False Dichotomies


On Villas-Boas and BDS

Sometimes the BDS crew remind me of the manager of a mediocre football team desperate to convince everyone that their team is brilliant. When a football manager uses every result (no matter how poor) as evidence that the great change is imminent, you know that they are destined to remain in mediocrity. When he’s honest about the team’s strengths and weaknesses, however, it’s a sign that they might yet become a force to be reckoned with.

In +972, Sean O’Neill argues that BDS is on the verge of achieving widespread support. His evidence? Norman Finkelstein’s declaration of civil war on the boycotters. Demonstrating that the BDS movement remains habitually unable to deal with honest criticism, O’Neill declares the interview “a sign that the ground is shifting on Israel/Palestine issues”, without producing much evidence to back up this claim. The following is all he could come up with: “I recently witnessed BDS’s growing clout at a meeting I attended with a woman working with an Israeli artist helping set up a series of salons in New York to explore and question the Birthright Israel programs, and the idea of a “birthright” in general. The project sounds very interesting, and the woman was visibly frustrated at their inability to find people willing to work with them in the city. They are partially funded by the Israeli Consulate, and as a result have had the proverbial door shut on them by activists, artists, and professors, Arab and Jew alike. This would have been incomprehensible five years ago, when I first heard of the BDS movement at the annual Bil’in conference and it was, at that point, divisive even among conference attendees.”

An Israeli artist who davka questioned Birthright Israel and was shut out by BDS in NYC. And this wouldn’t have been possible five years ago! The equivalent of a middling football team winning  one match in ten away from home, perhaps, but certainly not evidence of a paradigm shift. O’Neill follows this clincher with a few more assertions, but once again doesn’t back them up: “Here is where things stand now. There is a paradigm shift in the works in how the Israel/Palestine conlict is understood and approached. There is an increasing consensus among Israel’s critics to see the issue as one of civil rights, rather than a conflict between two nations.”

He concludes that “Finkelstein’s sudden hostility is a symptom of this paradigm shift” because the guaranteed existence of a Jewish nation-state has “eroded a bit”. Without any evidence, he suggests that this is because Norman Finkelstein, the man who proudly saluted the courage of Hizbollah, is scared of the end of Israel and the glorious utopian future that will follow it.

The truth is that O’Neill, like most other BDS ideologues, is unable to confront the strategic implications of Finkelstein’s argument. Arguing in favour of replacing Israel with a Palestinian-Arab state does not have, and will not have, mass appeal, no matter how much you would like to pretend that it does. This is because most people realise that Israel, for all its faults, is not the equivalent of Apartheid South Africa. It is true that BDS has had some success, but this is mainly a result of diplomatic inertia on the ground, and does not justify the hysteria that follows every announcement of a cancellation by some band that nobody has ever heard of, or getting together 300 activists for a conference at the University of Pennsylvania. It is not a paradigm shift, and until the BDS leadership develops some basic self-awareness and self-criticism, fist pumping exercises by the likes of O’Neill are no different to Andre Villas-Boas pretending that drawing one all with Birmingham City in the FA Cup represents the dawn of a great breakthrough.



11 Comments so far

  1. Avram February 20th, 2012 12:21 pm

    FYI – spelling mistake here:

    “a cancellation by some bad that nobody has ever heard of”

  2. Kim February 20th, 2012 5:13 pm

    Alex, you state: “In +972, Sean O’Neill argues that BDS is on the verge of achieving widespread support”. O’Neill argued no such thing.

    What he argued (correctly in my opinion) is: “There is a paradigm shift in the works in how the Israel/Palestine conflict is understood and approached”. He then goes onto explain what he means by this – “that there is an increasing consensus among Israel’s critics to see the issue as one of civil rights rather than a conflict between two nations”.

    It is this paradigm shift (ie. how the Israel/Palestine conflict is understood and approached) which is the “sign that the ground is shifting on Israel/Palestine issues”, not that supposedly that “BDS is on the verge of achieving widespread support”, as you incorrectly argue.

    Finkelstein has always been two things despite his trenchant criticism of Israel – a liberal and a pragmatist. Unfortunately he is pragmatism is stuck, as O’Neil said, in the old paradigm when a new paradigm is dawning. Finkelstein’s promotion of Zionist positions also reveals that his politics have also sadly moved to the right and that he is no longer an anti-Zionist.

