Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Finkelstein at Occupy Boston

Norman Finkelstein spoke last night at Occupy Boston. He gave one of the most miserable performances I have ever witnessed, an appeal not to get ahead of public opinion. He gave as an example his own willingness to give up his shirt to the homeless sleeping out-of-doors in the cold, but added that if anyone asked him to give up a spare room in his apartment  he wasn’t ready, and so it would be a mistake to ask him. Evidently he identifies with those who have warm clothes and homes rather than those who lack them, and it obviously never occurred to him that the movement is not about asking but about taking. I won’t go into more detail because in a few days the whole nauseating thing will be on youtube.

I once heard one of the big civil rights leaders speak at a rally in Harlem. When he finished, Malcolm X stood up and said, “The biggest thing we have to watch out for is these Uncle Tom preachers.” After hearing Finkelstein last night I think I know how Malcolm felt. When question time came I referred to that occasion, and asked Finkelstein how he reconciled his commitment to ordinary politics with his support for the Occupy movement, whose greatest strength was its rejection of ordinary politics. He responded by saying he had always thought of himself as a leftist, so how could he be a moderate, and if he was so moderate, how come he had been dismissed from jobs. (I assume my question and his response will also be on youtube.) Victor Wallis spoke right after me (along roughly the same lines as me, with somewhat less heat).

There was little reaction to what I said: no applause, no hisses—no “twinkling” either up or down. One person told me he agreed (see his letter below) and one person came up afterwards and asked if I had written along these lines

Letter from someone in attendence:

Noel, It was good to see you again tonight. I just wanted to thank you again for making your comment to Norman Finkelstein on moderation/Malcolm X. I was very disappointed with his talk tonight. I had not expected a long lecture on Gandhi and non-violence. I personally wanted to call him out myself, but didn’t want to look rude. Again, I just wanted to thank you for making your point.


Later that evening, Finkelstein spoke at Boston University at a meeting sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine. A report follows from someone who heard him:

At Boston University he gave one of the most hypocritical, delusional and offensive talks of his career as well. I think he’s boycott material at this point.

As a Zionist, he’s terrified that an occupy movement may bring along not just a shift in opinions about Israel and US policies, but also actions and demands to bring an end to the racist system represented by a Jewish state in Palestine, and that’s why all his warnings at his Occupy Boston talk about not becoming a ‘cult’ continued in his BU talk: the cult in this case is anyone who demands anything but the fictional two-state solution.  He says, maybe a single state is more moral but claims that it’s unrealistic to expect it to happen, thus fighting for it will only prolong the suffering.  If he really believed that a one-state solution is more moral, wouldn’t this be the time to push for it? Instead he shrieks in fear of any real and just resolution.

At a moment when history is being made and people are looking to not accept the norms (no pun here), he claims one possibility: political resolution along lines dictated by institutions that failed and are still failing to bring any resolution or justice.

At BU he started with a lot of identity politics about being Jewish. I understand he’s addressing an audience with many young Jewish students, but I can’t stand this crap. When does a Jew become just a human being and not a privileged Jewish human being?

He presented nothing, absolutely nothing, about challenging systems, which is what people with vision hope the occupy movement will embody. In one word: pathetic.


Comment from Noel: Finkelstein’s logic is the same on Palestine and Occupy Boston: He denounces those who fight for justice not because he thinks they are wrong but because those in power will not accept it. Malcolm X understood his type.

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