Norman G. Finkelstein: Israel would not be so up in arms about the Goldstone Report, would not be so upset by it, were it not for the fact that, yes, they are very vulnerable to the public opinion, and they know very well the limits beyond which it may not express itself against them, or the president of the United States, who does have a constituency, will begin to feel it: no, it’s going too far, you really have to stop. And then that’s their only ally — the Americans. . . . If tomorrow Israel were to attack Gaza again, I think all hell would break loose. I really do. I think it would have a huge problem. . . .
You mentioned some of the things that Netanyahu is doing. It’s not really new. I mean, there are 250,000 settlers in East Jerusalem. He just has the kind of in-your-face style which the United States doesn’t like. They much prefer the hypocritical style. So, you remember, in 1991, there was a 10 billion dollar housing loan that the US was gonna give to Israel for the Russian immigration. Then Shamir started to carry on with settlements in this kind of in-your-face way. The US held up the loan, and then the Israelis voted out Shamir, because there’s a problem with the Americans, we gotta get rid of him, and put in power Yitzhak Rabin. All the threats about withholding the loan was basically naught — in the end, the US withheld about 460 million dollars of the 10 billion dollars. They let Rabin expand as much as he wanted in East Jerusalem. . . . In fact, Rabin — who was, all told, the last hope for peace — expanded settlements at a much faster rate than Shamir, just as Ehud Barak expanded settlements at a much faster rate than Netanyahu.
It’s not a conflict about religious crazies. If it’s crazies, there’s no way to resolve it except through the resort to the club, and that’s exactly what people like Netanyahu and also others like Barak want to convince you of: that this is a civilizational conflict, that this is a religious conflict. They want to convince you of that because, in the face of that, there’s obviously no rational basis for a settlement, there’s no basis for a rational settlement. And we have to resist that and not play that game. That’s what he’s trying to do. Yes, there’s a domestic component: he’s playing to the religious fundamentalists in Israel. But there’s also a bigger agenda, and the bigger agenda is they want to prove this conflict cannot be resolved rationally and can be only resolved through the resort to the club. . . .
Just like we have to banish from our vocabulary the “peace process,” and we have to banish from our vocabulary what happened in Gaza was a “war,” we have to also banish from our consciousness, our political consciousness, all this talk about elections. It’s not gonna change anything. What will change things is what we do, those of us who are committed to trying to effect the change, trying to reach public opinion, trying to organize public opinion. . . .
There are real prospects here. There are fissures, there are breaks, in Jewish public opinion. There’s no question most Jews are liberal. 80% of American Jews voted for Barack Obama. The Latinos [who voted for Obama] were 67%. . . . And factor in the income: the Jews are by far and away the wealthiest economic group in the United States; they should be voting overwhelmingly Republican. Certainly they should be voting more Republican than Latinos, who are poor. But no — they are liberal. In the US idiom, being liberal means you believe in the rule of law, you believe in international institutions, you believe in human rights. Amnesty International is a liberal organization. Human Rights Watch is a liberal organization. So, Jews are liberal, and being liberal means believing in things like international law and human rights, and it’s become now nearly impossible for American Jews to juggle . . . being pro-Israel and being pro-liberal policies. . . .
That’s why the Goldstone phenomenon is so interesting. Because Goldstone had the typical personal sensibilities of a liberal Jew. His mother was an activist in the Zionist movement; his daughter did Aliyah, Zionist immigration to Israel; he was on the board of governors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; he has an honorary degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; he says he’s a Zionist; he says he believes the Jews have a right to a state. He’s a Zionist. On the other hand, he’s so liberal: he is a distinguished international jurist, made his career in human rights law, was the chief prosecutor for the war crimes tribunals on Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and so forth. So, now what he had to do — it was like his personal, familial background versus his professional, intellectual commitments. You could imagine he struggled a lot. But, in the end, which won out? Well, the side that said Israel has to go to the International Criminal Court because it committed war crimes. . . .
It depends on what level of society you’re looking at. I’m not yet looking at that political level [US Congress] — it’s a very tough thing to tackle. Hopefully that will come soon. Right now, we’re looking at public opinion, and we’re looking at Jewish public opinion. We’re not yet looking at organized political action, which is Congress, lobbies, and so forth. We’re looking at another level, so to speak the popular level.
At the popular level, I think there are real conflicts now in the American and world Jewish community, because Israel went too far. It’s just indefensible. You can’t be Jewish and liberal, especially young, Jewish, and liberal, and go around on a college campus wearing a T-shirt [that says]: Go Israel, Drop White Phosphorus on Hospitals. How do you defend that? Israel dropped white phosphorus on the al-Quds Hospital and the al-Wafa Hospital; Israel blew up ambulances, blew up mosques, blew up hospitals. . . . You can’t defend it. It’s indefensible. . . . It is becoming a pariah state, but a pariah state is a negative fact — now you have to transform it into something positive, which is to say to exert force on Israel to change its policy.
Norman G. Finkelstein is the author of ‘This Time We Went Too Far’: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion; Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History; The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering; Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict; A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth (with Ruth Bettina Birn); and The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years. Nizar Abboud is a writer, reporter, and filmographer. This video was released on YouTube on 30 March 2010. The text below the video is an edited partial transcript of the interview.