    While I know that Finkelstein’s position must seem all exciting and new to you Alex, anyone actively engaged with the BDS and the Palestine solidarity movement will most likely have been well aware of Finkelstein’s criticisms of BDS for quite a long time. There has been a range of reports on his position, as well as videos of his talks where he has outlined his position on BDS long before this interview – these reports and videos have been posted publicly and widely on a range of BDS and Palestine solidarity sites. In addition, Finkelstein’s disagreement with some leaders of Palestinian civil society, including Omar Barghouti, have been well and truly public since 2009 when he publicly resigned from the Gaza Freedom March

    In relation to Finkestein’s actually criticism, there has been a range of articles published and republished a variety of Palestine solidarity sites long before this interview was ever made and which respectfully engage with his position and discuss and debated his position/s on BDS. In general the only people who weren’t aware of this were anti-BDS and Zionists like yourself. Perhaps if you had actually been aware of this, you would have not have engaged in such a laughable football analogy.

    You claim that BDS activists are “unable to confront the strategic implications of Finkelstein’s arguments” is also laughable. There has been a wide range of response to Finkelstein’s latest interview (as well as articles which were published before this interview as I mentioned) which do just that and point out the inconsistency in Finkelstein’s arguments, the flaws in it and the misrepresentations that he engages with. I suggest you read some of them.

    [Here are two that were actually written last year when Finkelstein had previously expressed similar views to his latest interview: Naomi Foyle from BRICUP http://bwisp.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/norman-finkelstein-playing-jenga-with-the-struggle/ and Noura Khouri critique (this link actually includes two critiques, I think Noura’s is the better of the two). http://mondoweiss.net/2011/12/two-critiques-of-norman-finkelsteins-recent-appearances.html ]

    As for you claim that BDS is “in favour of replacing Israel with a Palestinian-Arab state” – nope, sorry you are wrong.

    What BDS does argue for is a the transformation of Israel from being a discriminatory and racist state based on Jim Crow style laws and an apartheid regime in favour of a state which supports equal rights for and democratic rights for all.

    Are you telling us you have a problem with supporting the idea of equal rights and democracy for all? Are you instead telling us that you support a racist state which enacts Jim Style Crow laws, discriminates on the base of ethnicity/nationality/religion and oppose equal rights and democracy for all?

    Sorry to also inform you that the Palestinian BDS campaign does not argue that Israeli apartheid is “the equivalent of Apartheid South African” as you claim.

    BDS has NEVER claimed that Israeli apartheid is identical to that which existed in South Africa, instead the analogy stems from the argument that Israel’s system bestowing of rights and privileges according to ethnic and religious identity actually fits the UN definition of apartheid as enshrined in the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and in the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

    This definition, in part, defines apartheid as ‘inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination of racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.’

    Since, Alex, you seem so keen to write about BDS perhaps you should actually take the time to actually familarise yourself with what the BDS campaign actually in fact argues, not what you think we argue.

    Otherwise your criticism is just a “fist pumping exercise” that is no different to Andre Villas-Boas pretending that drawing one all with Birmingham City in the FA Cup represents the dawn of a great breakthrough (or analysis about BDS)

  3. Alex Stein February 21st, 2012 8:03 am

    I don’t think he produced any evidence to back up that claim, either. Where is the evidence for it? Your point about none of this being new is interesting, but I don’t see what impact it has on my argument. Re. Strategy: it seems obvious that BDS would be much more successful if it’s end goal was the end of the occupation, with other issues to be left until afterwards. I haven’t seen anyone confront this argument.

    Here is a list of Jim Crow laws. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Jim_Crow_law_examples_by_State For every one that you can demonstrate applies to Israel, I will give five pounds to a Palestinian charity of your choice.

    For the record, I support full civic equality for everyone in Israel, and always have. I support an end to the occupation, and I think the refugees should have the right (if they want) to return to the State of Palestine.

    Re. apartheid – whether they think it’s ‘identical’ or not is a semantic argument; the point is they think it’s directly comparable.

    As I said, the policies BDS advocates would lead to Israel being replaced by a Palestinian-State, when it’s perfectly possible – and more equitable – for there to be a Palestinian-Arab state alongside Israel.

