was of a school of let’s just resolve this: let’s end the occupation and let’s move on; but now the terms are changing. [from 44:00 mins]

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On Monday 10th, BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis interviewed Palestinian Ambassador to UK, Husom Zomlot, who eloquently called out the western media’s consistent downplaying of Israel’s settler colonial oppression as just its inevitable response to a cycle of violence sparked by Palestinians:

And here is Palestinian writer Mohammed El-Kurd from Sheikh Jarrah responding to CNN anchor in a clip that went viral:

As the liberal media does its level best to misrepresent the ongoing Israeli attacks on Palestinians as “clashes”, feigning equivalence between Palestinian stones and ‘rockets’ to the routine brutality of Israel’s military occupation and its “mowing the grass” with renewed airstrikes and bombing of Gaza, on Tuesday night [May 11th] political commentator Katie Halper invited Jewish American scholar Norman Finkelstein to speak about the protests in East Jerusalem and more widely across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, lending his own perspective on both the current and historical context for the violence. The full interview is embedded below alongside my own transcripts with relevant links provided – all the quotes (including the one above) are Norman Finkelstein:

I’ll tell you something that is a kind of a paradox; an irony. I’m not passing judgment now; I’m just going to lay out a picture. From 1967, Israel’s occupation, and especially beginning in the early 1970s, Israel’s existence as a Jewish state ceased to be called into question. The international consensus was: Israel, for better or for worse, it exists; it’s a state; if it wants its Jewish majority, it can have its Jewish majority, and it can carry on however it wants internally. And then the issue was just [what to do about] the occupied Palestinian territories.

Had the Israelis not been so arrogant; had they not been so supremacist, so contemptuous of the Palestinians; had they just calculated their own best interest; they would have settled for the two states and said let’s move on. But their arrogance, their Jewish supremacy, that impulse for Jewish domination – the cheapness to which they reduced Palestinian life – that had a paradoxical consequence. And what was the consequence? The consequence was that now their whole legitimacy is being challenged.

When it first came up in 1975 with the “Zionism is racism” resolution at the UN. When it first came up the western states, and in particular the United States, had expressed its outrage, its indignation: how dare you say Israel’s a racist state? How dare you say Israel is an apartheid state? You probably remember the American official – I won’t call him ‘a statesman’ – Daniel Patrick Moynihan [who] made his whole reputation by sitting in the United Nations… holding up his hand, giving his no vote to that resolution. And that launched his career…

Here’s the irony: what Moynihan is objecting to now that ‘Zionism is racism’ resolution at the UN. Guess what? You now open up B’Tselem’s report, you open up Human Rights Watch report, and what did they say? The Israeli state is based on Jewish Supremacy and Jewish domination. Now isn’t that an irony? That’s what the reports are now saying. Exactly what launched Daniel Moynihan’s career was denouncing that claim, as did the whole of the western states and the American media in particular. That position, ‘Zionism is racism’ – Israel as a Jewish Supremacist state based on Jewish domination – that notion has now been legitimised.

From an historical point of view it’s a real irony, because to use simple language ‘they could have gotten away with it’. The international community was willing to accept Israel as it was, even though they knew the land had been and was still being relentlessly confiscated. They knew there were Palestinian refugees who were denied the right to return to their homeland. Everybody knew that. But, the international community turned its head away, and said let’s just forget about that, let’s just resolve the conflict: two states: Palestinian state, Israeli state; and let’s move on. [But] they didn’t want to move on. They wanted to have everything. And now everything is being called into question. Everything! [from 37:00 mins]

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The text below is also a partial transcript of Norman Finkelstein’s conversation with Katie Halper.

Let me just map out broadly what I see happening. First is the headline news, which is the explosion in East Jerusalem. Which was a long time coming. There have been intimations for the last few weeks or more that Israel’s expulsions of families in East Jerusalem were at some point going to climax in a clash. And that happened this past week. You can never predict when they’re going to happen, but obviously a breaking point had been reached.

