After hearing Senator Sanders speak against a ceasefire, Norman Finkelstein argued that Sanders has crossed a moral line. In a video response, Finkelstein criticizes Sanders for opposing the ceasefire while acknowledging Israel’s bombing of civilian targets. Finkelstein accused Israel of committing war crimes and asserts Sanders’ stance irresponsibly bolstered this behavior.
By Norman Finkelstein
After seeing Senator Sanders’ appearance on CNN from the morning of November 5, Norman Finkelstein decided it was necessary to publish an open video reply to the Senator. The clip in question is shown in the video, followed by Norman’s response, which was recorded last night, the evening of November 5 2023.
(There is a brief echo during the first ten seconds of Norman’s section, which we hope viewers will disregard.) Alternate link for download/viewing (4K + volume normalized a bit)
My name is Norm Finkelstein. I heard Bernie Sanders’ statement this evening opposing the ceasefire. I had planned to spend this evening reading, as I’ve fallen dreadfully behind in my reading and unless I keep reading, I can’t bring anything fresh and important to what’s happening now. I was so furious at that remark of Bernie’s, when he said he opposed the ceasefire and my innards started to writhe and I decided I had to respond. Now this is wholly unrehearsed. There are no special effects — make my remarks more effective. I’m just speaking it, as my words go from my brain out into the cyberspace. Now, Bernie said in this interview that he opposed the ceasefire. And his grounds for opposing the ceasefire were that Hamas wanted to destroy Israel, and therefore Hamas has to be destroyed. So let’s look at the facts. I’m not going to go all the way back into history. I’m going to just start with 2006.
In 2006 there was an election in the West Bank in Gaza, parliamentary elections. Those elections were urged on the Palestinian people by the US administration was that now forgotten moment in the Bush administration called “democracy promotion.” And part of this package called “democracy promotion” was the Palestinians were supposed to participate in those wonderful democratic experiences. And Hamas was urged to participate in those elections, and it reversed itself. Hitherto, it opposed participating in any elections in the occupied territories, because those elections were a consequence of the Oslo Accord. And since Hamas opposed the Oslo Accord, it opposed participating in the elections. But it reversed itself. It ran in a civilian political party. And, much to the surprise of Hamas and everybody else, it won the election. Those were, according to former US President Jimmy Carter, “completely fair and honest elections,” and Hamas won. What did the US and Israel do? It immediately imposed a brutal blockade on Gaza, which brought economic life in Gaza to a standstill. Now that’s not all it did, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.
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First of all, remind listeners, what is Gaza? It’s 25 miles long, it’s five miles wide, it’s a tiny parcel of land. It’s among the most densely populated places on God’s earth. Half of the population of Gaza consists of children, to which I’ll return. 70% of Gaza consists of refugees from the 1948 war, that is, Palestinians who were expelled from the area that became Israel and ended up in Gaza and have remained refugees for 75 years henceforth, living in refugee camps like Jabalia camp, which I’ll also return in a moment. For about 20 years — two years shy of 20 years. Nobody can go in, nobody can go out. Unemployment in Gaza is about 50% among the population in general, 60% among the youth. It reportedly has the highest rate of unemployment of any area in the world. It suffers from what humanitarian organizations call “extreme food insecurity.” Nobody can go in, nobody can go out. What is Gaza? Well, one of Israel’s senior officials, or in layperson’s terms, certified lunatics, named Giora Eiland, E-I-L-A-N-D for those who want to look it up. In 2006, Giaora Eiland, who still is, incidentally, in the inner circle of Benjamin Netanyahu right now as I speak. He described Gaza as, quote, not my words, as “a huge concentration camp.” That’s Gaza.
Euphemistically, even Bernie who’s ever so politically correct, will acknowledge that, well maybe, he says, it can be described as an open-air prison. Open-air prison, the euphemism, or Giora Eiland “a huge concentration camp.” Or maybe Baruch Kimmerling, the former senior sociologist at Hebrew University, quote, “the largest concentration camp ever to exist.”
