October 12, 2005
by Ari Paul
[Editor’s note: a reader’s response is posted below the main article]
Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History
By Norman G. Finkelstein
University of California Press, 2005
Alan Dershowitz–Harvard legal scholar, O.J. Simpson defense team player,
and outspoken advocate for Israel–fought long and hard to keep Norman G.
Finkelstein’s latest book off shelves. He urged the University of
California Press not to publish it and even threatened legal action.
Beyond Chutzpah, as the Chronicle of Higher Education put it,
“unfavorably dissects the writings of certain pro-Israel commentators,
including Mr. Dershowitz.” Dershowitz did not succeed; the book is out.
But does it live up to the debacle, covered in both the American and
British press, surrounding its publication?
Finkelstein, a political scientist at DePaul University and the son of
Holocaust survivors, gained notoriety with the Holocaust Industry,
about those that exploit the Nazi Holocaust. In his new book, Beyond Chutzpah,
Finkelstein documents how the Israel lobby shamelessly charges critics with
Over half the book is dedicated to debunking Dershowitz’ attempts in
The Case for Israel to exonerate Israel of allegations of torture, collective punishment against Palestinians, assassinations and other violations of international law. Finkelstein shows how many of Dershowitz’ claims are uncorroborated and lack citation, based on quotations taken out of context, and engage in other suspicious forms of reason. He also presents Israel’s “copiously documented record of egregious human rights violations.”
Drawing from information provided by human rights organizations based in Israel and the United States, Finkelstein offers a damning argument against Dershowitz’ whitewash of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories.
More importantly, Finkelstein exposes the nastiness of smearing the label of anti-Semitism on Israel’s critics. Mostly, he tells us what we already know. Many American pro-Israel pundits charge that even the pettiest of claims about Israel’s record of human rights abuses are a sign of Jew hatred, while many conservative politicians who make questionable statements about the Holocaust get a free pass because they support Israel for foreign policy reasons.
Finkelstein examines the “new anti-Semitism.” It is a phenomenon where about once a decade, a Zionist writer publishes a text charging baselessly that because of worldwide criticism of Israel’s ill treatment of Palestinians we are once again on the verge of another mass butchering of world Jewry. It is an attempt, he shows, to use fear tactics for shoring up support from the Jewish political base and thus oiling the wheels of the Zionist political apparatus in America.
The book is subtitled the “misuse of anti-Semitism,” therefore there must be a proper use, but Finkelstein does not discuss that. He only discusses contemporary anti-Semitism in terms of criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism, rendering his examination superficial. Finkelstein’s retort to the Israel lobby says that anti-Semitism no longer threatens society, but all you have to do is read about the rise of the far right in places Europe to know that’s not true. For example, in September, a London barrister and advisor to Tony Blair claimed that the Iraq war was designed by the “Jews” and “Freemasons.”
Nor does Finkelstein realize that while much criticism of Israel is wrongly labeled as anti-Semitism, there is plenty of Jew-hating on the pro-Palestine side. Look at some cartoon depictions of Jews in much of the Arab media, and notice their resemblance to those that appeared on posters in Nazi Germany, for example.
Finkelstein is absolutely right to assert the absurdity of linking criticism of Israel’s horrendous treatment of Palestinians to anti-Semitism. And his documentation of human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories is invaluable. Yet at times, Finkelstein looks at contemporary anti-Semitism as myopically as Dershowitz.
It is very easy to disregard this mentality as mere political extremism – on both sides of the equation. However, the fact of the matter is that it is emblematic of the severe political polarization that characterizes the American Jewish community’s relationship with Israel at the present time.
[Editor’s note: A reader’s response:]
Here’s my reaction to the Tikkun review. I wrote it off the top of my head, so I don’t exclude the possibility of being wrong:
The Tikkun review was descent. However, in my plebeian non-academic personal opinion, I have certain doubts about the criticisms of your book in this review. For a brief moment, I found myself wondering if the review’s author was trying too hard to sound “Fair & Balanced” in that infamous copyright-able sense of the word.
“Mostly, he tells us what we already know. Many American pro-Israel pundits charge that even the pettiest of claims about Israel’s record of human rights abuses are a sign of Jew hatred, while many conservative politicians who make questionable statements about the Holocaust get a free pass because they support Israel for foreign policy reasons.”
