September 30, 2008

Fun with Finkelstein

Many thanks to Roland Rance for posting the link to this Finkelstein interview to the Just Peace UK list. I must say Finkelstein's on cracking form here. Here are a few, quite a few, cuts:
In 2007, Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University because of an intimidation campaign spearheaded by Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, whose book, The Case for Israel, was pilloried by Finkelstein as blatant plagiarism of an earlier work, Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial, which was itself long ago exposed as a hoax.
That's an opener by the interviewer. And here's the man on Fatah:
I don't get involved in internal Palestinian politics. Those are choices Palestinians have to make. This much however can be said. You cannot win from diplomacy what you haven't won on the battlefield. I don't necessarily mean an exchange of lethal weapons; mobilizing public opinion is also a potent force. A good versus a bad diplomat will make some difference. Abba Eban made some difference; I don't want to discount it. But negotiations are the most trivial aspect of politics. What counts in politics is your ability to organize, mobilize, and bring to bear superior force -- and again force doesn't necessarily mean lethal force; there is also the force of public opinion. The so-called Palestinian leadership has not invested any time in trying to organize its constituency either in the Occupied Territories or abroad. Nothing is going to change without such organization -- it's just silliness; for the Palestinian leadership, lucrative silliness.
Hezbollah organized. Hezbollah prepared. Hezbollah analyzed and understood its enemy. Its judgment was not 100% accurate, but certainly that's where it invested its energy, with very impressive results. When you read detailed accounts of the 2006 Lebanon war, you realize just how astonishing was its defeat of the Israeli military. Hezbollah fired about 5,000 missiles altogether at Israel or in Lebanon (anti-tank missiles); Israel delivered or fired 162,000 weapons at Lebanon (about 4,800 per day). Israel fielded about 30,000 troops; Hezbollah's fighters numbered about 2,000 and there were about 4,000 village militia. Israel never even faced the crack Hezbollah forces which were stationed on the Litani waiting for an Israeli invasion that never happened.
And the Arab regimes?
Why should one expect more from the Saudis? The Arab regimes are completely in thrall to the United States. They would of course prefer to settle the Israel-Palestine conflict in terms of the international consensus. The Arab League has repeatedly put forth perfectly reasonable proposals to end the conflict in line with the whole of the international community. But they are not going to do more than express a preference. They're unpopular, corrupt, and therefore dependent on the United States.
On zionism, the Israel lobby and the democratic deficit:
You have to make a distinction between the popular level and the electoral level. At the popular level it's quite a big difference now as compared to say a decade ago in terms of the ability to criticize Israeli policy and to reach people. It's not difficult at all now on the popular level. If you have public meetings and so forth there's a very receptive, or potentially receptive, audience out there. Jimmy Carter's book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid showed this. The Israel lobby called him an anti-Semite, Holocaust-denier, supporter of Nazis and supporter of terrorism. His book still wound up at the top of the bestseller list. But the electoral level is not just about votes, it's crucially also about money; those with lots of money get a better hearing. At the electoral level it remains quite difficult. We haven't yet been able to translate popular feeling into an electoral mandate. That's not unusual. You have in the United States, for example, overwhelming popular support for gun control. But at the electoral level, because of a well-organized lobby, you're not able to translate the popular feeling into an electoral mandate. That's also true of health care and myriad other issues.......

There is much misunderstanding about the scope and reach of the Israeli lobby. In my opinion the Israel lobby has a significant impact on U.S. policy in the Israel-Palestine conflict. U.S. elites do not derive any advantage from the occupation; they would be perfectly happy if tomorrow Israel announced that it accepts the international consensus and will withdraw to the June 1967 borders. The reason U.S. elites don't press harder for such a settlement is the lobby.

But when we come to broad regional issues such as Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, it's not the lobby that's the driving force. It's U.S. policy. You can say U.S. policy is misguided and you can say that once U.S. policy has been decided, the lobby plays a useful role in drumming up public support. But the notion that somehow Cheney and Rumsfeld were duped or coerced by the lobby into waging a war in Iraq contrary to the U.S. "national interest" is neither on its face credible nor supported by the available documentary record.
On Dershowitz, possibly the best part. Here's the interviewer:
for instance, in one case, Alan Dershowitz chopped up a quote to claim you called your mother a Nazi collaborator. How do you deal with that kind of stuff?
And here's Finkelstein again:
My mother was very solicitous about my health and safety. She was a Jewish mother. But what Dershowitz said crossed the line. It's hard to fathom the magnitude of that slander: to say that somebody who passed through the Nazi holocaust, and every single member of her family was exterminated, and her entire life, from the day she was "liberated" till her death, she grieved over the loss of her family -- that now some sick sack of shit would come along, after her death and when she is no longer around to defend herself, and proclaim that my mother collaborated -- or I believe she collaborated -- with the murderers of her family. . .

So it did require immense self-control -- or maybe you want to call it cowardice -- for me to do nothing about it.

Dershowitz got very bad PR when he threatened a libel suit against the University of California press for publishing my book Beyond Chutzpah. He was trying to get a rise out of me so I would sue him for libel. Then he could say, "You see! Who's suing whom for libel now?" He was trying to push me into a corner or provoke me sufficiently that I would, like a panther -- which is how the Black Panther [Party] got its name -- you keep pushing it back and back and back, and it retreats and retreats and retreats, and finally when it's in a corner, it leaps out at you....

There's no "intellectual" battle with Dershowitz. On his part there's no summoning of facts or elegant use of logic. It's just bar mitzvah speeches. He doesn't know anything, I doubt if he's read more than a half-dozen books on the topic. I don't entirely fault him. You can't defend high profile spousal murderers like O.J. Simpson, high profile sexual predators like Jeffrey Epstein, and high profile mass murderers like Radovan Karadzic, yet still have time left over to do serious scholarship. What he does is entertainment; it's a circus. He's like Hitchens. No one really cares about the facts Hitchens brings to bear. He could be making one case today and the opposite case tomorrow. Would anybody notice? They're just interested in the rococo tapestry he weaves around the facts. You don't walk away saying, "I've learned X, Y or Z from Hitchens," you walk away saying, "Wasn't that a witty line? Wasn't that a clever repartee?"

It's the same thing with Dershowitz -- of course, Dershowitz is not witty or clever. You don't learn anything and you don't expect to. I live near Coney Island. It's like the popular sideshow "Shoot the Freak." I haven't read a journal of intellectual opinion in years. Gandhi's collected works come to 90 volumes. Most of it consists of letters, quite a few on diet. There's more moral seriousness in one Gandhi letter to an anonymous correspondent on treating constipation than nearly the whole of our intellectual life.....

Everybody is terrified of Dershowitz because he wields a lot of power and is a very vindictive little man. I wasn't afraid and, I think, did a pretty solid job of demonstrating he is a preposterous charlatan. So he got his revenge by driving me out of academia, although -- in his mind -- not enough to compensate for the damage I did to his name.
And finally, about the interviewer:
Junaid Levesque-Alam is a Pakistani-American who blogs about America and Islam at Crossing the Crescent ( He writes about American Muslim identity for WireTap magazine and has been published in CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, The Nation (online), and The American Muslim. He works as a communications coordinator for an anti-domestic violence agency in the NYC area and obtained his undergraduate degree in journalism from Northeastern University. He can be reached at: junaidalam1 AT


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