In German with Finkelstien’s responses in English audible below the German interpreter’s voice.
7 February 2001 panel discussion on The Holocaust Industry with live audience of 1,000 at Urania, Berlin.
Discussion included audience members shouting out their points, young protesters holding banners, and a couple of Nazis chanting slogans. The Nazis were immediately kicked out by a handful of activists, and shouted down by the audience who told them to get out (chanting “Nazis raus! Nazis raus!”).
– Dr. Johannes Willms, presenter (Süddeutsche Zeitung journalist)
– Stan Nadolny (author and historian)
– Dr. Rafael Seligmann (historian)
– Prof. Dr. Peter Steinbach (historian, Freie Universität Berlin)
– Dr. Norman G. Finkelstein (author of The Holocaust Industry)
The screen caption throughout the program reads:
“Berlin Diskussionsrunde zum umstrittenen Buch Die Holocaust-Industrie” (“Berlin discussion round on the controversial book, The Holocaust Industry”)
CSU Pomona talk filmed on January 25, 2005 in Pomona, CA.
Topic: “Why is there so much controversy about a topic on which, if you look at the actual record, there’s very little controversy at all?”
Video of Columbia talk, parts 1 & 3 (03.09.2006)
* LionPAC / Hillel email to the “600” protesters [Daily News]
* Finkelstein Rethinks Israel-Palestine, Columbia Spectator (03.09.2006)
* Students protest scholar’s speech, JTA (03.09.2006)
* Protest at Columbia, NY Daily News (03.09.2006)
* Manhattan: Protests at Columbia Lecture, New York Times (03.09.2006)
* Columbia students to protest speech by controversial professor
, NY Newsday (03.08.2006)
* Debasing the Debate, Columbia Spectator (03.08.2006).
* Norman Finkelstein Speaks, Columbia Spectator (03.08.2006).
* ‘Hate’ Storm Looms, NY Post (03.07.2006)
* In Defense of Professor Finkelstein, Columbia Spectator (03.06.2006).
* Reader letters
* Ann-Coulter-Robert-Novack fans’ article below (03.02.2006).
* Hate Comes to Columbia, Columbia Spectator (03.01.2006)
Part 1: first 40 minutes of talk
Google video page for this video for more download/viewing options.
Noam Chomsky on Finkelstein & his exposure of Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial. See also Finkelstein’s
“Disinformation and the Palestine Question: The Not-So-Strange Case of Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial” in Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question.
Part 2: next 53 minutes of talk
Google video page for Part 2 for more download/viewing options.
Google video page for Part 3 with more viewing options, including download.
– Windows Media video (320×240; 131MB)
* Feel free to review the following articles by Chris Kulawik in the Columbia Spectator in addition to the one below (“Hate Comes to Columbia”):
In Defense of McCarthy, By Chris Kulawik, April 07, 2005
Black Militants, Communists, and 106 Hartley Hall, By Chris Kulawik, November 02, 2005
Letter to the Editor, By Chris Kulawik, November 03, 2005
The Cult of Sachs, By Chris Kulawik, October 19, 2005
Letter to the Editor, By Chris Kulawik, November 9, 2005
Hate Comes to Columbia
By Chris Kulawik and Josh Lipsky
March 01, 2006
Few things could bring the president of the College Conservatives and the membership director of the College Democrats together in concord. But major issues—those which transcend party and ideology—do, in fact, make strange bedfellows. We write today to voice strident opposition to one Norman Finkelstein, an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-America Holocaust revisionist and terrorist sympathizer.
Let it be known that as representatives of free speech, we do not wish to censor him. His asinine comments are sure to embarrass and humiliate far beyond our capacity to do so. Rather, we seek to inform the Columbia community of this blatant hate-mongering.
A Facebook page, organized by those bringing Finkelstein to Columbia, was a self-described “invisible group.” “Make sure,” it read, “not to invite anyone who might tip those opposed to Finky. He’s pretty controversial.” That, by any standard, is an understatement. The comments have since been removed; screenshots, however, last.
Those who assume that Finkelstein is just another “controversial” speaker, one of many in Columbia’s recent past, fail to grasp the absurdity that is Finkelstein. Taking a job at DePaul University after being fired by New York University for his ludicrous and factually inaccurate book, The Holocaust Industry, this “scholar” makes his living off of absurd statements that garner comfortable speaking engagements. At a recent speech delivered at Yale University, Finkelstein equated the Jewish concern over Holocaust denial with a “level of mental hysteria.” Clearly, we must first question his very “professorship.” Anyone who so blatantly disregards facts and vehemently supports the murder of innocent children is worthy neither of academia nor of the title of professor.
Well, what precisely is Mr. Finkelstein’s crime? It is not that he is a Holocaust revisionist. It is not that he denies the right of the Jewish state to exist. It is not that he cheapened the lives of the millions of innocents lost to the concentration camps by equating their systematic murder to any other large disaster. No, his crime both includes and transcends these radical, depraved stances. Only months after Sept. 11, 2001, Finkelstein asserted his support of terrorism. In that 2001 interview, Finkelstein exclaimed, “Frankly, part of me says—even though everything since Sept. 11 has been a nightmare—’You know what, we deserve the problem on our hands because some things [Osama] bin Laden says are true.'”
It is this sentiment that forces students to take a stand against Finkelstein’s unique blend of pure idiocy and potent evil. Columbia attempts to teach its students to respect all opinions, listen to all viewpoints, and embrace the free exchange of ideas. We will listen, but we will not let a petty ploy to incite tension and turmoil go unnoticed.
Current cosponsoring groups include Safa’a, Turath, Qanun, United Students of Color Council, Arab Students Association (SIPA), Organization of Pakistani Students, Columbia Student Solidarity Network, and Students Promoting Empowerment and Knowledge. It is our sincere hope that these groups will either revoke their sponsorship of the event or continue on with full recognition of the hate this pathetic individual spews. The co-sponsors must make every effort to renounce the radical anti-semitism and anti-Americanism of this speaker, lest we assume these groups share his values.
We must also insist that the event’s leadership detail the monetary support provided by the University for this lunatic, fringe speaker. To advance a question posed by the Yale Daily News, would the University “sponsor a speaker who criticized the African-American community for ‘exploiting’ slavery and segregation?” No—of course not—and rightly so. The same should apply to an individual who claims that the Holocaust should be looked on favorably by Jews, as it “was the negative version of their vaunted worldly success: it served to validate Jewish chosenness.”
If these groups want to bring a speaker to campus, we support their decision, but we question the use of our tuition to fund an individual so beyond the pale that academia, left and right, condemns him. It would be just as egregious a moral error if we, the student body, did not show up on Wednesday, March 8 to let this facilitator of hatred, fear, and lies understand just how passionately the students oppose his radicalism. Columbia will never stand for such petty antagonism.
Chris Kulawik and Josh Lipsky are Columbia College sophomores.
College conservatives and Democrats are joining forces at Columbia University to oppose a controversial speaker.
In a joint letter to the Columbia Spectator the the president of the College Conservatives and the membership director of the College Democrats voice their opposition to an upcoming speech by Norman Finkelstein — a man they refer to as “an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-America Holocaust revisionist and terrorist sympathizer.”
Finkelstein, who was invited to Columbia by the school’s Muslim Students Association, will speak on “Israel and Palestine: Misuse of Anti-Semitism, Abuse of History” next week.
Within their letter, Chris Kulawik and Josh Lipsky say they do not wish to censor Finkelstein but rather inform the community of “this blatant hate-mongering.”
“Well, what precisely is Mr. Finkelstein’s crime? It is not that he is a Holocaust revisionist. It is not that he denies the right of the Jewish state to exist. It is not that he cheapened the lives of the millions of innocents lost to the concentration camps by equating their systematic murder to any other large disaster. No, his crime both includes and transcends these radical, depraved stances. Only months after Sept. 11, 2001, Finkelstein asserted his support of terrorism. In that 2001 interview, Finkelstein exclaimed, ‘Frankly, part of me says — even though everything since Sept. 11 has been a nightmare — You know what, we deserve the problem on our hands because some things [Osama] bin Laden says are true.'”
According to advertisment posted on Columbia University’s Muslim Students Association website a variety of groups are co-sponsoring Finkelstein’s speech. Some of those mentioned include: United Students of Color Council, Arab Students Association, Organization of Pakistani Students and the International Socialists Organization.
Kulawik and Lipsky go to say in their letter, “If these groups want to bring a speaker to campus, we support their decision, but we question the use of our tuition to fund an individual so beyond the pale that academia, left and right, condemns him.”
They also encourage the student body to “show up” next week “to let this facilitator of hatred, fear, and lies understand just how passionately the students oppose his radicalism.”
Human Events U will keep you posted on any developments.
It is with bittersweet irony that Norman Finkelstein critics at Columbia would viciously attack Finkelstein, a noted Jewish professor and human rights activist, not to mention son of Holocaust survivors, as a “terrorist sympathizing, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, Holocaust revisionist,” given his latest book, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. Indeed, these types of abusive charges against Finkelstein lend increased credibility to the book’s central thesis on the misuse of anti-Semitism and abuse of the Holocaust’s legacy to stifle any critical analysis of Israeli policies. With this in mind, we seek to debunk certain vicious inaccuracies in arguments made by Finkelstein critics, so as to render this debate slightly more civil and decent, and in order that a dignified guest of Columbia might not be met by hordes of hostile victims of this kind of misinformation.
On the issue of academic integrity, which Finkelstein critics accuse him of lacking, we might note that apart from a Princeton Ph.D., our guest has the enthusiastic support of myriad highly reputable scholars in the field, albeit mostly those who are already critical of Israeli policy. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University commented, “Finkelstein does a great service for those who long for a better Israel, with the conclusion that the only way of putting an end to the violations of Palestinian rights is by ending the occupation.” MIT linguist and liberal icon Noam Chomsky, on the same topic notes that “Norman Finkelstein provides extensive details and analysis, with considerable historical depth and expert research, of a wide range of issues concerning Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S.”
Like other common attacks made by Finkelstein critics, charging Finkelstein as a “terrorist sympathizer” is not simply inaccurate but irresponsible and tantamount to libel. On the topic of terrorism, Finkelstein unambiguously denounces terrorism as “morally unacceptable.” He does argue that Palestinians possess “the right to use force against occupation” under international law. His support for the Palestinian right to self-determination and to resist occupation could in no way be construed as an endorsement of terrorism. Nor does he assent to the principles of Osama bin Laden as is gestured toward in the “Hate Comes to Columbia” (March 1) op-ed piece that was published in Spectator. The full quote continues, “One of the things that [bin Laden] said on that last tape was that ‘until [Muslims and Arabs] live in security, you’re not going to live in security,’ and there is a certain amount of rightness in that.” Finkelstein’s point of agreement with bin Laden — that Americans should look toward understanding root causes for the poverty and instability in Muslim countries — is actually shared by the Bush administration with all of its recent initiatives to promote a better understanding of the region as a means to promote international security.
Finkelstein’s critics, most notably Alan Dershowitz, charge Finkelstein with anti-Semitism precisely because of his criticism of Zionism, i.e. criticism of the Israeli occupation and Israeli state-sponsored human rights abuses committed against Palestinians. This isn’t the first time that a reputable scholar has been typecast as anti-Semitic for critical views against Israeli policies (see David Horowitz’s The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America). Undoubtedly, anti-Semitism is an ugly, appalling form of bigotry that deserves universal condemnation. However, Zionism is a political ideology and must never be confused with the Jewish religion, culture, or population. Contrary to the anti-American label commonly placed on Finkelstein, his critique of political Zionism is precisely the type of controversial political discourse that is characteristically American and is analogous to the College Democrats’ stimulating debate on the Bush administration.
Finkelstein is often met with accusations of Holocaust revisionism, generally associated with Holocaust denial. Finkelstein’s book The Holocaust Industry is actually a critique of Holocaust revisionist arguments that privilege the Holocaust as exceptional in the historiography of genocide. Far from the Anti-Defamation League’s claims that Finkelstein is a Holocaust denier, his proof is an unambiguous affirmation that the Holocaust did occur — his parents are living proof of its horrors! — noting that the tragedy of the Holocaust has since been ruthlessly exploited and commercialized into what Finkelstein outlines as an industry to promote Zionist interests.
We wish to set the record straight and publicly condemn these flagrantly false claims against Finkelstein, and to underscore the danger of misusing the label of anti-Semitism and abusing the Holocaust legacy to stifle critical debate on Israeli policies. For the sake of free speech, hopefully a value which those who accuse Finkelstein of bringing “hate” to campus can join us in upholding, Columbia students will welcome rather than denigrate visitors like Finkelstein, upon whom we can rely upon to challenge our understanding of the relationship between anti-Semitism and Zionism and, at the very least, stimulate lively debate and critical inquiry on campus.