That’s the political aspect – the facts on the ground – and that’s what’s right now garnering all the headlines. But there’s another aspect to this conflict which has been getting some but not equal media attention. And that is the quite dramatic and one might say a turning point in the Israel-Palestine conflict at the legal, at the moral, and at the public opinion level. A collapse of all three: legal, moral, public opinion level. And for some of your listeners it’s particularly revealing of what’s happening in the American-Jewish community.

Now, let me try to just back-up and put things in context. First the major development. The major development is the past week Human Rights Watch, which as you know is the leading human rights organisation in the world. It’s the most prominent, the most influential, the most well-endowed. And I would also say – because it’s pertinent to what I’ll be saying in this evening’s conversation – it’s also the most centrist. The most mainstream of the human rights organisations.

And this past week Human Rights Watch put out a very substantial report. It ran to 214 pages, and it had a voluminous scholarly apparatus, which is the fancy way of saying that it was exhaustively and comprehensively researched. It’s an impressive piece of work. And it had many dramatic things to say. The title of the report is “A Threshold Crossed”, and before I get to that threshold crossed, I want to just back-up a moment and set it in context.

The context is that since roughly 2009, Palestinians and their supporters have been trying to bring a case against Israel before the International Criminal Court [ICC], and these were very protracted proceedings and they frankly seemed as if they were getting nowhere. There were two cases brought before the court. One was after many, many years finally dismissed by the Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda – that was the subject of [Finkelstein’s] book I accuse – it was an attack on the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda; and then there was a second case brought before the court. The second case was also dragging and dragging and dragging, and it looked as if was going to die out. However, this past year for reasons which I won’t go into now, the court finally decided it’s proceeding with an investigation into Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as Gaza.

Now one hurdle had been cleared to pursue this investigation, but there were still many other hurdles to be cleared. I myself having followed the case very closely and studied it, I was very sceptical the Palestinians would be able to clear the next hurdles. There are a lot of legal technicalities that would have enabled the court to kill the case. And I didn’t think [the Palestinians] would be able to prevail.

But then, lo and behold, about three months ago, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, which is the main Israeli human rights organisation monitoring Israeli crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories, they came out with what one might call an astonishing position paper. And I’m just going to read you the title. I’m not going to belabour you with the text; just the title: “A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid.”

Now there are three notable things about that title:

Number one. They use a very incendiary phrase. The phrase is “Jewish Supremacy”. Obviously for an American ear that sounds an awful lot like ‘White Supremacy’. Jewish Supremacy: there’s not even a flea’s hop separating the two. So to a public which has been – mostly because of the Black Lives Matter movement – very much sensitised to issues of White Supremacy and White domination – it was, as I said, an incendiary phrase.

Secondly, usually in discussions of the Israel-Palestine conflict there’s Israel here and the Occupied Palestinian Territories there. Israel’s legitimacy is more or less accepted. The point of contention is the state and future of the occupied Palestinian territories. B’Tselem did something new. It said we’re no longer talking about Israel here, Occupied Palestinian Territories there; there’s just one state now. We have to be honest about it. There’s just one state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, and that one state is Israel. And that one state is a Jewish Supremacist state. As the report goes on to say: this state’s foundation is Jewish Supremacy.

And then it takes the next step and says “this is an apartheid state”. Well, that crossed several red lines. Number one: it no longer acknowledged the legitimacy of the State of Israel. The point of contention was no longer just the occupied Palestinian territories; it’s the whole thing. And number two: they compared it to apartheid, and for Israel’s supporters that’s been a bogie: you can’t compare it to apartheid.

So frankly speaking – candidly – I was shocked. I was very surprised at what they did. They have a new leadership; the fellow who heads the executive is named Hagai El-Ad – he’s a very unusual figure. I don’t know him personally. I have never had personal contact – not from a want of trying from me, but we’ve never had contact. He’s a Harvard PhD in Physics and he apparently set aside his professional attainments and he now heads up B’Tselem. And he’s a remarkably principled and forthright person. There is one quite amusing exchange between him and [former] Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon at the United Nations. It’s a real sight to behold. And frankly I personally thought – and still think – he has gone so far out on a limb that there’s probably a good chance he will be assassinated. [from 2:45 mins]

