Jewish-American academic deplores Israel's massacres
Adam Jewell, Daily Star (Lebanon)
8 January 2008
Finkelstein visits Sabra, Shatila, Qana, recounts 'hysterical' campaign against him in the US
BEIRUT: American political scientist and author Norman Finkelstein, who is in Lebanon touring some of the country's front lines in the Arab-Israeli conflict, gave over the weekend two talks on the subject, on which the former professor has written six books. On Saturday evening, following a tour of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps, Finkelstein delivered a lecture titled "Memoirs of an anti-Zionist" at the Babel Theater in Hamra. The US-based academic's speech, read in English and translated into Arabic, centered on how Finkelstein became involved in the conflict and the repercussions in academia which ensued, culminating in a blocked tenure bid at De Paul University in Chicago conducted by supporters of pro-Israeli policy.
After the horror and after the shame and after the anger, there still remains the hope. And I know I can get in a lot of trouble for what I'm about to say, but I think that Hizbullah represents the hope. They are fighting to defend their homeland, they are fighting to defend the independence of their country, they are defending themselves against foreign marauders, vandals and murderers and I consider it to be genuinely to be an honor to be in their presence.
Finkelstein's involvement in the issue began following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, a date until which he had read "practically nothing on the subject." The day after the invasion began, the author participated in a daily vigil outside of the Israeli consulate in Manhattan in New York City to protest the war. Finkelstein recalled the placard he held at the rally which read: "This son of survivors of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Auschwitz, and Majdanek will not be silent. Israeli Nazis stop the Holocaust in Lebanon."
The protest reached its height four months later, Finkelstein said, when Israel and its allies orchestrated the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Beginning on September 15, 1982, the Israeli Army, having driven the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Beirut, surrounded the camps and, providing logistical and material support, allowed members of the Phalange militia to kill up to 3,500 Palestinians.
Taking up a position in a mainly Jewish area of Manhattan, Finkelstein stood with a placard reading: "Another massacre in Lebanon, how long will we be silent?"
When a passerby asked, "Do you have to do this on Sabbath?" Finkelstein responded: "I wouldn't have to if Israel didn't massacre Arabs on the Sabbath."
The political scientist's name became entrenched in the literature of the Arab-Israeli conflict with Finkelstein's exposition of Joan Peters' "From Time Immemorial." Peters' book, supported by a demographic study and 2,000 footnotes, claimed that Palestine was empty before the onset of the Zionist movement and that modern Palestinians were immigrants from neighboring Arab countries who came after the Zionists purportedly "made the desert bloom."
After pouring over the best-seller book, Finkelstein found that a key number in the demographic study was "plainly wrong and there couldn't be any doubt that the error was intentional." Receiving support from linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky, to whom he sent his preliminary findings, Finkelstein began to research the book's footnotes. The result, which found that "nearly all of [the book's] quotations had misrepresented the original and large parts of [the] book were plagiarized from Zionist propaganda tracks," became Finkelstein's doctoral thesis.
However, the thesis, and other similar works critical of Israeli policies that followed, impeded the Princeton PhD graduate from attaining a tenure-tracked position at a university up through the 1990s. While Finkelstein eventually landed a job at De Paul University, during the year of his tenure decision, a "hysterical national campaign of slander and defamation" was carried out against him.
The attacks, led by Harvard professor Alan Derschowitz, whose book "The Case for Israel" Finkelstein had derided as fraudulent and plagiarized, claimed that the Jewish academic was "a holocaust denier, an anti-Semite, that my mother was a Nazi collaborator, that I was mentally unstable and that I was a serial abuser of faculty, administrators and students."
Despite a nine to three vote by his department and a unanimous vote by the university's tenure committee, the dean of the college stated Finkelstein "didn't respect the individual" and voted against tenure. A massive outcry from academics, university students and people across the globe was not enough to alter the position of the university, which Finkelstein left after reaching an out-of-court settlement with the administration.
In the settlement De Paul admitted that Finkelstein was "a prolific scholar and an outstanding teacher." Such a statement makes evident, the author said, that the decision was politically based and for which "an excuse was needed, and my allegedly defective character was the one they fabricated."
Norman Finkelstein visiting the graves of Lebanese victims
at the site of the second Qana massacre. Photo: Middle-East-Online.com
On Sunday, Finkelstein toured the South and visited the site of the second Qana massacre, where he met with survivors of the attack and made a brief statement. During the 2006 war, Israeli warplanes bombed a Qana apartment building where two families were seeking refuge in the basement, killing 28, among them 16 children.