Maryum Saifee is a Master of International Affairs candidate at the School of International and Public Affairs. Athar Abdul-Quader is a Columbia College sophomore.
March 08, 2006
As a Jewish student who is looking forward to Norman Finkelstein’s speech on campus tonight, titled “Israel & Palestine: Misuse of Anti-Semitism, Abuse of History,” I am disappointed there’s been such misinformed debate about his visit. Maryum Saifee and Athar Abdul-Quader explained Monday on this page (“In Defense of Professor Finkelstein,” March 6) that inaccurate accusations hurled at Finkelstein only stifle productive dialogue. Since many of the charges levied against him seemed to be based on emotional appeals and not on facts, I decided to talk to professor Finkelstein myself to clarify his argument in his new book Beyond Chutzpah.
I asked Finkelstein to talk about the misuses of anti-Semitism in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He explained, “If you look at the historical record on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the past, if you look at the human rights record, the present, or if you look at the diplomatic record, the future, on how to resolve the conflict—if you look at those three records, it’s quite striking how broad is the consensus and how uncontroversial the record is. … In fact, it’s hard to think of another, as it were, trouble spot in the world where the record is so unambiguous and so straightforward.”
“An obvious question arises—namely, how do you account for so much controversy, which, once you enter the public arena, swirls around the conflict that, if you look at the actual documentary record, is not controversial at all. And that’s the question I pose in the introduction to my book. And the answer I suggest is that most of the controversy surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict is fabricated, contrived. And the purpose of that fabrication and contrivance is to divert attention from the actual factual record and to sow confusion about the real record.”
“Let’s look at the issue of the New Anti-Semitism. That’s been a term that’s been bandied about since roughly 2000, and there are two things to say about that New Anti-Semitism. Number one, it’s not new. Every time Israel faces a public relations debacle or comes under pressure from the international community to resolve the conflict, it orchestrates this extravaganza called ‘The New Anti-Semitism.’ It’s very easy to demonstrate. Any Columbia student, all that he or she has to do, is go to Butler Library and look for a book that came out in 1974 by the same organization that’s orchestrating the hysteria now, namely the Anti-Defamation League, and they’ll find a book called The New Anti-Semitism. And they’ll find similar publications being putting periodically by the ADL and kindred organizations. There’s nothing new about the New Anti-Semitism. That hysteria is whipped up periodically in the U.S. The problem is that people have short memories. They forget.”
“Number two, it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. There’s no evidence whatsoever of a New Anti-Semitism in the United States or in Europe. … The purpose of the New Anti-Semitism is basically twofold: number one, and most obviously, it’s to turn the perpetrators and their apologists … into the victims. So instead of focusing attention on the cruel occupation, our attention is supposed to be focused on the suffering of those who are perpetrating the occupation: the victims of this alleged New Anti-Semitism. And the second purpose is to discredit any criticism of Israel as being motivated by anti-Semitism. The claim of the New Anti-Semitism is that, whereas in the past it was aimed at Jews individually, it’s now being directed at the collective Jew—Israel. And therefore, anyone who criticizes Israel is guilty of anti-Semitism. So the purpose is to exploit the very real suffering that Jews endured in the past in order to discredit any of Israel’s critics as being, in fact, motivated by anti-Semitism, and to discredit any criticism of Israel as being anti-Semitic. That’s its purpose; there’s no basis for the claim in reality.”
I also asked Finkelstein what he would like to see discussed in a productive conversation about Israel-Palestine.
“I think the right answer is to steer away from slogan, steer away from ideological obfuscations, steer away from hot-button issues, and stick to the facts. In my opinion, what we now ought to be discussing has nothing to do with your position on Zionism. I don’t care if you’re a Zionist or not a Zionist, that’s not the issue. The issue is fairly straightforward. It’s as uncomplicated as an issue can be. Where do you stand on international law? Where do you stand on human rights law?”
“This is what the record shows: Israel has no right to any of the territory it occupied in the June 1967 war. The settlements Israel has built in the occupied territories are illegal under international law. Under international law, Israel has to fully withdraw. Israel’s human rights record in the occupied territories is an abomination. Each statement I just uttered to you is completely uncontroversial. Every mainstream source, bar none, every one, will validate each of the statements I just made to you. And then the question to be put to a rational, sane human being is, ‘Where do you stand on that?’ ‘Do you support the violations or do you oppose them?’ ‘Do you support international law or do you oppose it?’ And everything else is beside the point.”
I, too, hope that Columbia students can discuss the issues at hand rather than avoiding them through false accusations. Given that the General Assembly of the United Nations has voted time after time in overwhelming support of Palestinian self-determination and withdrawal of all Israeli settlements from the territories occupied in 1967, my stance is that Israel should abide by international consensus and international law. Finkelstein is doing a service by cutting away the obfuscating layers and making clear what constitutes the real issues in this debate.
Nell Geiser is a Columbia College senior majoring in anthropology and comparative ethnic studies. Active Subject runs alternate Wednesdays.
March 08, 2006
Freedom of speech is one of the most important civil rights in a university because it allows for open debates on important issues. Columbia’s Muslim Students Association has every right to host Norman Finkelstein, but I have to wonder: what are they are trying to accomplish by having him speak? Instead of sparking a productive debate, he will end up creating the same kind of divisive controversy that swept the campus last year in the wake of the firestorm concerning the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department—and will end up being every bit as ineffective in creating dialogue or progress.
Last week, Spectator published an op-ed submission (“Hate Comes to Columbia,” March 1) in which the authors, Chris Kulawik and Josh Lipsky, referred to Finkelstein as a “Holocaust revisionist.” Two years ago, Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher used the same term to describe Finkelstein. In response, Finkelstein threatened to sue the Washington Post. Fisher’s next column included the following: “In Tuesday’s column about academic freedom, I mentioned writer Norman Finkelstein, who lectured recently at Georgetown University. Although neo-Nazi groups have cited his work in support of their theories, Finkelstein has never denied the existence of the Holocaust, and I did not intend to suggest that.”
Finkelstein took similar offense to the term used in the Spectator op-ed piece. Two days later, its editors ran a clarification akin to the one in the Washington Post. But Finkelstein is infamous for comments such as the one that appeared in his book The Holocaust Industry, “If everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one,’ my mother used to exclaim, ‘who did Hitler kill then?'” Many of those who call Finkelstein a “Holocaust revisionist” use this and similar survivor-bashing comments as justifications for their claim.
As someone who is supposedly concerned with being able to speak his mind without being silenced or labeled, Finkelstein certainly seems hypocritical in trying to intimidate students for expressing their views.
Finkelstein is also infamous for having said, “The honorable thing now is to show solidarity with Hezbollah as the U.S. and Israel target it for liquidation.” Hezbollah murdered 241 American Marines in Beirut and is designated as a terrorist group by the State Department. That sounds like terrorist sympathy to me.
Contrary to what another Spectator op-ed submission (“In Defense of Professor Finkelstein,” March 6) said, calling Finkelstein anti-Semitic does not “lend increased credibility to … [his] book’s central thesis on the misuse of anti-Semitism and abuse of the Holocaust’s legacy to stifle any critical analysis of Israeli policies.” The claim that Finkelstein is anti-Semitic is not based on his criticism of Israeli policies, but on his perpetuation of outrageous conspiracy theories that have plagued Jews for millennia. He once said “All opinion-leaders, from the left to the right, are Jews. … The Silence around my book in the U.S.—if this is not a conspiracy, then what is one?”
Finkelstein’s appearance will represent the polar opposite of the respectful and productive debate that Columbia needs and that the pro-Israel community on campus has tried to foster. The last thing I want is to stifle criticism an open debate about the Arab-Israeli conflict or of Israel’s policies. I simply want to speak respectfully and academically. It seems to me that Norman Finkelstein was not invited to call attention to an important issue, but to divide and polarize the campus with his attention-grabbing hate speech. The next time there is an opportunity to discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict, I hope to see more civility and integrity.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore. He is the president and founder of Pro-Israel Progressives.
Finkelstein to Address Columbia
Professor Will Speak Tonight in Lerner About ‘Misuse of Anti-Semitism’
By Lisa Hirschmann
Spectator Senior Writer
March 08, 2006
Controversial best-selling author and DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein will address students Wednesday night in Roone Arledge Auditorium on “Israel and Palestine: Misuse of Anti-Semitism, Abuse of History.”
The event will be hosted by the Muslim Students Association in conjunction with several other student organizations.
Finkelstein is best known for his writings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what he alleges is the exploitation of the Holocaust by certain European groups. In 2000, he published The Holocaust Industry, in which he refers to efforts by Jewish elites to obtain financial reparations for the Holocaust in Europe as an “outright extortion racket.” Finkelstein is the son of two Holocaust survivors.
Danielle Slutzky, CC ’08, a Spectator senior writer and president of LionPAC, a pro-Israel student group, told the New York Post in an article published Tuesday that she was “distressed that, after so much effort toward dialogue on this campus, these groups are bringing a divisive anti-Semite to Columbia.”
Vice President of Policy for LionPAC Avery Katz, CC ’06, said “Our hope is that Wednesday night, we can show Norman Finkelstein that his hate is not welcome at Columbia.” Avery declined to give specifics of what the group plans to do.
The Muslim Students Association did not respond to Spectator’s repeated requests for comment.
The best line from “Hate Comes to Columbia”?:
‘Chris Kulawik and Josh Lipsky are Columbia College sophomores.’ It is not my intention to impugn all Sophomores. I was one once. But theese two do a good job of demonstrating sophomoric writing/behavior.
Nice threat too!: “The co-sponsors must make every effort to renounce the radical anti-semitism and anti-Americanism of this speaker, lest we assume these groups(co-sponsors)share his values.” oooooooooooh! Damn! ‘We’ wouldn’t want two Columbia sophomores to “assume” anyone is anti-American or anti-semitic. Did these guys borrow examples of the misuse of anti-semitism for their own purposes? Or was that a mistake?
Looking forward to hearing you speak next wed.,
Editor’s note: See Finkelstein’s comment on the debate & juxtaposition of Ben-ami’s Scars of War, Wounds of Peace and Image & Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict:
In Beyond Chutzpah I argued that across the political spectrum historians have now reached a broad consensus on the Israel-Palestine conflict’s origins. A recent study strikingly confirms this thesis. Shlomo Ben-Ami was Israel’s Foreign Minister and key Israeli negotiator at the Camp David and Taba meetings in 2000-1. In his new book, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy (Oxford: 2006), Ben-Ami covers a lot of the same ground as my own Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (Verso: 2003). From the excerpts below readers will note that, although describing himself as “a Zionist, and an ardent one at that” (p. xii), Ben-Ami echoes many of my arguments, even citing the identical evidence…. more >>
“What happens when a former Israeli Foreign Minister debates a scholar known as one of the world’s foremost critics of Israeli policy? The answer is not what you may expect… We discussed the origins of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, to the Oslo Peace Process, right up to the present.”
Norman Finkelstein & Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami Debate
(Download MP3 audio)
|AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to one of the longest running and most bitter conflicts in modern history: Israel and the Palestinians. Well over a decade has passed since the historic Oslo Accords that brought hopes for a lasting peace. Today, relations between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority are virtually nonexistent. Israel and the P.A. have not held final status peace talks in over five years. With the recent election of Hamas, Israel says it will cut off all ties to any Palestinian government that includes the group. After the election Israel withheld tax funds it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. It finally transferred the funds but says any Hamas-led Palestinian government will get, quote, “not even one shekel.” That’s, well, a dime in the United States.|
The Palestinian Authority is on the brink of financial disaster. This week, the P.A. announced it will be unable to issue paychecks to its more than 130,000 employees. It’s the largest employer in the Occupied Territories. Hamas’s victory is seen as, in part, as a reaction to what many Palestinians see as the corruption of the old guard. An internal Palestinian inquiry has found at least $700 million has been stolen from Palestinian public funds due to corruption in the last few years. The total figure could be billions more.
Meanwhile, the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank continue to expand. The Israeli group Peace Now reported 12,000 new residents moved into West Bank settlements in 2005, 3,000 more than the total number removed as part of Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip, and construction continues in settlements located both inside and outside the route of Israel’s separation barrier.
Today, we bring you a discussion with two of the world’s leading experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both of them have new books on the subject. We’re joined by Shlomo Ben-Ami, both an insider and a scholar. As Foreign Minister under Ehud Barak, he was a key participant in years of Israel-Palestinian peace talks, including the Camp David and Taba talks in 2000 and 2001. An Oxford-trained historian, he is currently Vice President of the Toledo Peace Centre in Madrid. His new book is called Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy. President Bill Clinton says, quote, “Shlomo Ben-Ami worked tirelessly and courageously for peace. His account of what he did and failed to do and where we go from here should be read by everyone who wants a just and lasting resolution.
