March 26, 2014

In Blog


Finkelstein comments:  
Like many others, I considered the late Alex Cockburn, who edited Counterpunch, a friend and comrade.  I was for many years also a regular contributor (gratis) to Counterpunch.  The website is now managed by his colleague Jeffrey St. Clair.   I sent this note to a mutual acquaintance after reading a “review” St. Clair posted of a recent book by me.  It caused me to reflect on the meaning nowadays of “solidarity,” once a core value in the Left.  

I met Alex for the first time exactly 30 years ago next month (April 1984). He serialized in his Nation columns across several weeks my expose of the From Time Immemorial hoax.  We met up occasionally when he was in New York.  When he wrote a 5,000 word essay on the historian (of the Nazi holocaust) Raul Hilberg, we corresponded at some length. I deeply respected the seriousness of his commitment.  I urged him to read several obscure out-of-print books on the subject, which, lo and behold, he tracked down and digested in full.  In his last years we didn’t correspond all that much, but I would eagerly await his Friday night diary entries posted on Counterpunch and occasionally dropped him a note to express my appreciation (not least, for the hearty laughs I derived from them).  I also loved to talk to him about his father’s books.  I still vividly recall laughing uncontrollably at the climactic scene of Ballantyne’s Folly.  What fundamentally distinguished Cockburn from the Hitchenses of this world was his Old Left notion of solidarity.  He would never betray a comrade.  I knew from many conversations with him that after 1993 (for reasons not worth going into) he had a falling out with [name deleted].  But it is unthinkable that he would ever publish a disparaging word about a comrade, who was already under relentless attack.  (The “review” Counterpunch posted was of a book I worked on for five years.  Even the Economist had kinder words to say….) In any event, my chief sadness, as I told Andrew [Cockburn] at the book party in New York, is that I didn’t have a chance to say before his passing just how much I appreciated him.


MARCH 24, 2014

Finkelstein’s “Knowing Too Much”


Norman Finkelstein is a well-known critic of Israel and he had to pay for his efforts. In 2007 he was denied tenure by DePaul University.  Recently he generated opposition within the Palestine solidarity camp by denouncing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a  “hypocritical, dishonest cult” seeking to replace Israel with a democratic secular binational state. (wiki/Norman_Finkelstein) Given his success at attracting attention, potential readers must be warned that his latest opus, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End, is the ultimate in pedantry. Reading it is an ordeal.

Finkelstein complains that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s Six Days of War: June 1967 and the making of the modern Middle East was “weighed down with nearly a hundred pages of endnotes and  bibliography.” (p. 161), even while burdening Knowing Too Much with 1,241 endnotes over 94 pages and using them to extend points made in his  text. Novices and venerable scholars alike will drown, swimming from his tendentious arguments to his endnotes morass, then back to his repetitious text.

On page xiv he tells us that:

“The bedrock of the American Jewish  bond with Israel is kinship: the attachment of an ethnic group to “its” ethnic state…. The high rate of intermarriage among American Jews in  recent years has diluted the impact of this blood tie and consequently attenuated the connection of many American Jews to Israel.”(5) But we must turn to his endnote on page 355 to learn that “Because much has  already been written on intermarriage and its impact on American Jewish life, this topic will not be pursued in these pages.”

Discussion of the increasing assimilation of American Jewry via  the 58% intermarriage rate is essential for fully understanding young  Jews’ alienation from Zionism’s intra-Jewish marriage priority. Instead, when we return to the INTRODUCTION, we are given a quote with  Finkelstein’s unnecessary comment smack in the middle of it:

“For many American Jews,’ Steven M. Cohen observed in his  classic anatomy of the contemporary Jewish scene, ‘politics–in particular  pro-Israel and liberal activity–have come to constitute their principle  working definition of Jewishness.’” (p. xv),  Only then we are finally told  that “The interaction between these twin commitments, and in particular  the tension between them, is the focus of this book.” (p. xv) He tells us that “Because Israeli propaganda no longer monopolizes public discourse,  and enough of the truth, even if still only a small fraction of it, has become  known, Israel can no longer count on the blind support of American  Jews.” (pp. xvi-xvii)

In case we forget his central theme, he endlessly repeats it. His  CONCLUSION declares that “Large sectors of the significantly liberal  American Jewish community now know too much of the truth abut the Israel-Palestine conflict to continue lending Israel blind support.” (p.299)  One page later he tells us that “American Jews have demonstrated and  enduring commitment to liberal values and have contributed disproportionately to the vitality of liberal American institutions. In recent  years however they have experienced a conflict between fidelity to these  liberal values and fidelity to an increasingly illiberal Jewish state.”(p. 300) Knowing that his readers are forgetful, one paragraph later he  proclaims that “The focus of this book has been on the ideological rift. It  has been argued that in the face of the accumulated documentary record  American Jews are longer able to reconcile Israeli policy with bedrock  liberal principles.” (p.300)

I concede one thing. At least he remembers his ‘great truth.’ One page on,  he yet again reminds us that “Because it is tapped into the broader  intellectual culture, the liberal, highly literate American Jewish  community can no longer be unaware, or pretend to be unaware of the  brutal realities of Israeli policy.” (p. 301)

He finds his own point again and again in his reviews of several Zionist authors, Oren, Peter Beinart, Jeffrey Goldberg, Dennis Ross and Benny Morris.

Beinart is an ex-editor of the neo-con New Republic. Finkelstein quotes from his “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” in the June 10, 2010 New York Review of Books. “For several decades, the  Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at  Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.” (p. 29)

This example from one author will do for the lot.

The operative proverb here is “Happy are they who learn from the mistakes of others.” Learn from Finkelstein’s follies.

1 – Completely write your book inside your text. Endnotes are only to tell  readers on what page in your source they can find what you quoted in your book.

2 – “Brevity is the soul of wit.” You have an important point to make? Good. Say it short and sweet, explain it clearly, then move on.

Lenni Brenner is the author of Zionism In The Age Of The Dictators. He can be contacted at