Norman Finkelstein interviewed
by Sherri Muzher
Norman Finkelstein, whose parents
are both survivors of the Holocaust, discusses the misuse of anti-Semitism.
Palestine Chronicle, November
2, 2005 (ZNet)
Audacity. Cheekiness. Daring. Gutsiness.
Any one of these words can define the Yiddish word, "chutzpah"
with both positive and negative nuances. But as DePaul Professor
Norm Finkelstein demonstrates in his new book, "Beyond Chutzpah:
On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History",
there are those who take chutzpah too far in the negative direction.
One such person is prominent Harvard law
professor Alan Dershowitz whose book, "The Case for Israel"
is debunked point by point by tireless and meticulous researcher
Finkelstein. Ultimately, Dershowitz's book is found to a work
of fraud and plagiarism. Knowing that Finkelstein's book would
damage his credibility, Dershowitz took the unusual step of writing
to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and suggested that
he interfere and prevent the book from being published. The book's
publisher is the University of California Press. According to
The Nation, the legal affairs secretary to Governor Schwarzenegger
responded to the Dershowitz letter: "...he [the Governor]
is not inclined to otherwise exert influence in this case because
of the clear, academic freedom issue it presents."
Finkelstein, whose parents are both survivors
of the Holocaust, discusses the misuse of anti-Semitism in order
to achieve political gains, but shines most in his book when showing
that Dershowitz's claim that Israel is a haven of human rights
is wholly inaccurate. Reports by human rights organizations, like
Amnesty International and Israel's own B'tselem, are cited in
surplus. One wonders if Dershowitz ever thought to do some of
his own-fact-checking with prominent and respected human rights
organizations when putting Israel up on a human rights pedestal.
From the graphics to the torture of Palestinian minors to the
complicity of Israeli medical personnel, there is nothing left
to the imagination in terms of Israel's horrendous human rights
record. There is even a chronology in the back of the book that
describes the roots of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
If one can summarize "Beyond Chutzpah"
in one sentence, it would be this: Finkelstein leaves no stone
unturned when setting out to prove the misuse of anti-Semitism.
Recently, I had an opportunity to talk
with Finkelstein about his thoughts on a myriad of themes in his
book. Passionate, colorful, and with a dry wit to boot, Finkelstein
rejects the label that he is an intellectual but rather "someone
who goes through the reports and credible history of what is going
on and compares it to the nonsense ... somebody's lying."
Sherri Muzher: What was your purpose in
writing "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism
and the Abuse of History."
Norman Finkelstein: It's important for
people to read the record of what is going on there.
What do you consider the most effective
example of the "new anti-Semitism" on American public
There are a large number of claims circulating
about rampant anti-Semitism on college campuses. When you go actually
go through the records, talk to the schools, speak to the deans
and so forth, all of these claims turn out to be fraudulent. There's
just no record of this so-called rampant anti-Semitism on college
The most striking example is Columbia
University where there was huge hysteria, newspaper editorials,
and local politicians all calling for professors at Columbia's
Middle East Center to be fired. The president eventually was forced
to create an ad hoc committee to look into the charges and after
all this hysteria and demands that these professors be fired,
all that they could find was in one case in one instance in one
day in one classroom after the invasion of Jenin in April 2002.
A professor responded heatedly to a student who was defending
Israeli tactics. That was it. On the other hand, they did find
that pro-Israel outsiders were disrupting the classrooms of these
professors, secretly video-taping their lectures and being turned,
as the Columbia Report put it, into informers for the pro-Israel
lobby. The real story was the harassment of professors who were
critical of Israeli policy.
What will surprise people the most when
reading "Beyond Chutzpah?"
I think they're going to be very surprised
by the fact that this whole claim of the new anti-Semitism is
a complete fraud and they are going to be very surprised that
Israel's human rights record is quite abysmal. It's the cumulative
effect of going through all of the reports in all aspects of Israel's
human rights policy. It's not looking at one case of one person
who was tortured or one child who was killed, or one house that
was demolished. The record is really quite horrendous. Everybody
who has read it has made the comment that it's quite shocking
to see the magnitude of Israel's human rights crimes in the Occupied
How is the "new anti-Semitism"
used to discredit legitimate criticism of Israel?
Whenever Israel faces a public relations
debacle such as the Intifada or international pressure to resolve
the Israel-Palestine conflict, American Jewish organizations orchestrate
this extravaganza called the "new anti-Semitism." The
purpose is several-fold. First, it is to discredit any charges
by claiming the person is an anti-Semite. It's to turn Jews into
the victims, so that the victims are not the Palestinians any
longer. As people like Abraham Foxman of the ADL put it, the Jews
are being threatened by a new holocaust. It's a role reversal
- the Jews are now the victims, not the Palestinians. So it serves
the function of discrediting the people leveling the charge. It's
no longer Israel that needs to leave the Occupied Territories;
it's the Arabs who need to free themselves of the anti-Semitism.
American Jewish organizations: Zionist
or not Zionist?
American Jewish organizations didn't give
a fig about Israel before the June 1967 War. After 1967, Israel
became their cause because it was safe. Israel is now the strategic
asset to the US in the Middle East and so people became pro-Israel,
not because they are Zionist. It's a politically useful position
to have. The biggest mistake anyone can make about people in power
is to ascribe to them ideological convictions. Ben-Gurion was
a Zionist. Abba Eban was a Zionist. The early founders of the
state of Israel were Zionist for sure because they were committed
to ideas. Just like the Bolsheviks were clearly Communist. But
once you get into power, people are interested in one thing -
more power. And then they adjust their beliefs and their ideology
to serve that goal.