We’re also joined by Norman Finkelstein. He’s a professor of political science at DePaul University. His books include A Nation on Trial, which he coauthored with Ruth Bettina Birn, named as a New York Times notable book for 1998. He’s also the author of Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict and The Holocaust Industry. His latest book is Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. His website is NormanFinkelstein.com. Avi Shlaim of Oxford University calls Beyond Chutzpah “Brilliantly illuminating… On display are all the sterling qualities for which Finkelstein has become famous: erudition, originality, spark, meticulous attention to detail, intellectual integrity, courage, and formidable forensic skills.”
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! It’s very good to have you with us. Well, I want to start going back to the establishment of the state of Israel, and I’d like to begin with Israel’s former Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami. Can you talk about how it began? I think you have a very interesting discussion in this book that is rarely seen in this country of how the state of Israel was established. Can you describe the circumstances?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, for all practical purposes, a state existed before it was officially created in 1948. The uniqueness of the Zionist experience, as it were, was in that the Zionists were able, under the protection of the mandate, of the British mandate, to set up the essentials of a state — the institutions of a state, political parties, a health system, running democracy for Jews, obviously — before the state was created, so the transition to statehood was a declaration, basically, and it came about in the middle of two stages of war, a civil war between the Israelis and the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine and then an invasion by the Arab armies. The point that I made with regard to the war is that the country, to the mythology that existed and exists, continues to exist mainly among Israelis and Jews, is that Israel was not in a military disadvantage when the war took place. The Arab armies were disoriented and confused, and they did not put in the battlefield the necessary forces.
So, in 1948, what was born was a state, but also original superpower in many ways. We have prevailed over the invading Arab armies and the local population, which was practically evicted from Palestine, from the state of Israel, from what became the state of Israel, and this is how the refugee problem was born. Interestingly, the Arabs in 1948 lost a war that was, as far as they were concerned, lost already in 1936-1939, because they have fought against the British mandate and the Israeli or the Jewish Yishuv, the Jewish pre-state, and they were defeated then, so they came to the hour of trial in 1948 already as a defeated nation. That is, the War of 1948 was won already in 1936, and they had no chance to win the war in 1948. They were already a defeated nation when they faced the Israeli superpower that was emerging in that year.
AMY GOODMAN: You have some very strong quotes in your book, of your own and quoting others, like Berl Katznelson, who is the main ideologue of the Labor movement, acknowledging that in the wake of the 1929 Arab riots, the Zionist enterprise as an enterprise of conquest. You also say, “The reality on the ground was that of an Arab community in a state of terror facing a ruthless Israeli army whose path to victory was paved not only by its exploits against the regular Arab armies, but also by the intimidation and at times atrocities and massacres it perpetrated against the civilian Arab community. A panic-stricken Arab community was uprooted under the impact of massacres that would be carved into the Arabs’ monument of grief and hatred.” Explain that further.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, you see, there is a whole range of new historians that have gone into the sources of — the origins of the state of Israel, among them you mentioned Avi Shlaim, but there are many, many others that have exposed this evidence of what really went on on the ground. And I must from the very beginning say that the main difference between what they say and my vision of things is not the facts. The facts, they are absolutely correct in mentioning the facts and putting the record straight.
My view is that, but for Jesus Christ, everybody was born in sin, including nations. And the moral perspective of it is there, but at the same time it does not undermine, in my view, in my very modest view, the justification for the creation of a Jewish state, however tough the conditions and however immoral the consequences were for the Palestinians. You see, it is there that I tend to differ from the interpretation of the new historians. They have made an incredible contribution, a very, very important contribution to our understanding of the origins of the state of Israel, but at the same time, my view is that this is how — unfortunately, tragically, sadly — nations were born throughout history.
And our role, the role of this generation — this is why I came into politics and why I try to make my very modest contribution to the peace process — is that we need to bring an end to this injustice that has been done to the Palestinians. We need to draw a line between an Israeli state, a sovereign Palestinian state, and solve the best way we can the problem, by giving the necessary compensation to the refugees, by bringing back the refugees to the Palestinian state, no way to the state of Israel, not because it is immoral, but because it is not feasible, it is not possible. We need to act in a realistic way and see what are the conditions for a final peace deal. I believe that we came very, very close to that final peace deal. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it. But we came very close in the year 2001.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we get to that peace deal, another thing that you have said. “Israel, as a society, also suppressed the memory of its war against the local Palestinians, because it couldn’t really come to terms with the fact that it expelled Arabs, committed atrocities against them, dispossessed them. This was like admitting that the noble Jewish dream of statehood was stained forever by a major injustice committed against the Palestinians and that the Jewish state was born in sin.” I think a lot of people would be surprised to hear that the author of these words is the former Foreign Minister of Israel.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Yes, while, at the same time, a historian. I am trying to be as fair as possible when I read the past, but it’s a very interesting point, the one that you make here, about us trying to obliterate the memory of our war against the Palestinians, and the whole Israeli 1948 mythology is based on our war against the invading Arab armies, less so against the Palestinians, who were the weaker side in that confrontation, because it didn’t serve the myth of the creation of the state and of the nation. So we need to correct that. There is no way — there is no way we can fully compensate the refugees and the Palestinians, but we need to do our very, very best to find a way to minimize the harm that was done to this nation.
AMY GOODMAN: And Shlomo Ben-Ami, your response to those who continue to say that at that time, at the time of the establishment of the state of Israel and before, that it really was empty, that Jews came to a place that was not populated.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Of course, it is nonsense. I mean, it was populated. Obviously, it was populated. I mean, the notion that existed, I think it was Israel Zangwill, the first to say that we are — we came a nation without a land to a land without a people. Obviously, it was not true, but again, part of the tragedy was that the Palestinians, as such, did not have — the Palestinian peasants did not have the full control of their own destiny. Part of that land was bought by the Zionist organizations from Affendis, landowners living in Turkey or anywhere else throughout the Ottoman Empire, and these people were inevitably evicted by these kind of transactions. But as a whole, I think that not more than 6 or 7% of the entire surface of the state of Israel was bought. The rest of it was either taken over or won during the war.
AMY GOODMAN: Norman Finkelstein, you’re author of the book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. Do you share the same narrative? Do you agree with what Shlomo Ben-Ami has put forward, the former Israeli Foreign Minister?
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I agree with the statement that there is very little dispute nowadays amongst serious historians and rational people about the facts. There is pretty much a consensus on what happened during what you can call the foundational period, from the first Zionist settlements at the end of the 19th century ’til 1948. There, there is pretty much of a consensus. And I think Mr. Ben-Ami, in his first 50 pages, accurately renders what that consensus is.
I would just add a couple of points he makes, but just to round out the picture. He starts out by saying that the central Zionist dilemma was they wanted to create a predominantly Jewish state in an area which was overwhelmingly not Jewish, and he cites the figure, I think 1906 there were 700,000 Arabs, 55,000 Jews, and even of those 55,000 Jews, only a handful were Zionists. So that’s the dilemma. How do you create a Jewish state in area which is overwhelmingly not Jewish?
Now, the Israeli historian Benny Morris, at one point, he said there are only two ways you can resolve this dilemma. One, you can create what he called the South African way, that is, create a Jewish state and disenfranchise the indigenous population. That’s one way. The second way is what he calls the way of transfer. That is, you kick the indigenous population out, basically what we did in North America.
Now, as Mr. Ben-Ami correctly points out, by the 1930s the Zionist movement had reached a consensus that the way to resolve the dilemma is the way of transfer. You throw the Palestinians out. You can’t do that anytime, because there are moral problems and international problems. You have to wait for the right moment. And the right moment comes in 1948. Under the cover of war, you have the opportunity to expel the indigenous population.
I was kind of surprised that Mr. Ben-Ami goes beyond what many Israeli historians acknowledge. Someone like Benny Morris will say, “Yes, Palestinians were ethnically cleansed in 1948.” That’s Benny Morris’s expression. But he says it was an accident of war. There are wars, people get dispossessed. Mr. Ben-Ami, no, he will go further. He said you can see pretty clearly that they intended to expel the Palestinians. The opportunity came along, and they did so. Now, those are the facts.
So where do we disagree? I think where we disagree is on responsibility. It’s not just a question of moral responsibility. It’s not simply a question of tragedy or sadness. It’s a question of law, international law. What are your obligations if you are a member state of the United Nations, for example? Now, under international law, refugees are entitled to return to their homes once the battlefield conflict has died down. And Mr. Ben-Ami was absolutely correct. He said the key moment comes in the Israel-Palestine conflict, not when the Palestinians are expelled, but when, after the war, Israel refused to allow the Palestinians back.
At that point, he says, here is a problem, or a problem arises, and the way he puts the problem is we have two conflicting issues. On the one hand, there is what he calls the Zionist ethos. They want a Jewish state. On the other hand, you have the Palestinian refugees, who have a right to return. And for Mr. Ben-Ami, this is an intractable conflict: the Zionist ethos versus the refugees.
But there is a third factor. The factor is international law. And under international law, the Palestinians have the right to return. Now, I am not arguing now for a right of return. I acknowledge it’s a complicated problem. But we have to be honest about the rights and the wrongs and the question of rights and wrongs. It was a wrong inflicted on the Palestinians, and it was their right, their right. This is not a tragedy, and this is not about morals. It’s about legal rights. Their right to return was denied. How do you resolve that problem? I admit, it’s difficult. But we have to be clear about rights and wrongs, because that’s going to become, in my opinion, the main problem when we come to Camp David. Whose rights were being denied during the Camp David/Taba negotiations?
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Shlomo Ben-Ami.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, I think that the difference here might not be that huge between what Dr. Finkelstein says and my argument. I mean, either right or morality, the bottom line is that he assumes that the practical solution to the problem is not there, and it’s not really feasible to recognize, on the one hand, the existence of the state of Israel and to say that the right of five, six, or what-have-you million Palestinians to return to the state of Israel is something that can be reconciled with the existence of a Jewish state.
So, we need to find a way, and the way was, I believe, rightly found in Bill Clinton’s peace parameters, that say the following. It says that the Palestinian refugees have the inherent right to return to Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza being Palestine, being part of Palestine. There is an element in the parameters, that I have to say that was my personal contribution to the peace parameters, that says the following. It says that in the context of land swaps that were discussed between us and the Palestinians, the Palestinians were about to get some percentages of what is now the state of Israel. And the peace parameters of the President say that they can bring to those parts of the state of Israel, that will be transferred to the Palestinians, as many refugees as they wish. That is, that the return will be to the Palestinian state, plus to those parcels of the state of Israel that will be referred to Palestinian sovereignty, plus huge sums of money for compensation and rehabilitation. It seems to me that this is the most that can be done within the context, as it exists today, and we came very close to the solution.
By the way, Arafat was never very interested in the refugees problem. He was much more concentrated on Jerusalem. I saw him once saying to the current president of the Palestinian Authority, “Leave me alone with your refugees. What we need is Jerusalem.” See, he was not very keen on making much of a progress in the question of refugees. Arafat was, and remained until his last day, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a deeply religious man, a Koranic man that saw Jerusalem as the core dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He was not very interested in the territorial question either. I saw him, for example, in Camp David, saying to President Clinton, “I am ready to give away 8% of the West Bank for the sake of the Israeli blocks of settlement, so long as you give me a solution on Jerusalem.” So he was that kind of leader. The refugee problem was not so central in his mind.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to give you a chance to respond, Norman Finkelstein, but I did want you to step back, Shlomo Ben-Ami, and give us an overview of the whole peace process, of which you were a part, a critical player in this, the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993. Can you talk about what they entailed, why they failed?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, the Oslo peace process was an agreement — it started as an agreement between two unequal partners. Arafat conceived Oslo as a way, not necessarily to reach a settlement, but more importantly to him at that particular moment, in order to come back to the territories and control the politics of the Palestinian family. Don’t forget that the Intifada, to which Oslo brought an end, started independently of the P.L.O. leadership, and he saw how he was losing control of the destiny of the Palestinians. His only way to get back to the territories was through an agreement with Israel. So in Oslo, he made enormous concessions.
In fact, when he was negotiating in Oslo with us, an official Palestinian delegation was negotiating with an official Israeli delegation in Washington, and the official Palestinian delegation was asking the right things from the viewpoint of the Palestinians — self-determination, right of return, end of occupation, all the necessary arguments — whereas Arafat in Oslo reached an agreement that didn’t even mention the right of self-determination for the Palestinians, doesn’t even mention the need of the Israelis to put an end to settlements. If the Israelis, after Oslo, continued expansion of settlements, they were violating the spirit of Oslo, not the letter of Oslo. There is nothing in the Oslo agreement that says that Israelis cannot build settlements. So this was the cheap agreement that Arafat sold, precisely because he wanted to come back to the territories and control the politics of Palestine.
