Saturday, May 24, 2008
Finkelstein's Deportation and the Reaction of Progressive Jews
God punishes Jews who observe the Sabbath with a zillion emails when the Sabbath is over. So I learned that Norman Finkelstein was deported from Israel after the rest of the Jewish blogosphere had reported on it. Still, I may be the first sabbath-observant progressive blogger to report on it, since Gershom Gorenberg and Haim Watzman, the other progressive orthodox Jewish bloggers, have nothing on it on their South Jerusalem site. So here's my take on the deportation. As readers of this blog know, I have gone to bat for Finkelstein before, not because I agree with everything he says, but because he has been hounded mercilessly. In brief, Norman Finkelstein was declared persona non grata and deported from Israel after he was detained at the Ben-Gurion airport and questioned about his meetings with Hizbollah. So say the reports in the Israeli media. For news read ynet It's hard to make sense of this. Was he deported because he was considered a security threat? That would imply that the Israelis were nervous that he could report on Israel to Hizbollah in such a way as to compromise Israeli security. That is the most charitable explanation of Israel's actions. If that is the correct one, then the Israel Secret Services are simply crazy. Another explanation is that Israel was upset with Finkelstein because he had openly consorted with and supported an enemy, and that there is no obligation of any county to let in foreign nationals who do this. The security business was just a pretext. If that is the correct explanation, then Israel is acting as we Israelis have come to expect of it -- as an authoritarian regime that picks on the weak, in this case, foreign nationals. A third explanation is that Finkelstein was barred because he is a high-profile critic of Israel, even without the Hizbollah business. Israel regularly bars the entry of pro-Palestinian academics who come to show support for activists. I really hope that Israel hasn't stooped that low in Finkelsteins's case, but I wouldn't be surprised. There is a way to determine which explanation is correct. Perhaps Noam Chomsky can be convinced to visit Israel. Finkelstein has written nothing that Chomsky substantively disagrees with. And Chomsky met with Nasrallah and praised Hizbollah. I doubt that Finkelstein is out ahead of Chomsky on the Hizbollah contact business. Would Israel bar Noam Chomsky from visiting? No blanking way -- the man is too powerful a force in intellectual circles. The embarrassment would be too great. Chomsky is a protected high-profile critic. Israel can go after Finkelstein because it knows that he won't have the support that a Chomsky would have. And that is what all this boils down to -- picking on a weak out-of-work academic who occasionally talks and writes like an annoying New York Jew. Heck, I even know Jews who call themselves progressives who wouldn't go to bat for Finkelstein. Everybody has his or her Finkelstein story to tell. So who will support him, besides the Palestinians who have been encouraged by a New York Jew who goes to bat for them? Does anybody besides a few socialist Brits and Palestinian supporters care that Finkelstein was barred from going to visit his B'Tselem activist friend in Hebron? Listen up, Jews -- and I mean some of the progressive Jews who are hesitating on this one. Titbayeshu lakhem -- Shame on you! How can you profess skepticism about who is right here, when you know that the Israeli track record on truth-telling is a lot worse than Finkelstein's? How can you take a position opposed to that of the moderate Association for Civil Rights in Israel that has reportedly condemned the deportation? If you are a progressive Zionist, the default mode must be to support Finkelstein until you have conclusive evidence that he constitutes an existential threat to the state of Israel And since you can never see that evidence, you have no reason to trust even a High Court decision against Finkelstein. Because the High Court has proven unreliable time after time in these matters. Its default mode is to back the security establishment. (Occasionally -- just occasionally -- it comes through.) Frankly, I am surprised by the reaction of some of those who call themselves "progressive," who profess to hate Bush, who cry about the loss of civil liberties in this country, and then take a "wait-and-see" attitude about who is right in this affair, or who don't want to go to bat for Finkelstein because he annoys them, or because he said, "We are all Hizbollah." Criticize him, by all means, for kowtowing to the fundamentalists, but what does that have to do with the price of felafel? Look, I don't understand why Chomsky and Finkelstein celebrate Hizbollah. OK, the enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that, and I don't think Hizbollah or Hamas should be demonized. But lionized? Please...as a modern orthodox Jew, I would be happy to put all the fundamentalists on a boat and send them out to an uninhabited island where they duke it out (More likely, they will find out how much they have in common.) But that's not the point. The point is that the ongoing hounding of Norman Finkelstein should make any decent human being vomit. Let the guy alone. Let him publish his books and keep his website. Why shouldn't he be allowed to see the West Bank for himself and to visit his B'Tselem friend in Hebron? By the way, it is not just Finkelstein who is being barred from Hebron Michael Sfard, is now representing the "Breaking the Silence" organization, which has been barred by the police from conducting its tours in Hebron. Progessives should unite on this one. And if you don't want to join, then at least think hard before you write against.