I don't think Alan Dershowitz cares about
Israel. He never wrote about Israel before June 67. The Holocaust
- he's said: Growing up, we never discussed the Holocaust. I don't
remember one single conversation with anyone about the Holocaust.
They don't care about the Holocaust or
Israel, they care about their careers. So, I've always found it
perplexing as to why these people are elevated by giving them
an ideology and acting as if they are acting out of conviction.
Speaking of Alan Dershowitz, the two of
you have had a very public spat. In "Beyond Chutzpah,"
you debunk Dershowitz's book "The Case for Israel" point
by point. Harvard University's response?
There's been no response except at some
early date to exonerate him for all those charges. As far as Harvard
is concerned, Alan Dershowitz has clean hands.
You have said that you believe there is
a potent insurance out there against fraudulent material being
published, except when it comes to the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Is this what's coming into play here?
I think there a couple things. That's
part of it, but another part of it is that Harvard can't acknowledge
that its senior most professor of law is a hoaxer and a plagiarist.
It says something about the institution - it's so devastating
that they just can't do it. It shines a light on them that is
quite shocking. There's the element of Israel and there's the
element of institutional protection.
How do you respond to those who perceive
"Beyond Chutzpah" as being opposed to any invocation
of Holocaust memory?
There are a lot of people who have suffered
in the world. It's time to give other people's stories a public
airing. I don't think there's any danger here of the Holocaust
being forgotten, given the fact that the New York Times prepares
a story on the Holocaust probably 5 out of every 7 days in the
week. First, the only subject covered more thoroughly than the
Holocaust is the weather. Second, most of what's called the memory
of the Nazi Holocaust is politically motivated. Its use and exploitation
is used to immunize Israel from criticism, immunize American Jews
from criticism, and for many years, it was used as a shakedown
operation to extract monies from Europe. That kind of memory we
can surely do without.
But as far as remembering the Holocaust?
I remember everyday. It's my parents.
How do you hope "Beyond Chutzpah"
will affect the American Jewish community, as well as your critics
in American Jewish organizations?
Well, some people -- you can't change
their minds. Once Leon Trotsky, the Russian Revolutionary, was
asked: What do you do with Fascists? He said: Acquaint them with
Some people, you're not going to change
their minds. But there are a lot of people out there who are genuinely
ill informed and have decent intentions but have gotten wrong
information. And it's those kinds of people you want to reach,
not the hard-core fanatics and zealots of Zion. I'm not going
to try and convince them of anything. I have better things to
do with my time. I'd rather watch paint dry.
Regarding the Israeli proponents of a
two-state solution like Ariel Sharon: Sincerity or lip service?
They're not proponents of the two-state
solution, this is nonsense. There's an international consensus
on what the two-state settlement means. It's a full Israeli withdrawal
from the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Anything
else is garbage. There are people like Sharon who don't support
a two-state settlement. They support a one state solution for
Israel and a phone booth for the Palestinians.
Did you see the application of the "new
anti-Semitism" before the Gaza withdrawal?
Well, of course. The so-called "new
anti-Semitism" charade began in 2001 right after the public
relations debacle Israel suffered with the Second Intifada. It's
actually been effective. News organizations' coverage of the Middle
East began to change. Everyone got nervous about "targeting
Israel." It long preceded the Gaza withdrawal.
You discuss Israel's Wall and the land
confiscation in your book. How do you respond to those who say
"land grab or not, Israel has the right to defend herself
and her citizens"?
Every state has that right. You build
a wall on your own property. When I was growing up, my parents
didn't get along with their neighbors, and so they decided to
build a wrought-iron fence around their property. So the first
thing you have to do, at least in New York, you have to hire a
surveyor and the surveyor demarcates the border. If you're one
inch into your neighbor's property, under the law, you have to
tear down the fence. Very uncomplicated.
The West Bank and Gaza, under international
law, are occupied territories. Israel doesn't have title to one
half of one inch of the West Bank or Gaza or East Jerusalem. Want
to build a fence? Build it on your border and protect your people.
This has nothing to do with terrorism. This has nothing to do
with protecting the settlements. If you want to protect the settlements,
you do what Israel has done. You build electronic fences around
the settlements. Kiryat Arba is very well-protected and there
are no terrorist attacks. It has to do with creating a new border.
Do you feel there is US acquiescence to
this border change?
There's nothing Israel can do without
US support. It can't breathe without US support. The US bankrolls
everything, and it's just silly to think that Israel can do anything
without the support. There are issues about why the US supports
Israel. Is it the lobby or strategic interest? Now you can quarrel
about that. But what you can't quarrel with is the notion that
were it not for the US, Israel can't do anything.
At what point do you think the general
effectiveness of this "new anti-Semitism" will fade?
Very simple - when Israel no longer comes
under public attack or when people just get tired of it, just
like the Holocaust Industry. People were Holocausted out. Like
the Law of Diminishing Returns, if you keep bringing up the Holocaust,
people are getting more and more bored. At some point, it becomes
less omnipresent in American public life. And presumably at the
point they start calling Mickey Mouse and Michael Jackson anti-Semites,
people are going to begin to yawn and get turned off.
Tell me about the man you dedicated "Beyond
Chutzpah" to -- Musa Abu Hashhash.
Musa grew up in the Fawwar Refugee Camp.
In his youth, he was Communist and now he's with the Israel human
rights group, B'tselem. I would have to say that he is the most
decent human being that I've ever met in my life. And I'm not
a kid anymore. I've got about 51 years on this planet.
There's a song that Paul Robeson used
to sing called "The Purest Kind of a Guy." The lyric
went 'I don't know how I know but I know what I know. He's the
purest kind of a guy.' That's Musa.
Sherri Muzher is a political and media
analyst from Mason, Michigan
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