Thursday, July 29, 2010

Norman Finkelstein (Interviewed by Nael Shama)

Einstein once said: "Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth." Among the few scholars who dared to question the authority of the biased US intellectual community's vision of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict is political scientist and writer Norman Finkelstein.

Norman Finkelstein was born in 1953 to Jewish parents who survived the holocaust. His mother's memories of the atrocities she had witnessed, and her routine outrage at the perpetrators of any crime against humanity, instilled in him genuine sympathy with all human sufferings - irrespective of race, color and faith - and a deep longing for justice.

Finkelstein finished his undergraduate studies at Binghamton University, and earned his Master's and PhD degrees from Princeton University. Soon after, he became a vocal critic of Israel's brutal policies, and a staunch supporter of the rights of Palestinians.

He authored a number of books on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Holocaust, such as Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History and, most recently, This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion. His books have been translated into more than 40 foreign editions.

The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, first published in 2000, is Finkelstein's most provoking and controversial book. Using thorough investigation, an outstanding ability to dissect the subject and connect the scattered dots, plus his brilliant sarcasm, he disdainfully denounced the holocaust industry for using the memory of a brutal genocide to serve present-day ideological and material purposes. When it came out, the book was described by The Guardian as "the most explosive book of the year." The book opened the gates of hell for Finkelstein who was ostracized by Israel and many Jewish organizations in the US.

Finkelstein initiated another heated debate in 2003 when he described the then recently published book (The Case for Israel), authored by the pro-Israel scholar and Professor of Law at Harvard University, Alan Dershowitz, as "a collection of fraud, falsification, plagiarism, and nonsense." Dershowitz denied the accusations and threatened libel action over the charges of Finkelstein. Another controversy ensued concerning the definition of plagiarism and proper methods of citation in academic studies.

Finkelstein's daring, sharp and controversial views, which in most cases contradict with the mainstream views of the American intellectual community, did not come without a price. In June 2007, he was denied tenure at De Paul University, allegedly because his "personal and reputation demeaning attacks" on a number of scholars – including Dershowitz - were inconsistent with De Paul's "Vincentian" values. The incident did cast serious doubt across the United States on the integrity of academic institutions, and their immunity to political pressure.

Finkelstein: Israel May Target Nasrallah's Deputy

Q: Let me first delve into the repercussions of the Gaza aid flotilla confrontation. Many aid ships are expected to head for Gaza in the coming months. What kind of change could this "aid offensive" lead to in light of Israel's determination to block their entrance into Gaza?
I think things are becoming now a little bit confusing, and there needs to be clarity on exactly what goals people are trying to accomplish. And there needs to be, I think, a common plan. There are many individual initiatives being set up, and it is unclear whether the goal is to break the siege of Gaza, or different organizations and different states using the Gaza siege for their own separate agendas. And I don’t think that’s helpful.
The goal obviously has to be to fully end the siege of Gaza, to allow for – as several human rights organizations have said – Gazans to live a normal and dignified life, to allow them to enter and leave Gaza as they want, the ability to have exports to restore the economy, and just to have a normal life to the extent it is possible. That’s the goal. But I'm not confident that goal can be reached in the form of so many different initiatives, so many different flotillas, and the fact that it is becoming unclear whether it is the interests of the people of Gaza that are served, or whether it is different states and different organizations using Gaza for their own agendas.

Q: When you say "states with different agendas," are you referring to the Turkish role?
I think the Turkish initiative was very authentic, but one of the problems with success is that everybody wants to imitate it. And they want to imitate it not necessarily for the same original motives.

Q: You said that Israel is "acting like a lunatic state," certainly in light of Israel's blunders in Lebanon (2006), Gaza (2008/9), the assassination of Al-Mabhouh in Dubai (2010) and most recently the attack on the aid flotilla. How can the international community best deal with such a lunatic state?
I think the main challenge is to simply enforce the law. And there are many aspects of the law which have gone unenforced. First, Amnesty International has said that there should be a comprehensive arms embargo imposed on Israel and Hamas, because they said Israel is a consistent violator of human rights, and under international law and domestic American law, it is illegal to transfer weapons to a country which is a consistent violator of human rights. So that’s one law which should be enforced.
Secondly, there is the issue that remains pending, namely the resolution of the United Nations for an independent investigation of the crimes that were committed in Gaza {during the 2008/9 Israeli offense}. That law too should be enforced.
And, more generally, it is now been 43 years since Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank, and in my opinion, it is no longer a legal occupation under international law. It is no longer what is technically called a "belligerent occupation." It has become an illegal occupation, because the fundamental characteristic of a belligerent occupation is that it is supposed to be transitional until the end of war hostilities.
Israel has no intention of ending this occupation. Israel is intending to annex crucial parts of the West bank, and effectively control the whole of it, so it is no longer a belligerent occupation. It is an illegal occupation. And so the law should be enforced there, and Israel should be forced to leave the occupied territories.
And then there is one other outstanding issue, and that’s the issue of the nuclear weapons, and there, I think again, we should follow what the international community has said. Since 1995, the IAEA has called for the Middle East to be turned into a "weapons of mass destruction free zone," and I think that should be enforced as well.

