Monday, February 11, 2008

Norman Finkelstein at the Oxford Union -- Postscript

The siege in Gaza is tightening, human rights abuses continue daily, Hamas promises more suicide bombings, and I am still blogging about...Norman Finkelstein at the Oxford Union?

All right, my justification is that my reporting on the Oxford Union debates has been, to my knowledge, the most accurate account on the web, thanks to my informed source there. And so when a Jewish journal smears Finkelstein (one of the Jewish establishment's favorite targets), I don't think they should get away it.

Richard Silverstein pointed out to me that the Forwards' blog published the following:
FINKELSTEIN’S FLIP-FLOP: It was an odd debate — from the topic to the choice of panelists. To the chagrin of many in Britain’s Jewish community, the Oxford Union — the once-venerable and now-sensationalistic debating society — decided to take up the following proposition: “This House believes that the State of Israel has a right to exist.” As if debating whether or not a sovereign state has the right to exist weren’t bad enough, the Oxford Union selected two fierce critics of Israel to defend the proposition, including “Holocaust Industry” author and Hezbollah booster Norman Finkelstein. Unsurprisingly, Finkelstein proved to be a poor advocate for Israel, voting at the debate’s conclusion against the proposition he had been tasked with defending. London’s Jewish Chronicle has the story.
The Jewish Chronicle's story, to which the Forwards refers, is here. It claims that Finkelstein supported the motion that Israel has the right to exist and then voted against it. It also claims that Ilan Pappe and Ghada Karmi voted against the resolution. Pappe must have sent in an absentee ballot, because he wasn't even present at the debate (nor, apparently were the authors of the Jewish Chronicle piece, Bernard Josephs and Leon Symons, who surely would have known that.) Pappe was supposed to have been present, but he begged off at the last minute and was replaced by a Palestinian lawyer.

Finkelstein argued in favor of Israel's right to exist on the grounds that it had international recognition. He had no intention of voting, and he left the auditorium without voting, or at least not intending to. As explained by my source at Oxford:

The voting system works as follows. The main enty and exit has a bar down the middle of it, with a door either side of it. Above the door to the left of the bar it says something like 'nay'; above the door to the right of the bar it says something like 'aye'. If you exit to the left, that counts as you voting against the motion, and the opposite is true if you exit to the right. (I may have got the two sides the wrong way around as to which is aye and which is nay).

You vote simply by virtue of exiting through a particular side of the bar. A union official at each side keeps a tally. If you want to abstain, you have to tell the official as you exit. So unless [Finkelstein] told the union official at the door that he wanted to abstain, if Finkelstein exited then he necessarily (whether he meant to or not) voted one way or the other.

In fact, Finkelstein wasn't aware of any of this arcane Oxford tradition, much less that he voted with his feet, until I contacted him about it a few days ago. Maybe he should have been, but he was seen walking out talking with students and entirely preoccupied with the debate.

But when it comes to the Jewish media reporting on Norman Finkelstein, who cares about accuracy? Or fairness?


Richard said...

This is a perfect example of the insularity of so much of the Jewish press. Not caring for accurancy when sensationalism will do just as well, they mar the truth in pandering to the perceived prejudices of their Jewish audience.

Can't the Jewish press do better?

Anonymous said...

See my comments concerning an article that appeared in The Jewish Advocate, of Boston,and which was repoated on Solomania, on the debate which smeared Finkelstein and Honderich.

Anonymous said...

actually, if finkelstein left before the debate was closed and a vote called by the president, he did not vote at all (and no one was tallying the vote at the doors to the lobby, either).
probably a student noticed that he used the "wrong" door and a story, originally spread as a joke, was taken seriously by people willing to believe that it was true.