Ubiquitous anti-Israel activist Norman Finkelstein recently stirred up the blogosphere. In a YouTube interview with pro-Palestinian advocate Frank Barat, Finkelstein said – in his aggressive, condescending way – that members of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), which Finkelstein has prominently supported, care less for human rights than they do for Israel’s destruction. When Finkelstein saw the reactions, rumor has it he tried to get Barat to take the video down.
Finkelstein’s angry comrades, however, did not understand what he was really admitting.
Finkelstein got into trouble when he said that some people in BDS “don’t want Israel.” He lectured his BDS colleagues:
The moment you step out, you have to deal with Israeli propagandaâ€¦. They say, “No, they’re not really talking about rights; they’re talking about they want to destroy Israel.” And in fact I think they’re right, I think that’s true.
You can see why anti-Israel people were offended to hear this from Finkelstein, of all people. Yet Finkelstein was not revealing some deep secret about the motives of those BDS-ers. Anyone who has listened to BDS leaders, read their papers, seen them at play, or checked out their circle of acquaintances, supporters, and collaborators can hardly be surprised.
Finkelstein made his truly subversive comments elsewhere in the interview, and – perhaps not accidentally – they have provoked much less reaction from anti-Israel opinion. BDS is “a cult,” Finkelstein said:
I went through my cult stage. I was a Maoistâ€¦. I’m not going through that stage again, with the gurus in Ramallah, you know, giving out marching orders. And then if you disagree, they say, “10,556,454 Palestinian civil society organizations have endorsed this.”
Who are these organizations? They’re NGOs in Ramallah, one-person operations, and they claim to represent what they call this thing, “Palestinian civil societyâ€¦.” [T]hen why can’t they ever organize a demonstration of more than 500 peopleâ€¦? [They] represent absolutely nothing.
Let us begin with Finkelstein’s accusation about the self-inflated one-man non-governmental oragnizations (NGOs). Why their proliferation? The reason is money, lots of it.
Here is how it works. Many Palestinians have poor, hard lives – high birth rates, low job qualifications, few income sources. Industries that bring in work and foreign money will thrive. One such industry is international charity. Large, mostly Western donations flow through a web of international organizations to fund the fight against Palestinian suffering, distress, and brutalization under Israeli occupation. The more suffering, distress, and brutalization, the more money. The army of one-man NGOs is the fruit of this incentive system. If you are the first to report injustice by Jews to Palestinians, you attract the cash.
So, low-level NGOs gather, report, and pay for these stories, true and false. The stories are picked up by larger human rights NGOs, such as Amnesty International, B’tselem, Gush Shalom, and Human Rights Watch, whose staffers are not too picky about including uncorroborated testimony in their reports. The reports then go to agencies of the United Nations. They become the “facts” of media coverage, public debate, further U.N. actions. A story unearthed by a one-man NGO in Ramallah may reverberate throughout the international system.
This is terrible news for the good, concerned people who want to understand the reality of the occupation: One cannot tell the difference between a true and a false human rights report. A hate industry manufactures the product: the West buys it, providing incentives for further production. We know the most notorious examples: the Goldstone report, the “murder” of Muhammad Al-Durah, the alleged Jenin massacre. These, however, are only symbols of a fabrication process that taints all human rights activity in Israel.
Then there is Finkelstein’s second accusation – that groups like BDS are effectively led by the “gurus in Ramallah.” It is true. European politicians and human rights organizations make pilgrimages to Ramallah and provide loyal soldiers for the Palestinian propaganda war machine. They wear the mask of impartial observers while lending their authority to Palestinian claims.
It is this mask of impartiality that Finkelstein tore aside, revealing for a brief moment the tip of an iceberg – the Europeans, Americans, even Israelis who follow Palestinian “marching orders” while pretending to be free Western agents of truth and morality.
The buck does not stop at the one-man Ramallah NGOs or the international organizations that support them. The same “10,556,454 Palestinian civil society organizations” that Finkelstein says represent “absolutely nothing” are the source of every report he has ever quoted in his attacks on Israel. And the facts show that we should trust them just as much as he does when it comes to their self-portrayal.
The Soviets named the country’s only legal newspaper Truth (Pravda). Soon enough, everyone knew you could find no truth in Truth. In the Mideast, human right activists do the same disservice to the idea of human rights.
JTA/ Jewish Ideas Daily
Ran Baratz, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Tikvah-Bar Ilan summer program in political thought, economics, and strategy. This article was first published by Jewish Ideas Daily (www.jewishideasdaily.com) and is reprinted with permission.