Q: So Israel is lunatic and aggressive but it is also slowly becoming a pariah state. Could this dangerous mixture drive Israel to take another wrong move? Perhaps a strike against Iran?
I don’t think the Israelis will launch a strike against Iran, but they will do something to restore what they call their "deterrence capacity." With each bungled operation, Israel becomes more and more worried that the Arab world will not fear it. And as one Israeli General commented a few weeks ago, "it is ok if the Arabs think we are crazy, but it is not ok if they think we are crazy and incompetent." And so Israel is concerned that their succession of bungled operations is conveying the impression that it is no longer a formidable fighting force. And so it will do something in order to restore its deterrence capacity. Exactly what is that I could not say, but I suspect they may do something like trying to assassinate the second person in Hezbollah, someone like Naim Kassem {Deputy Secretary General of Hezbollah}. They wouldn’t touch Nasrallah because they recognize that would unleash a chain reaction, which could have devastating consequences for them, but they would consider assassinating Kassem, or some operation like that.

Finkelstein: The Role of Egypt Has Become So Shameful.

Q: The Rafah Crossing issue has become quite controversial in Egypt lately. On one hand, the Egyptian government claims that Israel should shoulder its responsibilities towards the Gaza Strip, as long as the Strip remains occupied. But on the other hand, keeping the only gate to Gaza that is not under Israeli control closed raises questions about Egypt's participation in the inhumane siege. What are your views on this issue?
I think both statements are correct. Under International law, Israel is the occupying power, and it has the responsibility for restoring normal order and peace in Gaza. On the other hand, it is true that Egypt is a collaborationist regime. The role of Egypt in support of Israel's brutal occupation of Gaza has become so shameful, so appalling. It is simply a disgrace.
I have noticed lately when I meet Egyptians, as I often do in the United States, that when I ask them where they are from, they say: I'm ashamed to say I am from Egypt. This 30-year dictatorship is really quite terrible, and it's quite shameful that it required an action by Turkey to force Egypt to open up the Rafah border, because Egypt understood the message that was being transmitted, namely a non-Arab Muslim state cared more about the Palestinians than an Arab state.

Q: Does this mean that Egypt has recently moved closer to the Israeli position?
Egypt did not move closer to the Israeli position, because there is no space between the Egyptian and the Israeli positions to begin with. There is no way it can move closer. There has been only one disagreement between Egypt and Israel, and that’s over the weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East. Otherwise, Egypt is just a client state of the United States, and collaborators with Israel.

Q: Doesn’t this delegitimize what Egypt claims to be the "honest broker" role it has been playing between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
Egypt is a client state of the United States. It does not have any independent role whatsoever. And Mubarak is probably the most revolting creature in the Arab world today. I think there is a consensus among everybody here. He is actually kind of a freak.

Q: The US President Barack Obama is increasingly seen in the Arab world as a "man of words, not actions." Since his speech at Cairo University last year, nothing has been achieved on the peace process track. Are you anticipating any change in US foreign policy towards the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in the coming months?
There is no change that’s going to come from President Obama. That’s quite clear, and anybody who invested hope in it – and I was not one of them – should now be free of any illusions. There are two developments which are true: First, there has been a significant shift in American public opinion, both among Americans generally and among American Jews, regarding Israel. And I think it is correct to say that a rift has opened up between large segments of Americans – including American Jews – and Israel.
Secondly, Israel's erratic actions have caused members of ruling elites in the United States to consider whether or not Israel is the strategic asset it once was for the US. And you see a certain amount of questioning that has been occurring among ruling elites about the usefulness of the alliance with Israel. And of course that is going to reflect itself in some gestures by Obama, but those are strictly reactive, that is, he is reacting to developments on the ground, but there are no initiatives coming from him.

Q: And when, in your opinion, could these developments in US society and public opinion be translated into real change in US foreign policy?
It is going to take a long time. It is important for that shift in public opinion to occur, but nothing will come of that shift unless it is harnessed into a political force. And that kind of organizing hasn’t yet begun. There needs to be created a serious lobby, which will take that public opinion and turn it into a political actor in the American political system. And that has not happened yet. If public opinion changes, but people don’t act on that change in opinion, it makes no difference whether it has changed or not. All you have to do is get people to take the next step, and to act on it.

* This interview was published in Daily News (Egypt) on July 28&29, 2010.

1 comment:

Blues said...

Very interesting "subject" and a very good article. I love it.
We are a bunch of disgraceful losers ruled by a freak. Cool!
I have the "Holocaust Industry" and it is a good book.