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? 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.


pm said...


"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?"

Perhaps they respect the fact that Hizbollah are the only ones in Lebanon willing to fight to preserve the territorial integrity of their country? And maybe they respect the fact that Hizbollah, despite the endless reports in the west about their terrorist activities, also do social support work for the poor.

"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.)"

I'm not entirely certain what you mean here. Do you mean all the fundies from BOTH sides, which by the way, would include quite a few orthodox Jews along with the rapture ready Christians and Islamic fundamentalist groups???!!!


Jerry Haber said...

1) Yeah, well, I can't look past the fundamentalism bit.I also can't look best the human rights bit. Needless to say, Israel has more and bigger weapons so they deserve more criticism than Hisbollah on the human rights issue.But I am on the side of Human Rights Watch here. Indiscriminate shelling of civilians is wrong.

2) Oh, yes, please send the fundamentalist Jews out there with the Christians and the Muslims. Let's have a fundamentalist convention. Somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

PM wrote:
And maybe they respect the fact that Hizbollah, despite the endless reports in the west about their terrorist activities, also do social support work for the poor.

The Nazi Party, when it was in power in Germany also had an extensive charity organization called the "Winterhilf". So while they were throwing children into the crematoria, they were also "helping the poor".
Columbian drug lords and the Sicilian Mafia also endow churches, build hospitals and the such.

Yes, your HIZBULLAH friends are really a bunch of philanthopists.

pm said...


Thank you for your comments; I agree with them, and I am unable to support the indiscriminate shelling of Northern Israel by Hizbollah, just as I am unable to support the Hamas rockets landing in Sderot. That said, as you do mention, Israel has more and bigger weapons as well as the willingness to use them indiscriminately against citizens, and unfortunately they do not come under enough scrutiny and condemnation for this.

In addition, we seldom see these Israeli actions reported as the aggression that they represent. They are more often couched in terms ike "retaliation", "answered with", etc.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for your blog. I enjoy your perspective.


Anonymous said...

Finkelstein is recognized internationally as a perverted antisemite, hater of Israel and consorts with murderous terrorist groups.

Israel is under no obligation to welcome this pathetic jerk.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this Jerry. How can an out-of-work academic who's closing in on sixty years old constitute a security risk? Ironically enough it was Noam Chomsky who stated that powerful states always use the "security" pretext to engage contraversial policies.

I think their support for Hizbollah and Hamas is much more complex than the enemy of an enemy. Hamas and Hizbollah have support from their citizens, and as a person who believes in total democracy, they are the ones who represent a voice that is growing more and more. They may be the horrid face of fundamentalist resistance, but the longer Israel and the US continue to ignore that such a rise is growing in the Middle East and hope to legitimise them, then it is going to get alot worse.

Anonymous said...

The simple reason why Chomsky, Finkelstein and myself support Hizbollah is because they alone have stood up to the threat that the commander of the Israeli airforce made, to bomb Lebanon back 20 years.

If the genocide of 1982's invasion wasn't enough there was the threat to repeat it and Israel got a bloody nose. Hizbollah's defence of Lebanon has indeed inspired admiration all over the world. That does not mean we support its politics, ill defined as they are.

But Human Righs Watch's criticisms are suspect and partial. Some 80% of those Hizbollah killed were military, despite not having targetted rockets. Israel specifically aimed at civilians (& the UN) and 80% of its victims were civilians. That is where HRW should be targetting their criticism.

I realise that apropos Bush, that idiot analogies with the Nazis are in order but there is none fundamental difference. The Nazis represented one of the world's major industrial powers, were brought into power to smash the working class and communism and the Jews were the means by which both capitalism and communism could be explained. There is no such comparison with a group which comes from the poorest of the poor and which regularly meets with Jewish people.

Perhaps your critics meant Israel's allies, the Phalangists, who were of course founded by Pierre Gemayel, an ardent supporter of the Nazi party and European fascism, being modelled on Francos Falange!

The Nazi 'Strength Through Joy' organisation is therefore not comparable to Hizbollah's social and welfare work. The former replaced existing social security as the organisations of the labour movement in Germany were banned.

However, as a Jewish anti-Zionist, what strikes me most is the utter stupidity of this ban. If Finkelstein had been admitted like anyone else noone would have known anything more about it. Instead Shin Bet has demonstrated who is the real power in Israel.

Steve Hunt said...

Good point on them never thinking of doing the same to Chomsky. Hadn't thought of that.
I have thought that this is so despicable, that Dersh will probably even come out and say that this was a bad thing to do. It will be interesting to hear his opinions on this matter.

Anonymous said...

Nice post - I agree with the thrust of it. When you talk about Finkelstein 'lionizing' Hizbullah, I think it's important to be clear that he doesn't support Hizbullah as an organisation - he doesn't share their ideology and he, as he has acknowledged, doesn't know much about internal Lebanese politics. Rather, he supports Hizbullah only vis-a-vis the conflict with Israel. In other words, it's not that he "supports Hizbullah" but that he supports the right of Hizbullah to defend itself.

re. Chomsky - could you provide a link to a statement from him about Hizbullah? I'd be interested to read it.

Anonymous said...

Good point

BigBlue said...

Here's a gd place t start re Chomsky and Hezbollah.
I'll be back with some other references in a bit.


BigBlue said...

Sorry, i didn't include the reference:

BigBlue said...

Re Chomsky and Hezbollah: Here's an interesting interview with NM that partially explores the question.

Norman Finkelstein's quote in this haaretz article is pretty interesting as well:

For a more comprehensive look at Finkelstein's views, I recommend this transcript of one of his speeches at a University campus: