February 2, 2023
In Diary Norman Finkelstein
Lost and Found (01 February 2023)
It used to be said that I had a steel trap memory. But, much to my frustration and grief, it once failed me. In response to a question after a talk I gave on the Israel-Palestine conflict, I noted that the notion of “tough Jews” was pervasive in Zionist discourse, citing Professor Paul Breines’ book Tough Jews: Political Fantasies and the Moral Dilemma of American Jewry. I then went on to note that the character named Ari Ben Canaan in Leon Uris’ novel Exodus gestured to this appeal of Aryan physical types. I was immediately assailed on this point by Alan Dershowitz, who ran with it in order to discredit my academic bona fides. For example, during my tenure case at DePaul University, Dershowitz sent every member of DePaul’s faculty and administration a sixty (60) page dossier (half of it single-spaced, half double-spaced) in order to persuade DePaul that I was a crackpot. Among the allegations was this item, which I am quoting in full:
In an interview published on Alexander Cockburn’s Counterpunch [an online magazine], Finkelstein claimed that a number of non-Jewish Russians had been able to immigrate to Israel because “the Israeli establishment likes the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Aryan types as a racial group.” It goes without saying that this is absolutely untrue. It’s characteristic, though, of Finkelstein’s drop-of-a-hat willingness to associate Israel with the Nazi racist ideology—bizarre as it is from someone whose parents were Holocaust survivors [, it?] is simply not justifiable on any rational basis. And it gets even stranger. Finkelstein then tried to substantiate his claim about the Israeli government’s preference for “Aryans” by claiming that Leon Uris gave his blond-haired and blue-eyed protagonist in his book Exodus the name “Ari” because it was short for “Aryan.” Ari, which means lion in Hebrew, is about as classic as Hebrew names get, short for names that appear in the Bible many thousands of years before the word “Aryan” even found its way into the English language. Again, Finkelstein simply made it up.
Although certain that I had read about the Ari-Aryan-Uris nexus somewhere, hard as I searched, it was nowhere to be found. Until today. A correspondent asked me to check something in the book Jewish State or Israeli Nation?, by Boaz Evron. The author was the founder and director of the Israeli Arts Council Project of Translations of the Classics into Hebrew. In a passage describing the “ideal figure of the liberated Hebrew” in “Zionist literature,” Evron wrote:
In Exodus, Leon Uris portrayed another manifestation of this ideal in the figure of Ari ben Canaan, whose very name, Ari, betrays an admiration of the Aryan type. (Uris, of course, wrote his novel for the consumption of the Jews of America, whose popular culture is dominated by this ideal.) This type is but the incarnation of the Nordic demigod in European (not only Nazi) racist literature: blue-eyed, blond, hardy, calm, uncomplicated, fearless, unintellectual.
I am, at last, vindicated. In the real world, it makes no difference: Dershowitz’ 60-page cesspool of libels and lies carried the day. Still, when my eyes darted across these lines, I couldn’t but (albeit wanly) smile. My own scholarly conscience had found peace.