Now, the thing is that a major problem with Oslo, on top of it, was that it solved very minor issues, such as Gaza, and even people on the far Israeli right were ready to give away Gaza, but it left open the future. The future was unknown. The two sides, the two parties started to embark on a process, when they had diametrically opposed views as to the final objective. There was nothing as to what will happen about Jerusalem. It was only said that we will negotiate Jerusalem. What about refugees? Nothing clear was said, just that we will negotiate the refugees. So the thing that — the fact that the future was left so wide open was a standing invitation for the parties to dictate — to try and dictate — the nature of the final agreement through unilateral acts: the Israelis, by expanding settlements, and the Palestinians, by responding with terrorism. So this symmetry that was created in Oslo persists to this very day, so Oslo could not usher in a final agreement because of the different expectations that the parties had. It was an exercise in make-believe.
The Palestinians didn’t even mention self-determination so a leader like Rabin could have thought that, okay, we will have an agreement that will create something which is a state-minus. This was Rabin’s expression. He never thought this will end in a full-fledged Palestinian state. There was a lot of ambiguity, constructive ambiguity might Kissinger say, but I think it was destructive ambiguity. It helped — this destructive ambiguity helped in clinching the Oslo Agreement, but it was a minefield for those who went to Camp David and later on to Taba to try and solve all the pending issues.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Norman Finkelstein.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I’m going to try to focus on the key points or issues about the refugees in Jerusalem, which for now I can’t get into, but I will be happy to return to them later when we discuss what was the impasse at Oslo — excuse me, the impasse at Camp David and Taba, but I want to set the context, and I don’t think — I agree in part with the context that Dr. Ben-Ami set out, but not fully.
The main context, in my opinion, is as follows. Since the mid-1970s, there’s been an international consensus for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Most of your listeners will be familiar with it. It’s called a two-state settlement, and a two-state settlement is pretty straightforward, uncomplicated. Israel has to fully withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem, in accordance with the fundamental principle of international law, cited three times by Mr. Ben-Ami in the book, his book, that it’s inadmissible to acquire territory by war. The West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, having been acquired by war, it’s inadmissible for Israel to keep them. They have to be returned. On the Palestinian side and also the side of the neighboring Arab states, they have to recognize Israel’s right to live in peace and security with its neighbors. That was the quid pro quo: recognition of Israel, Palestinian right to self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in Jerusalem. That’s the international consensus.
It’s not complicated. It’s also not controversial. You see it voted on every year in the United Nations. The votes typically something like 160 nations on one side, the United States, Israel and Naru, Palau, Tuvalu, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands on the other side. That’s it. Now, the Israeli government was fully aware that this was the international consensus, but they were opposed (a) to a full withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem, of course, and (2) they were opposed to creating a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories.
Come 1981, as pressure builds on Israel to reach a diplomatic settlement in the Israel-Palestine conflict, they decide to invade Lebanon in order to crush the P.L.O., because the P.L.O. was on record supporting a two-state settlement. As Dr. Ben-Ami’s colleague, Avner Yaniv, put it in a very excellent book, Dilemmas of Security, he said, “The main problem for Israel was,” and now I’m quoting him, “the P.L.O.’s peace offensive. They wanted a two-state settlement. Israel did not.” And so Israel decides to crush the P.L.O. in Lebanon. It successfully did so. The P.L.O. goes into exile.
Come 1987, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories despair of any possibility of international intervention, and they enter into a revolt — the Palestinian Intifada — basically nonviolent civilian revolt by the Palestinians. And the revolt proves to be remarkably successful for maybe the first couple of years. Come 1990, Iraq invades Kuwait. The P.L.O. supports, ambiguously, but I think we fairly can say, and I agree with Dr. Ben-Ami on this, they lend support to Iraq. The war ends, Iraq defeated, and all the Gulf states cut off all of their money to the P.L.O. The P.L.O. Is going down the tubes.
Along comes Israel with a clever idea. Mr. Rabin says, ‘Let’s throw Arafat a life preserver, but on condition.’ And Dr. Ben-Ami puts it excellently, that “the P.L.O. will be Israel’s subcontractor and collaborator in the Occupied Territories,” and I’m quoting Dr. Ben-Ami, “in order to suppress the genuinely democratic tendencies of the Palestinians.” Now, it’s true, exactly as Dr. Ben-Ami said, that Israel had two options after the Iraq war. It could have negotiated with the real representatives of the Palestinians who wanted that full two-state settlement in accordance with the international consensus, or it can negotiate with Arafat in the hope that he’s so desperate that he’s going to serve as their collaborator and subcontractor in order to deny the Palestinians what they’re entitled to under international law. The Israelis chose Arafat, not only because Arafat himself was desperate. They chose him because they thought he would deny them what they were entitled to. He would suppress all resistance to the occupation. And then, finally, the day of reckoning came with the Camp David talks. It turned out Arafat was not willing to make those concessions to deny Palestinians what their rights were under international law, and I think that’s where the impasse occurred at Camp David and at Taba.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s turn to the former Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: If I may, with regard to international law and 242, one needs to analyze the 242 Security Council Resolution in a different way than one analyzes, say, Resolution 425, that says that Israel needs to pull out from Lebanon, or the resolution — I forgot the number — that says that Iraq needs to pull out from Kuwait. The difference is that in the Lebanese case and in the Iraqi case, there is no negotiation at all. The only thing that is asked by the international community is that Israel pulls out unconditionally from Lebanon and that Iraq pulls out unconditionally from Kuwait.
This is a different case with 242. 242 is an invitation to the parties to negotiate the secure and recognized boundaries between the two entities. It doesn’t say anything, by the way, on a Palestinian state. It doesn’t say anything on refugees, anything of Jerusalem, which is, by the way, the reason that the P.L.O. rejected 242, didn’t accept the resolution, because it addresses the Palestinian question only in terms of a refugee problem. This is what 242 does. So I think that 242, as a framework for a peace agreement was inadmissible from the viewpoint of the Palestinians, and the Israelis accepted it, because it spoke about, according to one interpretation, not full withdrawal from the territories, and it didn’t mention a Palestinian state and the rest of it.
As far as the second part of Dr. Finkelstein’s presentation is concerned, I agree. It is based on what I say, and the only thing I would add to it is that international law was the last — or the least of Arafat’s concern. He didn’t give a damn about international law. It was not whether or not the agreement was based on international law or not that concerned Arafat. In my view, this is my interpretation of a man I met many, many times. I might be wrong, obviously, but this is my firsthand interpretation of this man. He was morally, psychologically, physically incapable of accepting the moral legitimacy of a Jewish state, regardless of its borders or whatever. Arafat was incapable of closing or locking the door of his endless conflict between us and the Palestinians. And this is the bottom line.
I mean, in Taba, it had nothing to do with international law. In Taba, what happened was that Arafat really believed that Bush son is a replica of Bush father, and Bush father was known in the Arab world as more friendly, or at least partially deaf to Jewish concerns. This was his image in the Arab world. I remember a visit I made to President Mubarak. After we left office, I said “Everybody speaks about military intelligence, Mr. President, but we all failed in our political intelligence. You wanted the election of President Bush. We wanted the election of Al Gore, and then we ended up with the most friendly president to the state of Israel ever in the White House.” So this was the conviction of Arafat, that he can still get a better deal from President Bush. His concerns were of a political nature more than anything else, and this is where he failed again, because Arafat had always a sense of somebody who knows everything. I mean, he thought of himself as a great strategist, and this is where he failed time and again, and he betrayed the cause of his own people, because at the end of the day, today, the Palestinians are becoming the second Kurds of the Middle East, a nation that is moving away from the chances of having a state.
There is never going to be an ideal solution. A leader needs to take a decision in moments of trial, because if you look for a consensus among your people for a solution, you might never have that kind of consensus. Peace is a divisive enterprise, and a peace that is accepted by Hamas will not be accepted by the Israelis, just as a peace that is accepted by the Israeli far right, Mutatis Mutandis, is not going to be accepted by the Palestinians. You need to divide your society, and the peace agreement will not be in full coincidence with the requirements of international law. It will be in coincidence with the feasibility, with a political possibility of reaching a precarious line of equilibrium between the positions of the parties. This is how peace is made throughout history, and I believe that we lost that opportunity, sadly enough, and we need to go back to it. When it comes to the new situation in the Palestinian Authority today, I am less pessimistic than many others. I don’t think that we need automatically to rule out the new rulers in Ramallah and Gaza as peace partners. There are things that need to be done.
AMY GOODMAN: Hamas, you mean.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Yes, Hamas. I think that in my view there is almost sort of poetic justice with this victory of Hamas. After all, what is the reason for this nostalgia for Arafat and for the P.L.O.? Did they run the affairs of the Palestinians in a clean way? You mentioned the corruption, the inefficiency. Of course, Israel has contributed a lot to the disintegration of the Palestinian system, no doubt about it, but their leaders failed them. Their leaders betrayed them, and the victory of Hamas is justice being made in many ways. So we cannot preach democracy and then say that those who won are not accepted by us. Either there is democracy or there is no democracy.
And with these people, I think they are much more pragmatic than is normally perceived. In the 1990s, they invented the concept of a temporary settlement with Israel. 1990s was the first time that Hamas spoke about a temporary settlement with Israel. In 2003, they declared unilaterally a truce, and the reason they declared the truce is this, that with Arafat, whose the system of government was one of divide and rule, they were discarded from the political system. Mahmoud Abbas has integrated them into the political system, and this is what brought them to the truce. They are interested in politicizing themselves, in becoming a politic entity. And we need to try and see ways where we can work with them.
Now, everybody says they need first to recognize the state of Israel and end terrorism. Believe me, I would like them to do so today, but they are not going to do that. They are eventually going to do that in the future, but only as part of a quid pro quo, just as the P.L.O. did it. The P.L.O., when Rabin came to negotiate with them, also didn’t recognize the state of Israel, and they engaged in all kind of nasty practices. And therefore, we need to be much more realistic and abandon worn-out cliches and see whether we can reach something with these people. I believe that a long-term interim agreement between Israel and Hamas, even if it is not directly negotiated between the parties, but through a third party, is feasible and possible.
AMY GOODMAN: Shlomo Ben-Ami is the former Foreign Minister of Israel, and Norman Finkelstein is a professor at DePaul University. They have both written books on Israel. Shlomo Ben-Ami’s is Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, Norman Finkelstein’s is Beyond Chutzpah: The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. Your response to the former Foreign Minister of Israel.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I want to put aside for a moment the question of Hamas and just return to the previous point, namely, the relevance or not of international law. It’s not an abstract question, and it’s not a question fortunately only to be left to lawyers. It’s a question which bears on the last third of Dr. Ben-Ami’s book, namely, who is responsible for the collapse of or the impasse in the negotiations at Camp David and Taba? Whereas, in my view, when Dr. Ben-Ami wears his historian’s hat, he gets everything right; when he puts on the diplomat’s hat, he starts getting things, in my opinion, wrong, and it’s that last third of the book where I think things go seriously awry.
Now, I can’t look into Mr. Arafat’s heart, and I don’t know what he did or didn’t believe, and frankly I have no interest in it. My concern is let’s look at the diplomatic record, the factual record. What were the offers being made on each side of the Camp David and in the Taba talks? And the standard interpretation, which comes — which is — you can call it the Dennis Ross interpretation, which, I think, unfortunately Dr. Ben-Ami echoes, is that Israel made huge concessions at Camp David and Taba; Palestinians refused to make any concessions, because of what Dr. Ben-Ami repeatedly calls Arafat’s unyielding positions; and that Arafat missed a huge opportunity. Now, it is correct to say that if you frame everything in terms of what Israel wanted, it made huge concessions. However, if you frame things in terms of what Israel was legally entitled to under international law, then Israel made precisely and exactly zero concessions. All the concessions were made by the Palestinians.
Briefly, because we don’t have time, there were four key issues at Camp David and at Taba. Number one, settlements. Number two, borders. Number three, Jerusalem. Number four, refugees. Let’s start with settlements. Under international law, there is no dispute, no controversy. Under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, it’s illegal for any occupying country to transfer its population to Occupied Territories. All of the settlements, all of the settlements are illegal under international law. No dispute. The World Court in July 2004 ruled that all the settlements are illegal. The Palestinians were willing to concede 50% — 50% of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. That was a monumental concession, going well beyond anything that was demanded of them under international law.
