October 14, 2005

No case for Israel, just fiction passing as fact

Here's a curious article on Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah in zmag.org. Written by Neve Gordon, it wreaks as much havock on Alan Dershowitz's already savaged reputation as Finkelstein does.
Academically, the section discussing Israel's human rights record raises serious questions about intellectual honesty and the ideological bias of our cultural institutions, since it reveals how a prominent professor [Alan Dershowitz] holding an endowed chair at a leading university can publish a book whose major claims are false. The significant point is not simply that the claims cannot be corroborated by the facts on the ground -- anyone can make mistakes -- but that any first-year student who takes the time to read the human rights reports would quickly realize that though The Case for Israel has rhetorical style and structure, it is, for the most part, fiction passing as fact.
I do have some issues with the piece though. Take this:
While Finkelstein's basic claims are on the mark, he makes a couple of serious mistakes. First, the Israeli case in no way constitutes an unprecedented assault on international law. Not only has the Iraq war, which Finkelstein mentions, led to more egregious violations, particularly if one counts civilian deaths, but one could easily come up with a series of other recent assaults on international law that have produced much more horrific results. One only has to think of Chechnya, Rwanda, and Darfur.
There are many problems with this argument. First up, it is precisely over Iraq, not just Irael, not even Israel, that Finkelstein says that the bogus allegation of anti-semitism has been used against leftists. Regarding Chechnya, Rwanda and Darfur the comparison with anti-semitism may well be legitimate so why mention it in a book that argues that the allegations of, and comparisons with, anti-semitism are misapplied?

The other is this:
Finkelstein convincingly maintains that a connection has been drawn between Israel's illegal actions in the Occupied Territories and the new Anti-Semitism. This link has a dual character. On the one hand, the literature discussing the new anti-Semitism is used to fend off all criticism of Israel, while, on the other hand, Israel's violation of the occupied Palestinians' basic rights has generated anti-Semitism. I follow Finkelstein thus far, but he then proceeds to an odd and troubling conclusion: the Jews, Finkelstein implies, are also to blame for the rise of anti-Semitism.
This is unfair. He doesn't say that. Here's the crux of what he says:
In some quarters anger at Israel's brutal occupation has undoubtedly spilled over into an animus toward Jews generally. But however lamentable, it's hardly cause for wonder.
This quote is preceded by some stuff about Sarte's peculiar philo-semitic pamphlet "Anti-Semite and Jew" that Gordon alludes to but there is still not enough there to accuse Finkelstein of accusing Jews generally of responsibility for anti-semitism.

Anyway, the digs at Dershowitz make the article well worth a read but I can't help feeling that Neve Gordon misrepresents Finkestein and in so doing, possibly indverently appeases an "offical" Jewish establishment that must take some responsiblity for the anti-semitism that is evident today, marginal though it is.

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