Now, as a matter of law. Richard Goldstone, who authored the famous or infamous, whichever you prefer, Goldstone Report after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, he said that the blockade of Gaza likely likely qualifies or rises to a crime against humanity. That’s a crime against humanity that’s endured for two decades. Not a momentary crime against humanity, say dropping a bomb on a hospital or dropping a 2,000-pound bomb on a densely populated refugee camp. Not a momentary crime against humanity, but a crime against humanity that’s endured for nearly two decades.
But bear in mind, it’s Hamas that must be defeated because it wants to destroy Israel, not Israel that must be destroyed, because it wants to incarcerate an entire population, half of whom are children, in a concentration camp, which constitutes a crime against humanity. No, Israel doesn’t have to be destroyed – only Hamas has to be destroyed.
Well, first of all, is it true? I’m asking you, Bernie, I don’t know if you know the facts, and I will grant you that, focused as you are on domestic issues, I will grant, you probably don’t know the facts and you’re entitled not to know them. You know, Build Back Better, better than me. And that was your priority. That’s always been your priority. And I have to respect that. I saw your speech with the United Auto Workers during the strike, and as much as I’ve soured on you, I have to acknowledge it was a great speech. I talked to Dr. Cornel West shortly after that speech, and I said it was really a brilliant speech. And he said to me, well, Bernie was in his element. Workers’ strikes, workers’ rights, unions, it’s Bernie’s element.
Fine, and I’ll grant that in your element, you’re good — actually you’re as good as they get. But, and here I’m going to quote Clare Daly from the European Union, when Ursula von der Leyen, when she decided, without any mandate, to go over and embrace Israel and say, “we all stand by Israel,” Clare Daly, the Irish representative in the European Union, she said, quote, — referring to von der Leyen — she said, quote, “if you have nothing constructive to say, shut up.”
So, here are the facts. When Hamas was elected, it repeatedly sent out peace feelers to try and resolve the conflict with Israel. It presented on its own, or as speaking for itself, the terms of the international consensus for resolving a conflict, namely two states on the June 1967 border. Now it’s true, because I have no quarrel with facts. I’ve always been of the opinion that there’s no contradiction between truth and the struggle for justice. And if there were a contradiction between the two, it would probably cause me a moral crisis, but at the end of the day, I would come out on the side of truth.
Hamas, yes, it’s true. There were areas such as its demand for the full implementation of the right of the return of Palestinian refugees to the homes from which they were expelled in 1948. I’m saying, even though that is the law, that is the law, I recognize that as part of a settlement that particular aspect of international law would probably have to be negotiated. I’m rendering a, as it were, third-party judgment from afar. But there is no question that Hamas was attempting to reach some sort of settlement with Israel. The record is ample in that regard. The documentation irrefutable and impeachable.
What was the Israeli reaction? Well, time won’t allow me to go through the entire record. But I will briefly go through it. I have to go through it, because my innards writhe at the despicable thing you said in the interview today – whether it was moral idiocy, whether it was exemplary of being a moral monster, or whether it was cynical opportunism because you’re too much of a coward to break ranks with President Biden. I don’t know which it is, but here’s the record. The record can be summarized in a phrase that became very popular in the Israeli administration. It’s called “mowing the lawn.” It happens that this “lawn” called Gaza, 1,100,000 blades of grass in that lawn are children.
So, whenever that satanic government, and I choose my words carefully, and with premeditation, refers to mowing the lawn, we should bear in mind that 1,100,000 blades of grass in that lawn are children. But, Bernie Sanders the senator from Vermont he says, Israel must destroy Hamas because Hamas wants to destroy Israel. Yes, Bernie, you’re so right. You are so right, Bernie. Until October 7th, Israel didn’t want to destroy Gaza. It just wanted to mow the law. You’re so right, Bernie. I am so appreciative of your moral niceties and nuances. Hamas must be destroyed because it wants to destroy Israel. But Israel, does it have to be destroyed? No, because Israel doesn’t want to destroy Gaza, or at least until October 7th. It just wants to mow the lawn. That’s your moral calculus, Bernie. Your sick, ill, morbid moral calculus. So, Hamas, that terrible, evil organization, it wants to destroy Israel, and that’s why Hamas has to be destroyed.