If “we already know” this, then why is it that the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune or other mainstream and “reputable” American newspapers don’t usually mention “what we already know” (not even to juxtapose it with the standard Israel-right-or-wrong party line) and continuously publish articles and opinion pieces on the Israel/Palestinian issue from the point of view of those who “don’t know it?” For instance, see the
letter sent to the NY Times Public Editor on the Letters to Finkelstein 2005 page. It is the duty of pioneers like professors Finkelstein and Chomsky to keep saying and repeating it until the mainstream “knows it.”
Those of us who do know it at this point, know because of the few
people like Norman Finkelstein and authors who contributed to a tiny sub-genre
of books like The Politics of Anti-Semitism (Various authors, AK Press)
and historian Peter Novick’s 1999 book The Holocaust in American Life.
The mainstream has not acknowledged what “we arleady know.” This is precisely why the American Right, lead by ex-stalinist-now-fashionably-neoconservative David Horrowitz, keeps trying to shut Finkelstein up. Check out the latest issue of Horrowitz’ FrontPageMag.com. To anyone informed on the issues, it’s kind of comical and understandable that they’re preaching to the choir and trying to give their storm troopers some “talking points” to parrot and making sure the faithful don’t stray from the righteous path. However, to non-right, non-left average citizens, “what we already know” may not necessarily be clear, even if they do read the “newspaper of record.”
“The book is subtitled the “misuse of anti-Semitism,” therefore there must be a proper use, but Finkelstein does not discuss that.”
The proper use of the term is self-evident to anyone who understands the proper use of terms like Racism. To claim that hatred of the Jewish ethnicity is somehow more special and unique
than the hatred of any other ethnicity, is similar to the claim that the Holocaust is more unique than other numerous cases of genocidal extermination. Such claims on the part of certain
members of the Jewish American community give added validity to the idea that portrayal of victims of anti-Semitism as “the most worthy victims”, compared to victims of other hate crimes,
only risks inciting actual anti-Semitism. (see Jon Wiener, “Holocaust Creationism” thenation.com)
“He only discusses contemporary anti-Semitism in terms of criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism, rendering his examination superficial. Finkelstein’s retort to the Israel
lobby says that anti-Semitism no longer threatens society, but all you have to do is read about the rise of the far right in places Europe to know that’s not true…”
The Far Right in Europe is primarily, if not exclusively, bitchin’ about immigrants these days. Dark-skinned immigrants, especially. In Spain it’s usually Moroccans (or other Africans, Arabs
and Muslims with occassional gripes against Latin Americans, Eastern Europens or Central Asians). In the UK – it’s Asians (which to the British often means Muslim, dark-skinned, etc) or Africans. The racial/ethnic/religious tensions in the Netherlands are between the caucasian Dutch (lead by the far right) and the Muslim minority. The latest curtailment of social rights in France were directed against Muslim women. Last I heard, noone in France was telling Jewish men to stop wearing their religious/ethnic head dress in public places in France. All you have to do is read the Financial Times, the Economist, El Pais, The Guardian, The Independent, ABC or any other major Europen paper to know this.
“Nor does Finkelstein realize that while much criticism of Israel
is wrongly labeled as anti-Semitism, there is plenty of Jew-hating
on the pro-Palestine side. Look at some cartoon depictions of Jews
in much of the Arab media, and notice their resemblance to those
that appeared on posters in Nazi Germany, for example.”
And the Western stereotype of “Arab=Terrorist” or “Sharon=Man-of-Peace” or
“Palestinian=Suicide Bomber” isn’t a problem in the pro-Israel side?
Racist depictions of Jewish people in certain Arab publications is
to be condemned but does it compare it to Nazi propaganda?
Was there an organized Jewish military force attacking Germans in Germany or
elsewherein the world? Were numerous human rights violations being commited
by Jewish people against Germans (or Poles or Ukranians for that matter)?
No. Even various scoundrels, like Holocaust deniers, admit this. Yet the Nazis,
and the anti-Semitic elements in occupied Poland, Ukraine, Russia, etc.
produced crude racist anti-Jewish cartoons and posters. Yes, it’s wrong for
some Arab publications and activists to produce similar-looking cartoons but
they’re also being killed in huge numbers by an organized Jewish military force
called the IDF. Just take a look at Amnesty International’s
numbers from 2004:
The Israeli army killed more than 700 Palestinians, including some 150 children.
Most were killed unlawfully — in reckless shooting, shelling and air strikes
in civilian residential areas; in extrajudicial executions; and as a result
of excessive use of force. Palestinian armed groups killed 109 Israelis —
67 of them civilians and including eight children — in suicide bombings,
shootings and mortar attacks.
My 2 cents.