November 12, 2005

In News

By Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

Like some of the more extreme Palestinian ideologues whose cause he has made his own, Norman Finkelstein has built his career on two things: an obsessive, vitriolic hatred of Zionism and Israel, and a penchant for distorting the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Unlike his compatriots in Ramallah and Jenin, however, Finkelstein uses his academic credentials and proficiency with scholarly forms to cast as “research findings” what would otherwise be recognized as propagandist bunk.

It is the sign of a true obsessive that he sees the subject of his obsession everywhere. For Finkelstein, everything he sees is filtered through the prism of his anti-Israel animus, with results that would be merely absurd were they not so often used to incite hatred against Israel and undermine efforts to diminish anti-Semitism in the world.

An essential component of Finkelstein’s obsession is the assumption that anything that in his view benefits Israel must be a calculated attempt to cover up Israel’s essential depravity.
In his first book, The Holocaust Industry, he applied this “logic” to Holocaust education initiatives and attempts to obtain compensation for survivors, insisting that these be viewed not as efforts to learn from history or obtain justice for survivors, but as cynical efforts by powerful Jewish groups to somehow “immunize Israel from criticism” for its alleged human rights abuses. Along the way, Finkelstein skewered some of the hagiographic components that had developed around the Holocaust, a move that was applauded by some. But his shrillness and faulty logic left most of us scratching our heads.

In his new book, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (University of California Press, 2005), Finkelstein confirms his obsession with the “evil” of Israel and Zionism. This time his target is anti-Semitism, insisting that efforts of Jewish organizations and other concerned bodies to oppose anti-Semitism around the world are really nothing more than an effort to “exploit” or “manufacture” claims of Jewish suffering in order to “immunize Israel against criticism” for its “racist” and “Nazi”-like treatment of Palestinians and its “unprecedented assault on international law.”

It is shocking but true: sixty years after the Holocaust, Finkelstein argues that today’s anti-Semitism is merely a result of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Dismissing Israel’s security concerns and the existence of terrorism, Finkelstein declares, “Current resentment against Jews has coincided with Israel’s brutal repression of Palestinians,” adding, “A patent remedy and quick solution would plainly be to end the occupation.”

This reductionist theorizing is not what one would expect from a college professor, but it is par for Finkelstein’s course, where “proof” usually consists of nothing more than assertions of vague chronological contiguity. Finkelstein’s “proof” that Holocaust commemorations are intended merely to promote sympathy for Israel is the vague observation that such commemorations increased starting in the late 1960s, at a time when “elites” in the U.S. were eager to establish Israel as a the foremost American ally in the Middle East.

Similarly, his “proof” that warnings of a new anti-Semitism are calculated distractions from Israeli atrocities is his observation that American Jewish groups tend to warn of increasing anti-Semitism at times when Israel is under international pressure to make concessions to Arab states or the Palestinians. If that observation seems dubious – especially in light of Finkelstein’s own claim that the international consensus has always been that Israel needs to make such concessions – that’s because it is wrong.

Jewish organizations have been fighting anti-Semitism and opposing bigotry since long before the State of Israel was born. Yet, who would subscribe to the notion that anti-Semitism is an invention of powerful and media-savvy American Jewish organizations, when Jews are depicted on Arab satellite TV as ritual murderers who literally drink the blood of their victims, when newspapers serialize the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and when Mein Kampf tops the best-seller lists in the Arab world? Well, an anti-Semite might. So would Norman Finkelstein, whose obsessive hatred of Israel brings him to about the same place.