So in June 2008 there was a ceasefire arranged between Israel and Hamas. That evil Hamas, oh my goodness gracious, as Cornel Dr. West would say, my goodness gracious, that evil perfidious Hamas, it negotiated a ceasefire. And then what happened? The ceasefire held, it held in June, it held in July, it held in August, it held in September, it held in October, and it held the first four days in November. And then November 4th came along. When those people whose memories are short, that was election day. when everybody’s attention was riveted on the presidential election and the first black president being elected in our country’s history. And Israel used that moment — when all the cameras were diverted from it — it used that moment to attack Hamas in Gaza and broke the ceasefire. Not evil, perfidious Hamas, but beautiful, wonderful Israel.
Now that’s not my word. Go back and read what Amnesty International said. In fact, even the official Israeli publications which I cite in my book, state the ceasefire held until Israel broke it. And then Israel proceeded to do what it does best. It proceeded to commit a high-tech massacre in Gaza, killed about 1,400 people. Of those 1,400, 350 were children. It systematically devastated the infrastructure of Gaza, and it was guilty of, according to the Goldstone Report, multiple war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
Now, here’s a point for you, Bernie – I barely can say that name anymore without being filled with contempt and disgust. I worked very hard in that 2016 campaign and I worked very hard on that 2020 campaign and I was by a wide margin among the oldest people who was going in advance out of state to canvas for you. And now it’s a bitter memory when I hear your statements. So here’s a fact for you Bernie: As I mentioned to you, about 1,400 people were killed in Gaza. The estimates are four-fifths were civilians, one-fifth or 20% were combatants. If you look at what happened on October 7th, the numbers are roughly the same. About 1,400 civilians were killed after the prison breakout or concentration camp breakout in Gaza. The numbers I’ve seen are about 400 were combatants among the Israelis killed. killed, but roughly speaking, the numbers balance out.
So here’s my question to you, Bernie, and I’m dead serious. This ain’t a joke. I’m not talking about scoring debating points. It’s about people, to quote the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance song. It’s really the partisan song, but the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance song. And one lyric goes, “‘T’was a people amidst the crashing fires of hell.” That’s the people of Gaza now, Bernie. T’was a people, or now ‘tis a people, amidst the crashing fires of hell. And Bernie Sanders is on record saying it should continue.
So here’s the question, Bernie. You say that because of what Hamas did on October 7th, they proved that they can’t be lived with and they have to be destroyed. Now, if that be the case, and if I’ve accurately rendered the historical record, as I’m very confident that I have, then, if the numbers are roughly the same, and it’s undisputed that Israel broke the ceasefire, why don’t you conclude on the basis of just Operation Cast Lead, just in that one operation, that one “mowing of the lawn,” why don’t you conclude that Israel must be destroyed? You came to the realization after October 7th that Hamas had to be destroyed. So, logically, if roughly the same numbers of people were killed, then Israel has to be destroyed.
But you’re going to say, no, no, no, no, you’re going to shake your head. I already know every one of your facial gestures. I listened to you in 2016 and 2020 every night, every debate listen to you again and again. You gonna say no, no, no, you’re gonna shake your head, it’s different Because Hamas wants to destroy Israel Israel doesn’t want to destroy God no, you’re right Bernie up until October 7th You were right. Israel didn’t want to destroy Gaza, it just wanted to leave the 2.3 million people, half of whom are children, immured in the concentration camp to languish and die. You’re right Bernie, it’s different. Hamas wants to destroy Israel. But all Israel wants to do, I mean, it’s not really a big deal. Let’s be for real. All Israel wanted to do was immure 2,300,000 people in a concentration camp and leave them there to die. So that’s, you know, there’s Bernie’s moral subtlety. You know how philosophers love nuance. They love complexity. They love nicety. Evil Hamas, it wants to destroy Israel, whereas Israel, all it wants to do is lock 2.3 million people in a concentration camp for life.