Borders. The principle is clear. I don’t want to get into it now, because I was very glad to see that Dr. Ben-Ami quoted it three times in his book. It is inadmissible to acquire territory by war. Under international law, Israel had to withdraw from all of the West Bank and all of Gaza. As the World Court put it in July 2004, those are, quote, “occupied Palestinian territories.” Now, however you want to argue over percentages, there is no question, and I know Dr. Ben-Ami won’t dispute it, the Palestinians were willing to make concessions on the borders. What percentage? There’s differences. But there is no question they were willing to make concessions.
Jerusalem. Jerusalem is an interesting case, because if you read Dr. Ben-Ami or the standard mainstream accounts in the United States, everyone talks about the huge concessions that Barak was willing to make on Jerusalem. But under international law Israel has not one atom of sovereignty over any of Jerusalem. Read the World Court decision. The World Court decision said Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory. Now, the Palestinians were willing, the exact lines I’m not going to get into now — they are complicated, but I’m sure Dr. Ben-Ami will not dispute they were willing to divide Jerusalem roughly in half, the Jewish side to Israel, the Arab side to the Palestinians.
And number four, refugees. On the question of refugees, it’s not a dispute under international law. Remarkably, even fairly conservative human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, in 2000, during the Camp David talks, they issued statements on the question of the right of return. And they stated categorically, under international law every Palestinian, roughly five to six million, has the right to return, not to some little parcels, 1% of Israel, which Israel is about — which Israel would swap, return to their homes or the environs of their homes in Israel. That’s the law. Now, Dr. Ben-Ami will surely agree that the Palestinians were not demanding and never demanded the full return of six million refugees. He gives a figure of 4-800,000. In fact — I’m not going to get into the numbers, because it’s very hard to pin it down — other authors have given figures of the tens of thousands to 200,000 refugees returning. That’s well short of six million.
On every single issue, all the concessions came from the Palestinians. The problem is, everyone, including Dr. Ben-Ami in his book — he begins with what Israel wants and how much of its wants it’s willing to give up. But that’s not the relevant framework. The only relevant framework is under international law what you are entitled to, and when you use that framework it’s a very, very different picture.
AMY GOODMAN: If you can bear to make this response brief, Dr. Shlomo Ben-Ami.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Yes, yes. Okay, the last third part of the book, as Dr. Finkelstein says, there is the diplomat, and this same diplomat still behaves in a way as a historian when he says in this book that Camp David was not the missed opportunity for the Palestinians, and if I were a Palestinian I would have rejected Camp David, as well. This is something I put in the book. But Taba is the problem. The Clinton parameters are the problem, because the Clinton parameters, in my view —
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Maybe you could explain to them what that is. I don’t think most people will know the Clinton parameters.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, the Clinton parameters say the following. They say that on the territorial issue, the Palestinians will get 100% of Gaza, 97% of the West Bank, plus safe passage from Gaza to the West Bank to make the state viable. There will be a land swap. The 97%, which I mentioned, takes into account the land swap, where they will get 3% on this side, within the state of Israel, so we will have the blocks of settlements and they will be able to settle refugees on this side of the border.
About Jerusalem, it says what is Jewish is Israeli, and what is Palestinian is — sorry, and what is Arab is Palestinian. It includes full-fledged sovereignty for the Palestinians on Temple Mount, on the Haram al-Sharif, no sovereignty, no Jewish sovereignty on the Haram al-Sharif, which was at the time and continues to be a major, major problem for Israelis and Jews, that these things mean to them a lot. And then, with the question of refugees, it says that the refugees will return to historic Palestine, to historical Palestine, and that Israel will maintain its sovereign right of admission. That is, it will have to absorb a number of refugees but with restrictions that need to be negotiated between the parties. But the bulk of the refugees will be allowed to return to the state of Palestine. This is the essence of the Clinton parameters.
What Dr. Finkelstein said here about international law, I want to make it clear, it is important, it is vital for a civilized community of nations to have an axis of principles based on international law, around which to run the affairs of our chaotic world. It is very important. It is vital, etc. But at the same time, when you go into political issues, and you need to settle differences, historical differences, differences that have to do with political rights, security concerns, historical memories, etc., it is almost impossible to do things on the basis of international law, but rather, on something that is as close as possible to the requirements of international law. The very fact that, as Dr. Finkelstein rightly says, the Palestinians were ready to make this or that concession is the reflection of them understanding that there is no viability, there is no possibility really to reach an agreement that says let us apply automatically and rigidly the requirements of international law.
So we need to find a way. I believe, I really believe, that at Camp David, we failed to find that way. I say it very clearly in the book. It is my conviction that through the Clinton parameters, that were not the sudden whim of a lame-duck president — they were the point of equilibrium between the negotiating positions of the parties at that particular moment, and the President sort of looked for a way between the two positions and presented these parameters. They could be fine-tuned, obviously. We tried to fine tune them in Taba. We made some progress. But eventually, because of a number of reasons, among them the political qualitative time that was missing, both for the Americans and for the Israelis, and because of the consideration of Arafat that he really believed that he can get a better deal. I think that he will not get a better deal. The conditions are not there. I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future. So he lost the opportunity of having a deal that is imperfect, inevitably imperfect, will always be imperfect, because this is the way peace processes are done all over, and he sent his nation into the wilderness of war and back in the time machine to the core of the conflict. This is what we face today.
AMY GOODMAN: Norman Finkelstein, a quick response, and then I want to ask you about your — one of the main theses in your book, and that has to do with the issue of anti-Semitism.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, just for the sake of your audience —
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: If I may, just brief —
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: — because I do mention, obviously, the inadmissibility of acquiring — or the acquisition of land by force, but this is not my invention. This is what 242 says.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Exactly.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: This is what 242 says, but, again, let us look at the nuance. When the Israelis accept 242, they accept it because this expression of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force is tempered by the concept — through the concept of borders that are defensible and recognized, and the security borders. That’s the equilibrium, which is not international law, but it is give and take in a negotiation.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Finkelstein.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I don’t want to get now into the interminable question of what 242 meant. I will simply state the International Court of Justice in July 2004 ruled on that question. It stated Israel has to fully withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza, including Jerusalem. To my mind, it’s no longer a matter of dispute, however you want to interpret 242.
Let’s now turn to, just quickly, the last issue. It’s going to be hard for a lot of your listeners, because even though I have read two dozen books on the topic, I keep getting things confused. Camp David accord talks are in July 2000. Clinton parameters are roughly December 23rd, 2000. Taba, in January 2001. Now, Dr. Ben-Ami says Camp David, I can understand why the Palestinians turned down. Unfortunately, in his book he keeps referring to Arafat’s unyielding positions, even though now he acknowledges Palestinians made concessions at Camp David. In fact, as I said, all the concessions, within the framework of international law, came from the Palestinians.
Let’s now turn to those Clinton parameters. Dr. Ben-Ami accurately renders their content. I don’t think he accurately renders in the book what happened. He states in the book that at Taba, Israelis accept — excuse me, at the time of the Clinton parameters, the Israelis accepted the Clinton parameters. Arafat didn’t really accept the Clinton parameters. He said he did, but he didn’t. What actually happened? What actually happened was exactly as what was announced by the White House spokesman on January 3rd, 2001, the official statement was both the Israelis and the Palestinians have accepted the Clinton parameters with some reservations. Both sides entered reservations on the Clinton parameters. Dr. Ben-Ami leaves out in the book both sides. He only mentions the reservations by the Palestinians.
Number two, I was surprised to notice one of the books Dr. Ben-Ami recommends is the book by Clayton Swisher called The Truth at Camp David. I looked in the book. On page 402 of Clayton Swisher’s book, when he’s discussing the issue of entering reservations to Clinton’s parameters, he quotes none other than Shlomo Ben-Ami. You acknowledged — you call them relatively minor, but you acknowledged that Barak entered — you called it several pages of reservations. In fact, Barak sent a ten-page letter of reservations to the Clinton parameters. It was exactly symmetrical. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians agreed to the Clinton parameters with some reservations.
Wait, one last point. One last point. Dr. Ben-Ami left out another crucial point in his account. He doesn’t tell us why Taba ended. It ended officially when Barak withdrew his negotiators. It wasn’t the Palestinians who walked out of Taba. It ended with the Israelis walking out of Taba, a matter of historical record, not even controversial.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ben-Ami.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Okay, well. You see, as somebody who was a part of those who prepared the Israeli document that was submitted to President Clinton, I can say that the bulk of the document was an expression of our — the comparison that we made between our initial positions and what was reflected in the Clinton parameters. It was not a series of reservations. It was basically a mention of the difference, the way that we have gone. This was an attempt to impress the President, more than an attempt to say that these are reservations, sine qua nons. There were no real reservations in our document, whereas in the Palestinian document, there were plenty of them, with the refugees, with the Haram al-Sharif, with what have you. I mean, it was full of reservations from beginning to end. Ours was not a document about reservations, it was a statement, basically, that said these were our positions, this is where we stand today. we have gone a very long way, we cannot go beyond that. This was essentially what we sent.
Now, with regard to Taba, you see, we were a government committing suicide, practically. Two weeks before general elections, the chief of staff, General Mofaz, who is now the Minister of Defense, comes and in a — I say that in the book — in something that is tantamount to a coup d’etat, comes and says publicly that we are putting at risk the future of the state of Israel by assuming the Clinton parameters, and we accept them, we assume them. And then I go to Cairo and I meet President Mubarak, and President Mubarak invites Arafat to see me in Cairo, and I say to Arafat, “We are going to fine tune this in a meeting in Taba, if you wish.” And then we go to Taba, and we negotiate in Taba. And in Taba, Prime Minister Barak instructs me to conduct secret negotiations with Abu Alla. Within the negotiations, we had the second track trying to reach an agreement, and he even agrees to all kind of things that he was not very open to before that.
Now, this was the end. We saw that we are not reaching an agreement, and we need to go back, even if for the electoral campaign. I mean, we were a week before the elections. I mean, we were practically nonexistent. Our legitimacy as a government to negotiate such central issues as Jerusalem, as Temple Mount, the temple, etc., was being questioned, not only by the right that was making political capital out of it, but by the left, people from our own government. “Shlomo Ben-Ami is ready to sell out the country for the sake of a Nobel Prize.” This is what Haim Ramon said, one of the labor ministers, so it was unsustainable. We could not go any longer. So, to say that we — now the whole thing collapsed because we put a helicopter at the disposal of the Palestinians to go and see if we can rubricate some basic peace parameters on the basis of our negotiations, that they didn’t want it, Arafat didn’t want it.
Anyway, the thing is that we need to understand that with all — frankly, with all due respect for the requirements of international law, at the end of the day, at the end of the day, a peace process is a political enterprise. And there are things that governments can do and things that they cannot do, because if you do things that leave you without political support, then you can do nothing. You can write poetry, not make peace. And we have been writing poetry ever since, because we are not in office. We have been advancing all kind of peace dreams. It is only when you are in office and you have a political support that you can move ahead. This is the only way that peace is done. We have done our very best. We went to the outer limits of our capacity for compromise without disintegrating entirely our home front, and this is an exercise that Sharon decided not to make, precisely because he learned from our experience. He said, “Listen, we are not going to do that. I am going to be unilateral. I don’t believe in negotiations.” It’s very bad, but this is the lesson that he learned from the sad experience of the collapse of the peace process in the last year of Clinton’s presidency.
AMY GOODMAN: We don’t have very much time, and I wanted to ask you, Professor Finkelstein, about your thesis, the “not-so-new new anti-Semitism.” What does that mean?
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, actually, I think it’s useful to connect it with the conversation we’ve just had. Namely, I think when honest and reasonable people enter into a discussion about this topic, you will have large areas of agreement, some area of disagreement, and frankly — and I’m not saying it to flatter; I say it because I believe it; I don’t flatter by nature — I’m quite certain that if Palestinians — if representatives of the Palestinians were to sit down with Shlomo Ben-Ami in a room, weren’t subjected to the sorts of political pressures that Dr. Ben-Ami describes from Israel, I think a reasonable settlement could be reached, and I think he’s reasonable, in my opinion. We can disagree on some issues, but he’s reasonable.
The problem is when you get to the United States. In the United States among those people who call themselves supporters of Israel, we enter the area of unreason. We enter a twilight zone. American Jewish organizations, they’re not only not up to speed yet with Steven Spielberg, they’re still in the Leon Uris exodus version of history: the “this land is mine, God gave this land to me,” and anybody who dissents from this, you can call it, lunatic version of history is then immediately branded an anti-Semite, and whenever Israel comes under international pressure to settle the conflict diplomatically, or when it is subjected to a public relations debacle, such as it was with the Second Intifada, a campaign is launched claiming there is a new anti-Semitism afoot in the world.
