Finkelstein on Anti-Zionism Vs. Anti-Semitism

Dr. Norman Finkelstein says the U.N. has been generous to Israel since its beginning. Staff Photo J. Adas

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June/July 2017, pp. 66
Dr. Norman Finkelstein addressed the question of whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism in a Feb. 16 talk sponsored by the Princeton Committee on Palestine. Finkelstein has been studying this issue since his time as a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton, where his dissertation focused on the theory of Zionism. He explained that Zionism developed at the end of the 19th century to address two concerns: the physical survival of Jews, and the spiritual survival of Judaism in an increasingly secular world and amid growing assimilation. Physical survival became more urgent beginning in the 1930s.
Finkelstein described the two basic types of nationalism. In civic (also called liberal or political) nationalism, as in post-Revolutionary France and the United States, one’s nationality is based on citizenship and entails choice. He quoted historian Eric Hobsbawm’s definition: “Americans are those who wish to be.” In ethnic nationalism, which includes Zionism, a nation is an exclusive, organic whole of people of common descent, wherever they may live. In this version, the nation one belongs to is determined at birth. Even if citizens, German Jews were and Palestinian Israelis are foreign bodies, aliens in someone else’s nation. Finkelstein noted that Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, a chemist, wrote that Europe has a saturation level of 10-15 percent for Jews, beyond which it is not able to absorb them. Therefore, Jews needed a state of their own in their ancestral homeland.
However, at the birth of Zionism, more than 90 percent of the population of Palestine was non-Jewish. The only option for Zionist Jews, then, was transfer of the indigenous population, i.e., ethnic cleansing. For decades this was denied. The consensus view was that Palestine was empty—much, Finkelstein noted, as pioneers in America considered the new world a virgin land. Then in his 1987 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Israeli historian Benny Morris identified transfer as “inevitable and inbuilt into Zionism,” which led to Palestinian resistance in self-defense. In his next book, Righteous Victims (1999), Morris wrote that the entirely rational fear of territorial displacement and dispossession were the chief motivating factors in Arab opposition to Zionism, both in 1948 and after 1967. Finkelstein characterized the Palestinian stance as anti-ethnic cleansing rather than anti-Semitism. As in American attitudes toward their own indigenous population, for Israelis and their American supporters the overall final good justifies cruel acts; thus they find “Palestinians psychotic because they refuse to recognize that their ethnic cleansing was morally just.”
One argument that anti-Zionism is motivated by anti-Semitism is that, of all the just causes in the world, so much international attention is fixated on Palestine and the Zionist state. Finkelstein pointed out that white South Africans also felt unfairly singled out for criticism during the anti-apartheid era.
Israelis and their supporters view the United Nations as particularly hostile to Israel. But Finkelstein sees the international community as being generous to Israel from the beginning. The 1947 partition plan (Security Council Resolution 181) gave 56 percent of the land to the one-third of the population that was Jewish. After Israel took half of the remaining territory allotted to an Arab state and expelled 90 percent of the indigenous population, the U.N. still admitted Israel as a member state and did not enforce the Palestinian Right of Return (Security Council Resolution 194). Following the 1967 war, which Finkelstein labeled an Israeli act of aggression, the U.N. demanded an Israeli withdrawal not to the partition line but to the Green Line, and made it conditional upon Arab states renouncing aggression. The international community did not allow South Africa to get away with black Bantustans, but has accepted a similar solution for Israel.
Israel, Finkelstein concluded, is the ethical challenge of our time, not because of anti-Semitism, but because of the appalling features of its treatment of Palestinians. “If we eliminate the terrorist background noise, it’s hard to come up with a more unjust situation.” There is the longevity: 100 years since the Balfour Declaration; 50 years since occupation; 20 years since Israel’s blockade and siege of Gaza. There is the “inequity of Biblical proportion,” Finkelstein argued. For example, in less than six years, Israel has launched three assaults on Gaza, where more than half the population is under 18 and are refugees. In the most recent, Operation Protective Edge in 2014, 550 Palestinian children were killed and one Israeli child; 18,000 Palestinian homes were destroyed and one Israeli home. Suffering of such disproportion makes “a mockery of the demand for balance.”
—Jane Adas

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