If you go to Operation Pillar of Defense, it happened, and I don’t have time to go through the details now, it happened that after Operation Cast Lead, there was a slight relaxing of the brutal blockade of Gaza. And it enabled, it was probably just a temporary blip, that’s what Sara Roy has written, the Harvard economist. And of course I defer to her judgment. She’s the world’s leading authority in Gaza’s economy. She said it was probably just a temporary blip, but the fact is the Gaza economy did show some signs of recovery. And there was also money starting to pour in from Qatar. The head of state of Turkey, Erdoğan, was planning on a visit to Gaza. And this annoyed the heck out of Israel because Gaza was not supposed to prosper, again, relatively speaking when I speak of prosperity. It wasn’t supposed to prosper.
So what did it do? The record is clear. It assassinated a senior Hamas official. It happened that this senior Hamas official named Jabari, he was the main contact with the Israeli government. He was the one responsible for negotiating the ceasefires with Israel. And at the moment he was assassinated he was in the midst of negotiating a longterm ceasefire. You hear that Bernie? Those evil, perfidious, devilish, Hamas leaders. They were so perfidious that they were planning to negotiate a longterm ceasefire with Israel. So what did Israel do? They killed him, and then began Operation Pillar of Defense.
And then in 2014, it’s time to “mow the lawn” again. Without going into the details, by the end, Israel killed — not 1,400 Palestinians as Israelis were killed on October 7th — they killed 2,200 Palestinians, of whom 550 were children. They demolished 18,000 homes. Peter Moore, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose job is to tour war zones. That’s his resume, his CV, to tour war zones. After he toured Gaza, he said never in his professional life had he seen destruction of the magnitude that he witnessed in Gaza.
But it’s Hamas that has to be destroyed because it doesn’t, it wants to destroy Israel. It doesn’t recognize Israel. Hamas is the problem. Hamas. Let’s not talk about destroying the State of Israel. That’s sacrosanct. That’s not even a conceivable concept. But destroying Hamas, because they’re evil, they’re evil incarnate, they’re so evil that they negotiate ceasefires, they stand by ceasefires, they attempt to restore the devastated economy in Gaza, that’s pristine, distilled, evil incarnate.
And then comes October 7th. I’ve spoken about it at length to the point of tedium, so I’m not going to repeat myself in this response to you, Bernie. But I have to say, with all due respect, the things you’ve been saying since October 7th, you’re positively ill. Now I know you’re thinking, well, I’ve heard some of the things you said, and I think they’re ill. Fair enough.
However, we can disagree on that, and we can disagree forcefully on that, but when you say you oppose a ceasefire, you’ve crossed a red line. You’ve become a moral monster. I’m going to say that again. You’ve become a moral monster. I read yesterday your tweet. Now you’ll forgive me for not getting it verbatim correctly, but you said, not me, you said Israel is indiscriminately bombing hospitals, bombing schools, killing civilians. You said that, and I’ll ask the people who are recording this video to post it, right as I recite these remarks, which I acknowledge are a paraphrase of what you said yesterday.
Now, when you oppose a ceasefire at this point, you are in effect, And in fact — you are in effect, and in fact, giving Israel carte blanche to continue to indiscriminately target the civilian infrastructure and the civilian population of Gaza, 1 million of whom, or 1,100,000 of whom, are children. You have become a moral monster. And don’t say, of course I oppose that. Of course you oppose that. And you think Israel will stop doing that because Bernie Sanders tells them to? You think all of a sudden now they’re going to cease targeting, hospitals with the plural, hospitals, do you think they’re going to cease targeting ambulances? Do you think they’re going to cease targeting civilian dwellings? The housing, the homes of these people, 70% of whom and their descendants already lost their homes in 1948 and now lost them again. The 50% who are children no longer have a roof over their head. The little toys that they had, the family pictures that they kept, everything now in rubble. And buried beneath the rubble, there are still thousands of children, and you just gave the green light to continue the destruction of Gaza. T’was a people amidst the crashing fires of hell, and now ‘tis a people amidst the crashing fires of hell with the stamp of approval from Bernie Sanders. What a pitiful shame.
Contact Bernie Sanders:
202-224-5141 (Senate Office)
Contact Form: https://www.sanders.senate.gov/contact/contact-form/
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