Here is Hagai El-Ad, the director of Israeli non-profit organisation B’Tselem slamming the Israeli occupation’s crimes and violations during a UN Security Council session held in October 2018:

The response of Israeli Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Danny Danon, was to say “Shame on you, collaborator:

[B’Tselem] is the main Israeli human rights organisation monitoring Israeli crimes and abuses – I don’t like the word abuses I prefer the word crimes – Israeli crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. It’s very reputable. It’s won many awards, and I think it’s fair to say no-one has seriously disputed the quality or the accuracy of its research. So it’s a formidable organisation in terms of its persuasive power. It has a good track-record for its accuracy.

Now the Human Rights Watch report is as astonishing as the B’Tselem report but in a different way. First of all, the Human Rights Watch report says, not that Israel has established a regime of ‘Jewish Supremacy’ across the board from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean; they say something slightly different, but equally incendiary. They say Israel has established across the board from the Mediterranean to the Jordan (Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories); they have established a regime – I’ll use their words now – ‘a regime of Jewish domination over and against the Palestinian people’.

And they say, that in the occupied territories, Israel has established – or Israel engages in – the crime of apartheid and the crime of persecution, and that these two crimes constitute under international law crimes against humanity, which according to Human Rights Watch, quoting some statutes, they say these are among the most odious – ODIOUS – crimes in international law.

And they say, that the ICC should not limit itself to investigating Israeli war crimes, but should go to the next step and investigate Israeli crimes against humanity. So it’s already taken what you might call ‘out on a limb’ positions – I’ll get back to that in a moment – the other thing that it does which was a total surprise to me (and I’m not saying these things for their theatrical or emotive effect – I’m being quite sincere and candid with you – I’ve studied this conflict since 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon which eventually became the subject of my doctoral dissertation and so I’m pretty inured to events in the Israel-Palestine conflict – I kind of think I’ve seen it all) but some things are happening which are very surprising. It’s the 1960s song that I grew up with: ‘There’s Something Happening Here’. There is: something is happening – there’s no doubt about it.

Because the Human Rights Watch report doesn’t just stick to the present: what is the situation now; what has been the situation in the past ten or twenty years. The B’Tselem report is basically a description of the present. The Human Rights Watch report – I’m not exaggerating, believe me I don’t exaggerate; I’m very careful about staying true to the facts – it goes all the way back to Israel’s establishment in 1948 – it even goes back to 1947. And it says, from the beginning, Israel, in order to create this Jewish state – the Zionist movement and then the State of Israel – they tried to do two things.

Number one – I’m using their words now – they tried to engineer a Jewish majority in Israel. Because for the founders of the State of Israel, a Jewish state could not be a Jewish state unless there was a Jewish majority, and so they wanted to engineer that Jewish majority. Well there was only one way to engineer a Jewish majority; you had to expel the indigenous population. There’s no other way to do it. And so Human Rights Watch… delegitimises the notion of a Jewish majority, because it says in order to create that Jewish majority, it could only be created at the expense of the Palestinians. And so it says this creation of a Jewish majority state was intrinsically at the expense of – or discriminating against – the Palestinian population.

The second pillar of the Jewish State objective was the confiscation of the land, because the land was owned by Palestinians; they didn’t live there. When Israel was created only 6% of the land in Palestine was owned by Jews. So they describe in searing detail – even though I know that’s a kind of catchphrase – this juggernaut, this maw, which is gobbling up the Palestinian land; dispossessing the Palestinians of their land. And to the point of creating the Jewish majority, 90% of the indigenous population was expelled; about 750,000 Palestinians. Now, with their descendants, Human Rights Watch gives a figure of 5.7 million Palestinian refugees.

And then on the other end, they say that Israel controls 93% of the land – its state owned land – and that 93% is earmarked only for Jews. Palestinians constitute 19% of the population of the State of Israel (about 1.6 million people) and they are confined to about 3% of the land.