Why are the Lebanese welcoming the US president here? Whenever a foreign diplomat travels to Israel, he or she has to go to Yad Vashem [the Israeli holocaust memorial]. So why don't the Lebanese have at least that much dignity to say that Bush has to come here [graves of the victims of the second Qana massacre] before he meets them?
"First of all I want express my horror and the difficulty it is to be in the presence of people who are the survivors of those who died. And it should be obvious that there are no words to convey those feelings of horror," he said.
"Number two, [I want to express] those feelings of shame, because the simple fact is that the war and those deaths were caused by the US government. People should not fool themselves that this war was done by Israel; this was an American war and for American interests.
"The third feeling I have is disgust; Why are the Lebanese welcoming the US president here? Whenever a foreign diplomat travels to Israel, he or she has to go to Yad Vashem [the Israeli holocaust memorial]. So why don't the Lebanese have at least that much dignity to say that [US President George W.] Bush has to come here before he meets them?" Finkelstein asked.
"The last thing I want to say is: After the horror and after the shame and after the anger, there still remains the hope. And I know I can get in a lot of trouble for what I'm about to say, but I think that Hizbullah represents the hope. They are fighting to defend their homeland, they are fighting to defend the independence of their country, they are defending themselves against foreign marauders, vandals and murderers and I consider it to be genuinely to be an honor to be in their presence."
Finkelstein - Statement at Beirut news conference
Norman G. Finkelstein
I want to thank Dr. Samah Idriss of Al-Adab magazine, Nadi as-Saaha, the Campaign for Civil Resistance and the American University in Beirut for inviting me to Lebanon. This is my second visit. I have warm memories of the first trip and look forward to renewing contact with old friends and comrades and making new friends and comrades.
Since my last visit there have been three brutal wars in the region for which the U.S. government bears primary responsibility.
After the war [against Lebanon] the U.S.-based organization Human Rights Watch whitewashed Israeli war crimes and made false accusations against Hezbollah. This cowardly and mercenary act deserves contempt.
In March 2003 the U.S. launched what U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan subsequently called an "illegal war" against Iraq. Using the false pretext that the Iraqi regime posed a mortal threat to the world, the Bush administration violated the United Nations Charter and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Although it is fairly clear from the documentary record that the U.S. knew that the Iraqi regime did not possess weapons of mass destruction and that the U.S. invasion would encounter little Iraqi resistance, there is less clarity on the motives behind the war. It is widely believed even in the United States that a Jewish cabal loyal to Israel was responsible for the war. In my opinion, however, this is not true. It was an American war waged for the sake of American interests.
In July 2006 Israel launched a brutal war of aggression against Lebanon during which a thousand Lebanese civilians were killed and billions of dollars of damage was inflicted on Lebanese infrastructure. It is widely believed that Hezbollah bears chief responsibility for the war. The record shows, however, that this war was both long planned by Israel and was enabled by the U.S. in the hope that if Israel destroyed Hezbollah it would facilitate an attack on Iran. My late parents suffered terribly from the ravages of war and it would be betraying their legacy were I to assert that there was a victor in the summer 2006 war. There are no victors in war. However, it is also true to say that the Lebanese resistance inflicted a historic and well deserved military defeat on the invading foreign army and its chief supporter. Just as I will never glorify the horrors of war, so I will never pretend to be indifferent when foreign aggressors and marauders are put in their place. It should also be mentioned that after the war the U.S.-based organization Human Rights Watch whitewashed Israeli war crimes and made false accusations against Hezbollah. This cowardly and mercenary act deserves contempt.
Since the electoral victory of the Islamic movement in January 2006 the Palestinian people have been put under siege by Israel with the crucial support of the United States and the silent complicity of the international community. The Palestinians are being starved into submission while Israel and the United States demand that Hamas renounce terrorism, recognize Israel and honor past agreements. But no comparable demand is put on Israel to renounce terrorism, recognize Palestine and honor past agreements. Compounding this gross hypocrisy, the country that is the main obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict hosts meaningless peace conferences and the main peacemaker is the person who declared that the criminal destruction of Lebanon was the "birth pangs of a new Middle East."
There are many lies and many injustices. But we can still be hopeful of a better tomorrow because those of us struggling for a more decent world have truth and justice on our side. If we learn how to wield the powerful weapons of truth and justice, it is yet possible that the future will be if not bright then at least less bleak than the past.
In a question-and-answer session following his statement, Finkelstein balked at how some Lebanese "rolled out the red carpet" for the US following the devastating 2006 war, which it both acquiesced and whose stoppage it blocked in the UN.
"My mother used to use the expression: 'How many times can someone spit in your face and you keep saying it's raining?'" Finkelstein said.
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