Controversial author, scholar and activist Dr. Norman Finkelstein visited the University of Toronto late last week, speaking at the OISE auditorium about his predictions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2013.
In his speech, Finkelstein was sharply critical of the Conservative government’s stance on Israel, joking that Stephen Harper was more supportive of Israel than even Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s recently re-elected prime minister.
In an interview with The Varsity, Finkelstein did offer cautious praise for former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. “Although a Conservative, Mulroney played a decent role in opposing the apartheid regime [in South Africa] — not great, but not awful,” Finkelstein reflected. “If Harper were in power back then, I suppose he would have supported sending more tanks and bombers to the South African racists.”
Finkelstein also said he was optimistic about the prospect of an eventual resolution to the conflict. His lecture explored changing international realities, including increased pressure on Turkish and Egyptian governments to prioritize support for Palestinians. Finkelstein said he considers the Palestinian-Israeli issue to be “the least complex conflict in the world today,” and added that “the [UN and International Court of Justice] terms are always the same: it’s a two-state settlement on the June 1967 border.”
Finkelstein also noted that many countries had come to view Israel in a more negative light, pointing to the recent UN vote on Palestinian statehood and a BBC poll which ranked Israel as one of four countries considered to have had a mostly negative impact on world affairs, along with Pakistan, Iran and North Korea. Unlike Pakistan, Iran and North Korea, Finkelstein argued that Israel receives a mostly positive coverage in the American and Canadian press. “Israel does [better] in Canada than Canada,” he said.
Finkelstein also said it would be imperative for Palestinians to seize control of their own destiny through protest: “If and when the Palestinians engage in mass civil resistance to the occupation, then we must support them exactly as the international community supported South African blacks in the apartheid era, with various forms of sanctions,” he said.
Finkelstein was invited by the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU). The GSU’s recent passage of a motion endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement passed with an overwhelming majority in December, Bahram Farzady, the Graduate Student Union’s academic and funding commissioner, subsequently sought out Finkelstein to deliver a lecture.