To cut to the chase and to make a long story a little bit shorter, the effect is… and I’m not quite sure if Human Rights Watch is really aware of what they are doing – honestly I’m not sure – but the long and the short of the report is that it completely delegitimises the idea of a Jewish state. [from 13:55 mins]

What’s happening now in East Jerusalem, when you read the Human Rights Watch report, you see it as part of this juggernaut that began in 1947; this relentless, heartless, confiscation of Palestinian land. They just don’t stop – you know the expression: the hunger increases with the eating. The more they consume that land, the more they want more and more and more.

And so after reading the report, you see what’s happening in East Jerusalem in Sheikh Jarrah, you just see it as one more step in this long trajectory, this relentless, heartless juggernaut – this maw – of stealing the land from those hopeless, helpless and hapless people. That’s one point.

The second point I would make is where I left off a few moments ago. Human Rights Watch is a mainstream organisation. It’s not a radical organisation… They watch NPR, they listen to the NPR, they read The New York Times, in their leisure they read The New Yorker, they probably subscribe to the New York Review of Books, probably a few subscribe to the London Review of Books – they’re very mainstream, very conventional. They’re also very Jewish. Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director – this is the mainstream of the progressive and centrist Jewish community. And they’re very dependent on Jewish donors. They received a humungous donation from George Soros – a spectacular number [precisely: $100 million].

And so they must be very sensitive to how far they can go on the Israel-Palestine conflict before they lose their donors and they lose their constituency, which tells me that having done the calculations they reached the conclusion that their donors and their constituency were ready, were prepared, could digest a human rights report issued by HRW which not only condemns Israeli policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and describes this policy as the crime of “apartheid”, the crime of “persecution”, and those two crimes – apartheid and persecution – are crimes against humanity under international law, which as they say constitute among the most “odious crimes in international law” – they went not only that far, but they described the whole regime from the Jordan to the Mediterranean as one based on “Jewish domination”, which as I’m sure you recognise is only a flea’s hop from saying ‘Jewish Supremacy’ – these are pretty much synonymous – and what’s most revelatory they said all this on the assumption (in my opinion) that they wouldn’t lose their Jewish constituency. […]

The bottom line is, henceforth the paradigm is no longer Israel here and Occupied Palestinian Territories there: Israel, for better or for worse, we accept it as it is; Occupied Palestinian Territories we don’t accept, the occupation has to end and a Palestinian state has to be created. That was the paradigm up until now. Now, the whole legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Jewish state has been called into question. [from 24:10 mins]

As you probably know there’s been a huge amount of contention on college campuses over this annual event called “Israel Apartheid Week” which unfolds annually on many college campuses. And up until now, the Israeli organisations and their supporters have said that it’s antisemitic – it hurts the Jews and makes Jews feel scared, and all this politically correct nonsense [is used] in order to try and suppress the Israel Apartheid Week. Well, guess what happened? In the past three months, the most important human rights organisation in Israel and the most important human rights organisation in the world, they said: but it is apartheid. And they just legitimised Israel Apartheid Week. How can the Israelis answer that now and their supporters? You want to suppress a term, ‘apartheid’, that’s been appropriated now by Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem?

So I think this is a major setback for Israel’s apologists. I think they’re probably now in a panic mode. And I think that events like what happening now in East Jerusalem will no longer be seen in isolation. When you read the Human Rights Watch report you see it now as a momentary flashpoint in a long trajectory. […]

The [main] flashpoint is in East Jerusalem, however, Palestinians in Haifa, Palestinians in Nazareth, they’re all joining in; Palestinians in the West Bank are joining in; Palestinians in Gaza via the so-called ‘rockets’, they’re joining in. And so you kind of see a manifestation of what the report described. Because both reports talked about from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, meaning it’s about all Palestinians and all Israelis…. and so for the moment it seems it is becoming a struggle no longer confined to the occupied Palestinian territories, or confined to Gaza, as was the Great March of Return beginning in March 2018, or confined to the West Bank; it’s now spreading among all Palestinians. I think that’s a significant development.