There is no evidence of a new anti-Semitism. If you go through all the literature, as I have, the evidence is actually in Europe, which is Dr. Ben-Ami’s half-home ground, Spain, but throughout Europe, the evidence is, if you look at like the Pew Charitable Trust surveys, anti-Semitism has actually declined since the last time they did the surveys. They did it in 1991 and 2002. They said the evidence is that it’s declined. And the same thing in the United States. What’s called the “new anti-Semitism” is anyone who criticizes any official Israeli policies. In fact, my guess is had people not known who wrote Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, that book would immediately be put on the A.D.L.’s list of verboten books, an example of anti-Semitism, because he says things like the Zionists wanted to transfer the Arabs out. That’s anti-Semitism. It has nothing to do with the real world. It’s a public relations extravaganza production to deflect attention from the facts, from the realities, and I think this afternoon in our exchange, there were some areas of disagreement for sure, but I think a lot of what Dr. Ben-Ami said would not go down well with most of American Jewry, and that’s when they’ll soon be charging him with being an anti-Semite.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Dr. Ben-Ami? And do you see a difference in the dialogue in Israel than you do right here?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: On questions of anti-Semitism? Well, Israel is the result of the Jewish catastrophe. There is no doubt about it. If there were no Jewish catastrophe, there would not be a state of Israel. And I think that during the first years of — or before the creation of the state, especially for the figure of Ben-Gurion, the Jewish catastrophe needed to be enlisted for the cause of the creation of the state. You see, Ben-Gurion was a Leninist in some way. He was a Lenin-type. By this, I mean that he had only one central idea in his mind, and that is the creation of the state of Israel. All the other considerations were subservient to that goal, which is the reason why he rushed to reconcile the Jewish people or the state of Israel with Germany, because this was vital for the state of Israel. He was a revolutionary in that sense with — all the other issues were instrumental to that. I think that the Shoah has become not only a defining event for the Jewish people —
AMY GOODMAN: Shoah, you mean Holocaust.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: The Holocaust has become not only a defining issue — event for the Jewish people, but something that Israel has — not Israel, but perhaps some politicians in Israel have abused. Begin used to compare Arafat to Hitler. He must have been probably a very nasty guy, but certainly not Hitler, just as I don’t think that Saddam Hussein was Hitler. I think that President Bush father likened him to Hitler. We are — we go very lightly with these things. I mean, we do these kind of comparisons unnecessarily. The capture of Eichmann, for example, was very important to David Ben-Gurion, because he wanted a sort of pedagogical exercise for the young generation.
I explain this in the book, why he needed to reconcile himself with the Shoah, which didn’t interest him very much at the beginning. He was much more concerned with other issues. He suddenly discovered that through the ethos of the new Israel, of the Sabra, you cannot build a cohesive nation, because people were coming from different parts of the world, so you needed to resort to Jewish memory, to Jewish values, to Jewish catastrophe, as a way to unite the newborn nation.
Today, it seems to me that the problem of anti-Semitism, when it happens, for example, in France, and synagogues are being attacked, etc., if this happens through the hands of Muslim youngsters in the suburbs of Paris, for me it is very difficult to define this as anti-Semitism. I can define it as hooliganism and manipulation of the conflict in the Middle East in order to perpetrate all kind of nasty acts against Jewish holy places, but this is not what we understand as anti-Semitism, which is a European malady, as it were. I think it was there always. It will continue to be there, but I am not in the business of counting how many incidents happen, because there is an institute in Tel Aviv University that will tell you how many incidents happen every year. I don’t believe also that the number of incidents, as such, is the reflection of whether or not anti-Semitism is growing. I believe that it is there, I believe it will stay there as a sub-cultural current in many European societies, but I’m not scandalized by anti-Semitism today.
I can see more xenophobia against North Africans, against foreigners throughout Europe. And in a way, in a way, I can even see a reconciliation of Europe with its Jewish past. There is hardly a European country where you will not find today a museum of Jewish history. Not in only Germany, you will find it in Poland, in France, all over the place. So, Judaism is being endorsed more and more, or the Jewish history, as part of the whole European legacy. The problem today is, in my view, much more that of the Arab, the Muslim immigrants from North Africa, from the Middle East and other parts.
AMY GOODMAN: Being discriminated against.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Yeah, absolutely.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Totally agree. No disagreement at all.
AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of language, terrorism — Arafat called terrorist, Hamas called terrorist — how will you describe the Israeli state when it attacks civilians in the Occupied Territories? Or how would you describe Ariel Sharon?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, let me tell you what is my description of terrorism. Terrorism, in my view, is an indiscriminate attack against civilian population. If I, personally, or my son, God forbid, is being attacked, being in uniform in Palestinian territories, by a Hamas call, I would not define this as terrorism. I will define as terrorism if they go into a kindergarten or a mall, explode themselves and cause injuries and death among civilian population. This to me is —
Now, the problem of the response of a state is much more difficult to define, because a state needs to go not against the civilian population. It needs to go against military targets, ticking bombs. This is what states can do and should do. The problem is that when you have a fight, not against armies, which is the case of Syria, Egypt, we never spoke about terrorism, state — Israeli state terrorism against the Egyptians. We spoke about wars between two military sides. This is very difficult in the conditions prevailing in places like Gaza or the West Bank, where you have militias, you have arsenals of weapons, etc., and the army attacks them and there is collateral damage to civilian population. To me, this is very difficult to define as state terrorism. It is attacking military objectives or sort of military objectives, an army which is not a real army but can cause damage and you need to fight back and defend your population, and it is very, very unfortunate that civilians are hit. But if Israel targets intentionally civilians, this is a different matter. This can be defined as terrorism. I don’t believe that we have done it. Normally, the practice is that things happened collaterally.
AMY GOODMAN: I would like to get your response, Professor Finkelstein, and also if you could include in that, you have a chapter in Beyond Chutzpah called “Israel’s Abu Ghraib.”
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, on the issue of terrorism, I agree with Dr. Ben-Ami’s definition. It’s the indiscriminate targeting of civilians to achieve political ends. That’s a capsule definition, but I think for our purposes it suffices. What does the record show? Let’s limit ourselves to just the Second Intifada, from September 28 to the present. The period for that period, the record shows approximately 3,000 Palestinians have been killed, approximately 900 Israelis have been killed. On the Palestinian side and the Israeli side — I’m now using the figures of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories — on the Palestinian and the Israeli side roughly one-half to two-thirds of the total number were civilians or bystanders. And if you look at the findings of the human rights supports — B’Tselem, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, and so forth — they all say that Israel uses reckless indiscriminate fire against Palestinians, and B’Tselem says when you have so many civilian casualties, you have, you know, 600 Palestinian children who have been killed, which is the total number of Israeli civilians killed. 600 Palestinian children killed.
They said when you have so much, so many civilians killed — I don’t particularly like the phrase “collateral damage” — when you have so many civilians killed, B’Tselem says it hardly makes a difference whether you are purposely targeting them or not, the state has responsibility. So, you could say Israel — using numbers, now — is responsible for three times as much terrorism in the Occupied Territories as Palestinians against Israel. That’s the question of terrorism.
Let’s turn to an ancillary issue: the issue of torture. Now, the estimates are, up to 1994-1995, that Israel tortured — and I’m using the language of Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem — Israel has tortured tens of thousands of Palestinian detainees. Israel was the only country in the world, the only one, which had legalized torture from 1987 to 1999. The record on torture, on house demolitions and on targeted —
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: 1999 is when we came to office.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I wish that were — I wish that were the saving grace, but the fact of the matter is, being faithful to historical record, the record of Labour has been much worse on human rights violations than the record of Likud. It’s a fact that the only Israeli government during the period from 1967 to the present which temporarily suspended torture was Begin from 1979 to 1981. On the record of house demolitions, Mr. Rabin used to boast that he had demolished many more homes than any Likud government. Even on the record of settlements, as Dr. Ben-Ami well knows, the record of Rabin was worse in terms of settlement expansion than the record of Yitzhak Shamir, and a fact he leaves out in the book, the record of Barak on housing startups in the Occupied Territories —
AMY GOODMAN: Building more houses?
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah — was worse than the record of Netanyahu. It’s a paradox for, I’m sure, American listeners, but the record on human rights, an abysmal record in general, an abysmal record in general, and in particular, the worst record is the record of Labour, not Likud.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ben-Ami?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, he’s — Dr. Finkelstein already said what needs to be said about the end of the practices or the legal status of tortures in 1999. When it comes to the difference between Labour and Likud, I make this point in a different way in the book, and that is that Labour was always much more keen to advance the defining ethos of Labour, which is settling the land. This was never the ethos of the right. The right dreamt about greater Eretz Yisrael, but did nothing to implement it. You know, in the Camp David — first Camp David agreement, that is with Sadat, the right that was in office dismantled the settlements of Yamit in northern Sinai. The left, that was in opposition, couldn’t swallow that collapse of the ethos of settling the land. The right was more biblical, was more sort of religious, less practical in its attitude to the territories, so it was always the case, and this is the point that I make in the book, that the settlements were, in fact, started by Shimon Peres when he was the Defense Minister of Yitzhak Rabin. But you see —
AMY GOODMAN: Of Labour.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Of Labour, obviously. Now, but one circumstance that needs to be emphasized, however, is this, that at least as from 1988, I make the point in the book that, surprisingly, until 1988 there was hardly any difference in the political attitude of Labour and Likud. You couldn’t really discern any difference in the attitude.
Things start to change in 1988, and I do give credit to Arafat here, contrary to what I do, according to Dr. Finkelstein in the last chapter. Arafat was the pioneer in many senses. He invented the peace process, what we call the peace process, by his declaration of 1988, and it is from that moment that those in Labour who continue to settle are the very people that think that, okay, at the end of the day we will have to find some sort of agreement with the Palestinians, where we might even have to dismantle these settlements, which is in itself an interesting march of folly, that is, that you create settlements knowing that at some point you might have to compromise.
The difference between the settlements created by Sharon and those created by Rabin is this, that Sharon created settlements in order to torpedo a future agreement, whereas Rabin drew a distinction between what he called — I agree, it was an internal Israeli game — but he drew the distinction between political settlements, that is, settlements that were created in order to derail the possibility of an agreement, and other kind of settlements that might become part of the state of Israel in the context of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. So, this is a very vital difference that, at the end of the day, was accepted by the Palestinians. The fact that, as you yourself say, that in Camp David and elsewhere they accepted the concept — they assumed the concept of blocks of settlements, it only vindicates the position of those Labourites that said, ‘Okay, building settlements in areas that make sense will become in the future part of the state of Israel.’
AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of torture of tens of thousands of Palestinians by Israel?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: To tell you the truth, I don’t know about the numbers, and we have seen different governments in — the British have done it. What the British did in Palestine in the ’30s, there is nothing new in what we did that the British didn’t do before us, and the Americans now in Iraq and elsewhere — what I find very, very uncomfortable is really this singling out Israel that lives in a very unique sort of situation in comparison with other countries, but —
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Norman Finkelstein makes the point, “Israel’s Abu Ghraib,” so that’s making reference to what America did in Iraq.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Okay, okay. But if you — if you would come from another planet and examine the resolutions of the U.N., the Security Council, you might reach the conclusion there is only one sinner in this planet, and it’s the state of Israel, and not anybody else.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: But I am quoting your own human rights organizations. You know, B’Tselem is not the United Nations.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Okay, that’s okay. I mean, I’m not — but it speaks in favor of Israel that we have human rights, we have B’Tselem, and we criticize ourselves.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Right.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: And we want to change things, but the solution —
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I will agree with that, but then you have to say it doesn’t speak too much in Israel’s favor that it’s the only country in the world that legalized torture. It was also the only country in the world that legalized hostage taking. It was also the only country in the —
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: It wasn’t legalized —
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, yes. As your chief justice called it, “keeping Lebanese as bargaining chips.” Israel was the only country in the world that’s legalized house demolitions as a form of punishment. Those things have to also be included in the record.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ben-Ami.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: In addition to — I totally agree with you, it’s to Israel’s credit that it has a B’Tselem, an organization for which I have the highest regard and esteem. I agree with that.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Okay, but the thing is that the conditions where Israel has to operate, this is — we do not have a Sweden and Denmark as neighbors, and we have neighbors that have taken hostages, and have taken hostages that forced us to exchange things that were not very popular. Rabin himself gave away 1,500 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in exchange for three Israeli soldiers, and Sharon gave away 400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for four bodies of Israeli soldiers. So we are living in that kind of place.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: But that may tell you that’s because they take so many people prisoner that they have a lot to give back. Right now, as we speak, there are 9,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israel.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: This is because we live in the conditions that we live. We are not, as I said — this is not Scandinavia.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: But, Dr. Ben-Ami, you know, as well as I do, international law does not apply to some countries and not to others and some continents and not to others. Either it applies to everybody, or it applies to nobody. So to use the excuse, “Well, in our neighborhood we don’t have to recognize international law,” is simply a repudiation of international law.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: No, I’m not saying — No, no, I’m not saying that we do not have to recognize international law. I say that the conditions —
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, then, it applies —
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: No, no. I mean, there are conditions where you cannot apply these lofty principles, which are very important, but you cannot apply them. And the British — and the British —
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: The British is an interesting example.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, it’s an interesting example. They didn’t —
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: B’Tselem did a comparison —
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: They did it in Gibraltar —
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: The British — that’s right.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: They did it in the Falklands. They did — anywhere —
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: B’Tselem did an interesting comparison. It compared the British policies of torture in Northern Ireland with Israeli policies of torture. In the 1970s, there were thousands of terrorist attacks by the I.R.A., and B’Tselem’s comparison showed that the Israeli record is much worse than the British on the question of torture. That’s the facts.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Yeah. You face now in this country a challenge of terrorism, so you go to PATRIOT Act and you go to —
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: But you won’t find me justifying torture.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: These are the conditions that can be very dire, very difficult —
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: No conditions justify torture.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask Dr. Ben-Ami, on the issue of the United States, as you look here, coming here for a few days, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, do you feel there are problems with the detention of the hundreds of men that are being held at Guantanamo without charge and what happened at Abu Ghraib?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, I cannot condone that. I mean, I think that, obviously, it is a violation of international norms. There is no doubt about it. But I don’t follow the internal American debate. I don’t know if this society is scandalized by what happens and what is the degree of civil opposition, civic opposition, and if you have here organizations like not only B’Tselem, even Shalom Achshav, which is a centrist — it’s not a leftwing — organization that exposes the seams of your own government, I don’t know. Maybe yes.
