March 26, 2014
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.