1. I met left-wing activist and academic Norman Finkelstein in New York City. Finkelstein, a son of Holocaust survivors, has been a harsh critic of Israel, but also had a time when he was a darling of the Palestinian cause. However, when he disagreed with the movement strategy, he went his own way and focused on identity politics with his latest book being a declaration of war on wokeness.
2. Finkelstein’s frustration with cancel culture and woke politics grew when he saw the impact of these forces on the 2016 and 2020 Democratic primary runs of Bernie Sanders. He believes that woke politics has been instrumentalized by the Democratic Party and infiltrated much of liberal culture, displacing once vital bases like the trade union movement.
3. Finkelstein discusses the rise of identity politics and its role in displacing class struggle as a core focus of leftist politics. He highlights how it has been manipulated by the ruling elite and become a top-down political force, despite initially bubbling up from the bottom with genuine outrage over issues like police brutality.
4. The scholar delves into the motivations behind large sums of money given to influential figures by the elite, regarding it as a life insurance policy to ensure alignment with elite interests. This, he argues, contributes to the co-option of movements like Black Lives Matter, which initially arose from grassroots outrage but then had its leadership co-opted by the ruling elite.
5. Finkelstein dismisses the personal cost of his controversial views, citing a long-held leftist tradition of sacrifice without complaint or self-pity. He also addresses accusations of being a self-hating Jew or a Holocaust denier, which he views as absurd given his family history and personal convictions.
6. He expresses no personal regret for his diverging views on the BDS movement, knowing that the personal sacrifice aligns with his commitment to truth and justice. Refraining from chasing popularity, he relates his discomfort with being seen as a “rock star” and the inherent conflict between fame and fortune versus truth and justice.
7. Finkelstein reflects on his experiences in the 1960s and 70s and how the overturning of conventional values then led him to initially consider the wokeness phenomena as a similar shift. However, after further consideration, he firmly denounces the movement as “completely crazy”.