I think we are a society in the middle of a very complicated conflict. As I do admit, in this conflict many atrocities were committed by both sides, however, but I do recognize our own shortcomings, blunders and things. And the only solution to this situation — the only, the only solution — is to try and reach a final settlement between us and the Palestinians. There is no other way. There is no other way: to split the land into two states, two capitals, trying to find the best way to end this conflict, because much of the instability of the Middle East has to do with our condition. You don’t need to be a bin Laden or a Saddam Hussein, who tried to put on themselves the mantle of the vindicators of the Palestinian cause in order to say that the Palestinian issue is a platform of instability in the region that needs to be solved.
But even when it is solved, let us not fool ourselves. Many of the problems that the West is facing today with the Arab world will persist. The Palestinian issue has been used frequently by many Arab rulers as a pretext for not doing things that need to be done in their own societies. But for the sake of the Israelis, I am not — I am not — when I say that we need to make concessions, it is not because I am concerned with the future of the Palestinians or because I am concerned with international law. I want to say it very clearly, it is because I define myself as an ardent Zionist that thinks that the best for the Jews in Israel is that we abandon the territories and we dismantle settlements and we try to reach a reasonable settlement with our Palestinian partners. It’s not because I am concerned with the Palestinians. I want to be very clear about it. My interpretation, my approach is not moralistic. It’s strictly political. And this is what I’m trying to explain in the book.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Israeli Foreign Minister, author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy, and Dr. Norman Finkelstein, professor at DePaul University, author of Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, thank you both for joining us.
Editor’s note: Short clips of talk from CSU Fullerton with text screens added in-between by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein (Hillel campus Rabbi, Long Beach & Orange County; (562)985-7068; IsraelAction[at]BeachHillel.com ).
Video available online at
Professor With a Cause: Norman Finkelstein.
SoCal Jewish Student Services | 4 min 16 sec – Feb 5, 2005
The google.com entry says the following:
“This documentary video, in an event sponsored by the CSU Fullerton Dept. of Political Science, portrays the ‘unbiased and scientific’ mind of a DePaul University college professor. ”
From: “John McGlynn” jmcgl[at]gol.com
Subject: Google Video of Norman Finkelstein
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 2006 23:41:06 +0900
Dear Israel Action:
Thank you for somehow arranging to provide the short Google clip of Professor Finkelstein speaking at CSU. The collection of outtakes appears to present excellent summations of some of his chief views. Furthermore, his methodical presentation style contrasts vividly with the rude outbursts that can be heard in the background.
I assume showing Prof. Finkelstein in a favorable light as a man of reason (as demonstrated, for example, by his reference to the work of historian Benny Morris to buttress his analysis and to the principle of truth serving justice) was your intent, right? However, I don’t fully understand the ‘”unbiased and scientific” mind’ comment to the right of the viewing screen. Are you trying to be ironical with respect to people who claim he doesn’t have an unbiased and scientific mind?
Anyway, you should be congratulated for helping to expand the debate on the political situation in the Middle East. Do you have a full-length video version of Prof. Finkelstein’s talk?
Subject: Yitzhak Shamir’s attempt to collaborate with Nazis
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 2006 10:56:38 -0800
Dear Outraged Lady from CSU Fullerton Video,
To anyone who may deny what Finkelstein mentions in the video about Right Wing Zionist or Yitzhak Shamir’s attempts at collaboration with the Nazis: take a look at the historical documents.
Here’s a photo of a letter from a Nazi officer about “a proposal of the National Military Organisation [Lehi] in Palestine regarding the solution of the Jewish question in Europe”: SternGang-Doc-Nazi-Collaboration.jpg. Here’s a short description of the events from Wikipedia:
“In 1940 and 1941, Lehi proposed intervening in the Second World War on the side of Nazi Germany to attain their help in expelling Britain from Mandate Palestine and to offer their assistance in “evacuating” the Jews of Europe arguing that “common interests could exist between the establishment of a new order in Europe in conformity with the German concept, and the true national aspirations of the Jewish people as they are embodied by the NMO (Lehi).” Late in 1940, Lehi representative Naftali Lubenchik was sent to Beirut where he met the German official Werner Otto von Hentig and delivered a letter from Lehi offering to “actively take part in the war on Germany’s side” in return for German support for “the establishment of the historic Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, bound by a treaty with the German Reich”. Von Hentig forwarded the letter to the German embassy in Ankara, but there is no record of any official response. Lehi tried to establish contact with the Germans again in December 1941, also apparently without success.”
In book form, the documents have been published — unedited — by Lenni Brenner in a book called 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis (amazon.com).
As a leftist, I’m not going to sit here and deny atrocities committed by the Communist governments of the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Cambodia or the torture of Fascist/Nationalist/Catholic prisoners (and potentially rival leftists) by Anarchist militia members during the Spanish Civil War and Revolution (http://www.guardian.co.uk/spain). Persons of other political persuasions, if they wish to be taken seriously, would do well to be equally honest about such things.
Editor’s note: Discussion of Hamas election victory and the current situation.
Finkelstein on The Muslim American Public Affairs Council’s tv show MAPAC-Live TV! is available online at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=148072379757729924
MAPAC-Live TV Crew:
Hosts: Omar Askar and Khalilah Sabra
Audio: Sarah Baddour
Character Generator:Hagar Abdel-Baky
Director: Waleed Elhentaty
Cameras: Saja Hindi, Hanna Zaghloul and Ahmed Radwan
Producer: Israa Dorgham
Roomor has it… C-SPAN 2’s Book TV coverage of Finkelstein’s talk on the Israel-Palestine conflict at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from March 18, 2004 is available on the eDonkey network.
Editor’s note: video by The Arabic Hour, an Arab-American community TV program .
Talk moderated by Sara Roy.
– Part 1
Windows Media video
– Part 2
Windows Media video
Editor’s note: Questions in Arabic; answers in audible English with simultaneous Arabic translation. See also: viewers’ letters (in English).
– Windows Media video version (34 MB)
– Mp3 audio version (19 MB)
– Aljazeera.net transcript (in Arabic)
Read the Arabic transcript online: AlJazeera.net
PROGRAM: Without Frontiers
PLACE: Al Jazeera, Westminster Towers, Lambeth Bridge, London
Watch the video of the interview
Dear Professor Finkelstein,
Arabs on the whole did not know Norman Finklestein, but after the Jazeera interview, I assure you, your name will spread far and wide. Jazeera is watched and trusted by millions of Arabic-speaking people, the world over, and your words in the interview with Ahmad Mansour will have been received with respect and gratitude. Though so many of us are poor and uneducated, but now we are also very aware of what is going on, and deeply resentful of the bias against us, the lies spread about us , the very negative image we are given, and the unbalanced reporting by the Western media. All Arabs and Muslims are terrorists, and all are violent fundamentalists. Islam is a religion of strife and it is not possible to have a dialogue with Islamic countries.This bias is one reason for the popularity of Jazeera, because Jazeera can teach a lesson or two in objectivity to many of the Western media. Ask Mr. Bush why he wants it bombed!! The other reason, of course, is the highly professional performance of that channel.
We, in the Middle-East, knew little of what was going on in Europe before and during WW II. There was no television, no satellite channels, no Internet, and the man in the street was not very well informed. We did know, however, that hundreds of thousands of Jews lived in our countries, very peacefully, and in excellent harmony with the people of other religions. We all had Jewish friends, who were our neigbours, went to the same schools, the same clubs, owned many of the stores in the cities, which incidentally, are still called Shemla and Ben Zion(!!), and there was absolutely no feeling of exclusion towards the Jews, and the many other foreign communities that were thriving in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Bagda, and others. Though I was very young then, I look back with great nostalgia to the pre-60s era. Perhaps that is why Middle-Easterners are so bitter about what has happened to them in Palestine. But, I am digressing!
I want to congratulate you for the marvelous job you are doing. This is not the first time I watch you and listen to you, on TV, and I have followed your writings closely on the Internet. I have your first book, The Holocaust Industry, and learned much from it, and I have ordered Beyond Chutzpah. I am shocked that any man, be he a simple man or a scholar, should be penalised. even indicted, for even discussing the holocaust, the conditions surrounding it, the historical and social consequences. Voltaire once said: ” I may not agree with what he said, but I will fight to the finish to let him say it”. I cannot understand how people, in the countries of the West, fall for such fraudulent arguments. You are a man of courage, and I really raise my hat high to you and say thank you for risking so much to have the truth come out. My best regards.
From: Cherifa Sirry
To: norman finkelstein
Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2005 8:26 PM
Subject: a comment from Egypt
Dear Professor Finkelstein,
I have watched your program today on Al Jazeera TV and I would just like to take this opportunity to express my deep admiration for you and for your courage in speaking out… and in speaking the Truth. It is not the first time I hear you and I do try to keep up with your excellent books, writings and interviews. As an Arab, I am very happy that you have spoken on Al Jazeera TV because millions and millions of Arabs needed to listen to what you had to say. They also need to know that people of integrity like you, still do exist. The Arab “moral” if I may say, is very very low due to the present situation the Arab world finds itself in. As far as I personally am concerned, hearing you speak today…, did my moral quite some good.
Again, I thank you for your courage and I also thank you for just being who you are and for sharing your thoughts with us Arabs.
I wish you all the best,
Sent: Friday, December 02, 2005 2:08 PM
Subject: Regarding your interview with Al-Jazeera
I wanted to commend you on your brilliant interview with Al-Jazeera. Lately (actually, for a while) I have been sickened by the lack of disregard our government has regarding foreign policies and many other issues. Last nights interview gave me hope that more people like yourself will have enough courage to come forward and admit the awful atrocities that many people in this country commit in our name. You were right on with all the issues. My husband saw the previews for your interview a few days ago on Al-Jazeera and was very excited to watch the complete interview. I was fortunate enough to hear your responses, due to the fact that Al-Jazeera still allowed your voice to be hear while translating in Arabic.
Once again, thank you for being so brave and taking a stand. I want you to know that you have the support of many people and not all of us believe everything that is published in the media and in other document regarding your character. I will do my best to pass along your information to others who are as open minded as you and I.
From: Ayed Shideda hew_up[at]yahoo.com
Date: Thu, 1 Dec 2005 05:13:21 -0800 (PST)
i did not know any thing about you before, you are a great man.
now i know about you and thats because of the arabic channel news Al Jazeera.
well i wish you luck and keep going to teach people about the truth, thats what we people in this earth need for this time.
Editor’s note: Finkelstein’s opening statement in English. Questions in German. Answers in English (uninterrupted), repeated by a German interpreter after the English version for each question.
– Part 1
– Part 2
– Part 3
|Q&A session**||Talk, part 1||Talk, part 2|
*video by Leitrim Productions LLC
** the Q&A video starts from an answer, the question was not recorded due to time spent on tape change. if you have the question in written, video or audio form please email it.