It’s possible that all the terms for understanding the conflict and resolving the conflict – those terms are now being called into question and they may be recast in a new form, which I think is going to be a real problem for the State of Israel. [from 32:15 mins]

I don’t want to be polyannish about this but I don’t think {Israel and its apologists] are going to be as successful anymore. We saw a video of them dancing and singing as the fire blazes on Al-Aqsa… they were all wearing Jewish yarmulkes… It was actually quite hideous.

Video shows Israelis dancing and celebrating the burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque – the third most holy Islamic site in the world [the same footage can be viewed in the Katie Halper show at 1:07:15]:

If you were to imagine in a neighbourhood like where I live in Ocean Parkway [Brooklyn, NY] where there’s about two synagogues in every block, of Muslims gathered around the synagogue while the synagogue is on fire, and they’re cheering. [from 1:02:25]

If you go back and listen to the interviews (not that you’re obliged to of course) I’ve done in the last few years, I’ve said: “it’s a lunatic state”. And you see now the lunacy is being played out, maybe not in The New York Times and maybe not in the New Yorker and maybe not in the New York Review of Books or The Atlantic magazine, but enough people will see it. It’s a cliché but it’s true: the democratising effect of the web. They’re not going to be able to hide this…

I don’t want to be too polyannish but in my opinion Israel’s in for a rough ride now. Too much is known. Too many people are alienated. Too many people disgusted. There is a sea-change occurring. [from 1:07:55]

We should acknowledge when there have been victories and what has now been said [in these reports] constitutes a major victory. And from my point of view, what’s equally important: it’s going to give Israel a very hard time now. [from 1:13:10]

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Last night’s Novara Media also devoted its main segment to Palestinian protests in the occupied territories and the latest bombardment of Gaza by Israel. Host Michael Walker welcomed Riya Al’Sanah who is a Palestinian activist and writer based in Haifa:

*

Additional: Palestinian solidarity protests across Britain

On Saturday 15th, there are events planned to take place across the country calling for an end to Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, and for the right of return for all exiled Palestinians.

Protests are being organised around the country by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition, Friends of al-Aqsa, Palestinian Forum in Britain and Muslim Association of Britain.

SATURDAY 15th MAY 2021 #SaveSheikhJarrah #FreePalestine #FreeGaza Protests:

Aberdeen, Marischal Square, 2pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/579816402984185/

Brighton, The Clocktower, 12pm

Bristol, Castle Park, 2pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/210502050657881/

Canterbury, HSBC Bank, Whitefriars, 9 Rose Lane, Canterbury CT1 2JP, 1pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/307828627519700

Cambridge, Market Square, 11.15am – https://www.facebook.com/groups/cambridgepalestineforum

Cardiff, Aneurin Bevan Statue, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/4560945557267377

Edinburgh, Regent Road Park, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/372506180780931

Exeter, Bedford Square, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/306515077708621

Hastings, Near Debenhams, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/1183922488708042/

Hitchin, Windmill Hill, 11am – https://www.facebook.com/events/284046986748935/

Inverness, Town House, 12-1pm – https://www.facebook.com/HighlandPalestine

Jersey, Royal Square, 11am – https://www.facebook.com/events/580129649570440/

Leeds, Leeds Trinity Briggate (Area outside Zara/Debenhams), 2pm – https://www.facebook.com/LeedsPSC.org.uk

London, March to the Israeli Embassy, Assemble Marble Arch, 1pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/464271897978862

Machynlleth, The Clock Tower, 11am-12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/208833754148964

Manchester, Platt’s Field Park, Rusholme, 12pm-4pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/373982893940589/

Newcastle, Grey’s Monument, 11.30am – https://www.facebook.com/events/463362151414611

Nottingham, Old Market Square, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/833822114155903/

Plymouth, New George Street, 11am-1pm  – https://www.facebook.com/events/323519439242407/

Sheffield, Sheffield Town Hall, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/sheffieldpalestine

Southampton, Bargate, 11am-12.30pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/237979378115605/

Wolverhampton, Queen Square, 11am – https://www.facebook.com/groups/167943526632859


Sun 16 May:

Glasgow, George Square + March to BBC, 1pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/2625768251049758/

Click here to find this same event list on the Stop the War Coalition website.

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