Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Princeton groups sponsor anti-Israel speech"

Norman Finkelstein

Norman Finkelstein speaks to a Princeton audience.
Photo by Marilyn Silverstein

Sidebar: Finkelstein: 'I have been completely demonized'


A controversial critic of Israel took the stage at Princeton University on Nov. 5, rolling out a litany of charges against the Jewish state and condemning it as an occupier, a human-rights abuser, a land grabber, and a killer of children.

For two long hours, author/political scientist Norman Finkelstein slowly and deliberately fed his anti-Israel thesis to a crowd of close to 200 at the university's Friend Center — the overwhelming majority of them members and supporters of the Princeton Middle East Society, the independent off-campus group that had invited him there.

Campus groups cosponsoring Finkelstein's appearance included the Department and Program in Near Eastern Studies; the Kathryn W. and Shelby Cullom Davis '30 International Center; and the Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia.

...In his formal remarks, Finkelstein presented the Middle East conflict as an uncomplicated situation in which the sole victims are the Palestinians and the sole perpetrators are the Israelis.

"The thesis of this evening will be that most of the controversy surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is contrived, fabricated, and designed to divert attention from the actual record on the conflict and to sow confusion," Finkelstein told his audience.

Peering through that uncomplicated lens, he then gave his view of the so-called final-status questions in the conflict: Israel must fully and unilaterally withdraw to the June 1967 borders, giving up the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. All Israeli settlements are illegal, he said; Israel must abandon them all. Israel must also give up eastern Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

While the majority of Israelis say they support major territorial compromise with the Palestinians, Finkelstein suggested that the only obstacle to such a compromise is not Israel's fears for its own security, but its intransigence.

"The one and only obstacle to the resolution of the conflict," he said, "is Israel's refusal to fully withdraw."

Often smiling as he made his points, Finkelstein equated Israel with the Palestinian group Hamas, quoting statistics about how many civilians have been killed on each side of the conflict.

"The only difference between Hamas terrorism and Israeli terrorism is that Israeli terrorism is more than four times as lethal as Hamas terrorism," he said, "and no demand has been put on Israel to denounce terrorism."

Finkelstein charged that Israel perpetrated the "ethnic cleansing" of the Palestinians during the War of Independence in 1948.

He endorsed former President Jimmy Carter's use of the term "apartheid" to describe Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

He laughed at the claim of a "new anti-Semitism" in the world, calling it a ploy to transform "the perpetrator Israel and its apologists into the victim, focusing on the alleged suffering of the Israelis rather than the real suffering of the Palestinians."

He denounced Israel for its alleged "playing of the Hitler card" and for using "the Holocaust industry" to claim a special status in history. "The special suffering of the Jews meant that they couldn't be held to ordinary standards," said Finkelstein, who is the son of Holocaust survivors and the author of a 2003 book, The Holocaust Industry, that expanded on the thesis.

Finally, Finkelstein charged that the world has been subjected to a systematic scheme of fraud and disinformation on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "What's very striking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said, "is the extent to which sheer nonsense, sheer fraud, and sheer ridiculousness is validated in the mainstream media."

As he ended his speech, Finkelstein called upon his supporters to have heart. "With a little bit of courage, hard work, and the powerful weapons of truth and justice — if we learn how to wield them," he said, "I'm confident we can win."

With that, dozens of people in the audience leapt to their feet and rewarded Finkelstein with a 40-second standing ovation....

Finkelstein: 'I have
been completely demonized'

IN AN INTERVIEW before his Nov. 5 speech at Princeton University, Norman Finkelstein defended his anti-Israel views, discussed his failed quest for tenure at DePaul University, and predicted a generational erosion of "fanatical, blind devotion to Israel."

...People under 35 or 40, he said, remember only former Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu when they think of Israeli leaders — "basically, in my opinion, hoodlums," he said, referring to the three leaders, "and they're not going to inspire this generation."

As for how he is received in the Jewish community, Finkelstein said, it's hard to make broad generalizations. "But a significant number of Jewish students are supportive of what I have to say."

On the other hand, he added, among the large numbers of people who don't read enough about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "I have been completely demonized."

And how does he want to be seen? "I'm somebody who is making a best-faith effort to give an accurate account of human-rights efforts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said. "That's my vocation."

At the same time, said Finkelstein, who is the son of Holocaust survivors, the battles of the past few years have taken a toll. "At this point in my life, I'm worn. I'm very weary," he said. "The battles have been quite furious and vicious..."