    And here’s some recommended reading for you – http://www.judaismwithoutborders.org/2012/02/14/video-norman-finkelsteins-harsh-words-for-the-bds-cult/

  4. stuart February 22nd, 2012 8:27 am

    What really makes the BDS movement different from other anti-Israel or pro- Palestinian movements is not only it’s ideology, but the fact that it is headed exclusively by Westerners, not Arabs. Whether or not Norman Finklestein has broken with the movement is a rather silly side issue. I dare say many (most?) BDS supporters would welcome this as he does indeed, as Alex correctly pointed out, believe in the right of Israel to exist as a State. I do not know what percentages of BDS’ers accept Israel’s right to exist as a State, but dare say it is an insignificant minority.

  5. conchovor March 4th, 2012 8:35 pm

    Belated congrats on your article, Alex.

    I wonder if Kim February is in fact Virginia Tilley, who had blogged a few days earlier


  6. Alex Stein March 5th, 2012 9:02 am

    Cheers! Kim February isn’t Virginia Tilley, though!

  7. Gert March 5th, 2012 9:02 pm


    It’s a bit too late to respond your email on Finkelstein now and it seems that Kim (NOT Tilley!) has made quite a god job of that anyway. So a few weeks and one computer tower later (I had severe tooter problems, resulting in a complete ‘migration’), I’ll just respond to this:

    As I said, the policies BDS advocates would lead to Israel being replaced by a Palestinian-State, when it’s perfectly possible – and more equitable – for there to be a Palestinian-Arab state alongside Israel.

    Perfectly possible???? C’mon Alex: even you don’t believe that. With every year that passes just the ‘minor problem’ of evacuating settlers alone becomes more and more of a sheer impossibility: like bombing Iran won’t be comparable to Osirak, withdrawing from ‘J&S’ won’t be comparable to the, what was it called again, ‘disengagement’ from Gaza. Zionism wanted to create facts on the ground and at that it succeeded (and continues to succeed) brilliantly.

    There is no political appetite for taking on the settler project or for turning Israel around from its disastrous collision course with an inadvertent one state solution. Replace Netanyahu: with what, who? The TV presenter-cum-politician? Gilad Shalit’s misguided father? Knock, knock…

    And so merrily the band plays on.

  8. Alex Stein March 5th, 2012 9:04 pm

    I think we’ve covered this stuff many times.

  9. Bruriya March 13th, 2012 3:50 pm

    Jews, having returned to Palestine (Erets Israel) at 19-20 centuries, haven’t taken away another’s earth, and have returned their. And here Arabs, having grasped Palestine in 7 century, have really taken away the another’s. Why now Jews, but not Arabs, are considered as occupants?!
    At the same time Arabs have grasped many other earths. But from India, the Central Asia and Spain them have soon expelled :) And if now descendants of the Arabian refugees from these districts start talking about “the right to returning” and “exile of the Indian/Iranian/Spanish etc. invaders from our native land” – nobody will take it seriously :)) Why the right of Arabs to other ANOTHER’S country occupied by their ancestors, Palestine – admits?

    Now the Palestinian Arabs prove the right to the Country of Israel that “we lived here earlier (not truth – B.), than Jews”. It they simulate modern European liberal language. But PRIMORDIALLY they proved “rights” differently: “Islam – unique correct religion, therefore God has granted to us is right on all earths of “caffirs”(non-muslims), and the caffirs has deprived of the rights to their earths”. But same delirium 😉 Why the western liberals recognize these Arabian”rights”?

  10. RSDavies April 8th, 2012 7:21 pm

    “Finkelstein””is scared of the end of Israel” perhaps he is indeed scared, and so should all us be scared, most especially the Palestinians.
    Imagine if you will that BDS is successful and we see Israel expelled from the UN and delegitimised as a state. At that moment there would be no IDF / IAF or State of Israel and all of its national assets would be transferred to the successor entity, the PNA (?). Cheering all around Zionism is dead!

    But that leaves 7 million former Israeli people with the largest regional arsenal and no interest whatsoever in compromising. The PNA is its usual vainglorious manner proclaims that the 1947 definition of a Palestinian citizen remains legitimate.

    In the inevitable civil war, does anyone imagine that the Palestinians will win?
    And were the neighbouring states to intervene what would stop the Jewish faction launching massive attacks upon infrastructural installations such as the Aswan Damn?

    Finkelstein has right to be scared, not just of Israel ceasing to exist, but along with it much of the region and its population.

  11. アディダススニーカー一覧 November 14th, 2013 2:45 pm

    靴 ニューバランス アディダススニーカー一覧 http://www.ellectrang.com/

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