*** MAC users: the Real Player versions seem to work better on Mac systems.
Transcript: Q&A Session, October 20, 2005
Finkelstein: “…Israel would be much wiser to just withdraw from the West Bank and create a state which anyhow
will be dominated by Israel and Jordan on the other side, so rationally, it probably serves their interests to just leave… And that the main reason
they’re staying is for ideological reasons. And then other people argue there are rational reasons for staying there. So I think it’s always, as a general
rule, it’s difficult to separate out the ideological from the rational motive and in the case of the United States, as everyone I’m sure knows, there’s
always this argument about whether or not US policy in the Israel-Palestine conflict is determined by strategic interest or on account of the Jewish
lobby and I think there also it’s very hard to separate out and prove one way or another. You can find instances in which the power of the lobby
did prevail and then you find instances where the power of the lobby crumbled when a US national interest became clear. So I don’t think these are
clear cut cases. I think arguments can be ma.., rational arguments, convincing arguments could be made on both sides so I don’t get hot under the collar
trying to prove one side or the other.
Questioner: Joan Peters …. inaudible… and did she write anything else?
Finkelstein: Joan Peters.. according to Professor Dershowitz in his last book The Case For Peace, I
destroyed her promising academic career. I would’ve thought it was her book that, assuming it was her book, that destroyed her… ah, i’m not sure
if it was an academic career or career. She disappeared, though in one of those wonderful ironies, which are I think, revealing about the lunacy
of American life on this particular issue, in February 2001, shortly after the 2nd Intifada and the public relations debacle that attended it,
her book From Time Immemorial, unchanged, unedited was reissued and immediately became a best seller. If you go to Amazon.com now actually
her book is doing better than mine [laugh]. She still gets five stars, five stars, five stars, they love it, one person complains that it’s understated.
I don’t know how you can understate “the fact that there were no Palestinians there[audience laughs]…” and things go merrily along. That’s the strange
place we live in on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Everyone knows it’s a fraud but it doesn’t change anything because they just love that thesis.
Questioner: ..Israel’s human rights violations and the claims of the Palestinian people to what’s currently the Israeli state… what do you think is the legitimacy of the existance of Israel.
Finkelstein: Every country in the world has a degree of human rights violations. In Israel’s case, as I’ve said, there are some egregious characteristics and it’s also the longest occupation in the modern world but I don’t think that changes at all its legitimacy. Israel,
you know, it’s a state, like any other state in the state system and the question of its right to live in peace with its neighbors is the same as
everyone else’s. You know, if we’re honest about these things and don’t become fanatics and zealots and lose site of reality… so during
the Israeli invasion of Jenin and Nablus it kille din the scores in each place. I think there were 21 civilians killed in Jenin. I think 30-something,
or may be more, civilians killed in Nablus. And then a little while later the US goes into Iraq and it basically does to Jenin and..
what was done to Jenin and Nablus, the United States does to Najaf and Falluja but now it’s not in the double digits, it’s in the triple digits, it’s not
the tens but it’s the hundreds who are killed. That’s a function of power. Obviously the United States has much more power, both politically and militarily,
so it gets to kill in each case hundreds of innocent civilians. So I’m not going to pretend that, you know, Israel’s is the worst human rights record in the
world but I think we should be honest about 2 facts: the record A) is aweful, B) there’s a way to resolve the conflict [background noise, person yelling] and C) we’re financing it.
And I think most people, if they knew the truth about it, wouldn’t want to support that. [background noise, person yelling] That’s why we’re constantly
lied to about it. Propaganda costs a lot of money. You know, these organizations invest a lot in the lies and the reason they invest a lot in the
lies is because they know that people, if they knew the truth, wouldn’t like it. Otherwise, why waste the money? Doesn’t make sense.
Questioner: How do you explain this strange coalition that we’ve seen between American Jews.. mainstream Jewish…
and the fundamentalist Christians who are, if you loook at their theology, are basically anti-Jews. How do you explain this? [person or a few persons talking in
Finkelstein: Well, I think there are 2 issues. Obviously there’s a confluence of interests on some issues relating to
the ideas of the Christian Right about the promised land and so forth. [person or a few persons talking in the background]
But I think there’s been a tendency recently to try to obscure the fact that the real problme is the lobby. You know, for the Christian fundamentalists,
yes, they’re pro-Israel, but it’s not their cause. They have other causes. But there’s an effort now to blurr over it and claim that it’s not just
the lobby, it’s also the Christian fundamentalists and so forth… I don’t really think that’s true, you know, Israel is not really Jerry Fallwell’s cause.
Neither is it Pat Robertson’s. They support it yes, for their own pathological reasons they support it but I don’t think it’s their cause. The cause is the
lobby, not the only cause, there’s also the issue of US strategic interests. I think the idea that beyond the lobby there’s a force within American
society working for that end, apart from strategic interests, I just don’t think that’s true. You see who causes all the trouble, you know, who tries to block
publication, create all sorts of difficulties on college campuses, prevent people from speaking, it’s not the Christian fundamentalists. We know who causes
Questioner:So I think it’s absurd obviously to exploit the Holocaust, but it’s equally absurd to deny the existence of
anti-Semitism, particularly when the Human Rights Campaign released a report that’s saying that two thirds of hate crimes in France this past year were
against Jews and I personally have experienced it. So I know that there, it’s on the rise, one of my best friends from France tells me its on the rise,
tells me that they don’t know the difference between Jews and Israelis, they think Israel is on the leash of America. So I think it’s equally unsafe to
deny the existence of something that is present.
Finkelstein: Ok, let’s look at sevearl of those statements.
Number one, in every country in Europe there is no dispute
among any of the monitoring organizations that the main victims of bigotry and racism, including in France, including in Germany, including in the Netherlands,
there is no dispute among any of the monitoring organizations that the main victims are Arabs and Muslisms. That’s not even a topic of discussion. So to claim
that two thirds of the victims in France are Jewish is just not true [1 person in the audience interrupts]… there’s no evi [1 person in the audience interrupts]
there is no evidence for that claim. I’m sorry, I went through the record, there is not [another audience member interrupts saying: “well, you cheat”]… ok, fine,
i’m not… i’m telling you what i know and you can disagree. i go through all of the reports, there’s no evidence for it.
Number two. There’s a difference between saying “there’s no anti-Semitism”, which ofcourse, ofcourse there is anti-Semitism [interruptions in the background], in every
society there’s anti-Everything [interruptions in the background], you know there’s a lot of anti-Short people, anti-Fat people, anti-Ugly people, anti-Acne people…
it’s… everyone’s society has “Anti.” The question is whether there is a “New anti-Semitism”, a sudden ressurgence, as Abraham Foxman puts it in Never Again, he says
“Jews now face as grave a threat, if not graver a threat, than they did in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.” Is there any evidence to support that claim? Or let’s look at
Gabriel Schoernfeld [spelling?], the editor in cheif of Commentary magazine, he writes in his book The Return Of Anti-Semitism, that there is a new
phenomenon in American life — now he’s talking about America, so we don’t have to worry about far off France — he’s talking about the United States, he says there’s a new
phenomenon in the United States: Jews are targeted for murder in the United States. Now, there are Jewish people in this room. I am Jewish. How many people feel that they’re
targetted for murder? That every time when they walk out of their dorm room or walk down the street, they are targetted to be killed? Is this the real world?
Use your own judgement, reflect on it. I won’t argue right now France. I went through the record. Well look at the US [woman talking in the background]… Do you think that
you’re targetted for murder? Do you walk on Yale University campus worried that any moment you might be shot or lynched? Do you worry about the outbreak of pogroms in New Haven?
Is this the real world? Or is there a sheer fantasy being concocted for political ends? I can’t prove it. Use your judgement.
Questioner:It has been said of you, intended as a compliment, that you are the “Jewish David Irving.” I would agree with that.
Do you, are you proud of that characterisation, do you agree with it, do you take it as a compliment?
Finkelstein:Ahhh… I don’t know really, honestly, how to answer that question. With all due respect, I think that’s a stupid question
so I can’t answer it. [Audience laughs] I can’t. What do you want? [laughing, clapping]… Ok, if you ask me what I think of David Irving… listen, young man, I can give
you the politically correct answer and say “he’s terrible, he’s this and he’s that.” Personally, I don’t like the fellow. I think he is a Nazi. However, I have to be
fair. And I want you to listen. Fairness means: A) I’m not an authority on the topic on which he writes. Mostly on military history, [audience noise, talking] on the
German side, during WW2. Number two, [audience noise, talking] historians who are authorities on him have given mixed ratings. Gordon Craig, one of the leading historians on
Germany in the US who writes regularly for the New York Review of Books, Gordon Craig wrote, “his contributions are indespensible.” I can’t change that. I cannot say
Gordon Craig is wrong. You know why I can’t do it? Because I’m humble enough to say: I-Don’t-Know. John Keagan, one of the leading military historians in the UK, when
he testified in the Irving Lipstad [spelling?] trial, he testified on his side, on Irving’s side, as being a good historian. So I can only report to you what other historians
have said. And so in the book, in the Holocaust Industry, I wrote that Gordon Craig said that his contributions, his meaning Irving’s, are indespensible and that became
“Finkelstein says Irving is an indespensable historian.” Well, I didn’t say it. And I just don’t know. What I do know is that, at this point, I totally here.. in this point…
and I hope you will listen, I totally agree with John Stweart Mill. I teach Mill every quarter of whenever I teach. I love Mill’s On Liberty. One of the things
Mill says in On liberty, he says that the most useful person in society, in trying to uncover ideas, is the devil’s advocate because the devil’s advocate is always
trying to find holes in your argument and trying to find errors in your facts. Now, the devil’s advocate is a devil. That’s why he or she is called a devil’s
advocate but he or she serves the useful purpose of trying to find errors in your reasoning, errors in your facts. That is to say, as Mill puts it, he or she, even if he or she is
a devil, he or she is trying to help you find the truth. Now, may be his or her motives are evil, incidious, malicious or wicked but it makes no difference because by looking for errors
in your arguments he or she is helping you — unwittingly no doubt — but helping you to find truth. And so I think, and I can imagine how it’s gonna be distorted, I think people like
David Irving serve a good function in society. You know, I had… a few months ago for a film I was making .. with a British documentary, I went to visit Raul Hilberg, the leading
authority in the world on the Nazi Holocaust, and I talked to him of this whole issue of the Holocaust deniers because Hilberg says “I think they’re useful, they’re good.” That’s the
world’s leading authority on the topic. And I asked him, “well, how are they useful to you?” And he says “you know why they’re useful?” he says “they ask all the questions that everyone else
takes for granted, that nobody else thinks to ask.” So he says “everybody knows,” he gives me an example, “that in the gas chambers they usef Zyclon B and then along come these Holocaust deniers
and they say: ‘well, we tested this Zyclon B. it can’t kill humans. it can kill vermin but not humans.'” And it was an interesting point, and then Hilberg says: “well, it turns out they
used Zyclon B but they couldn’t use it in its pristine form, they had to mix it.” They asked an interesting question. And he says: “I think they seve a useful purpose.”
And I thought to myself, “if the world’s leading authority bar none on the Nazi Holocaust is not terrified of these Holocaust deniers and isn’t out to supress them, who am I to say
they shouldn’t have the right to speak?” And that’s all I said and I’ll stick absolutely by that. Everyone… you know, Mill says at one point in On Liberty, he says “even if the
world is in the right, dissentions still have… dissentions — those who disagree — still probably have something to contribute to truth, a small piece.” I think that’s true.
And that’s my view on the topic. I think among… [audience applause] among rational people that won’t even be considered controversial. To let the devil’s advocate speak… who would even challenge
that? Again, it’s one of the peculiarities of discussion when we come to this topic. The level of mental hysteria it evokes, is really terrifying.
Questioner: Following Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. It’s, you know, Gaza has borders essentials, well technically they’re not borders but.. on the southh
with Egypt, and on the ahh.. [inaudible crosstalk, Finkelstein names the checkpoint] checkpoint…and on the east with Israel, north with Israel and along the southern portion with Egypt. Egypt took… actually took over monitoring
between Egypt and Gaza and there were thousands of people who went back and forth between Egypt and Gaza, there were lots and lots of weapons that were going through to Gaza
[cross talk, Finkelstien: “I don’t know how you know that”].. would go through. And, you know, the rest of it ofcourse, you know, what connects with Israel… every state in the world has
the right to monitor its own borders, so I’m wondering [cross talk, Finkelstien: “I totally agree with that.”] Look, let me finish my question, please. I mean clearly Israel isn’t in control
of the borders of Gaza, doesn’t that create a little bit of a credibility gap with all those human rights organizations that you said all agree that Gaza essentially was remaining a prison
under Israel control, because Israel controlled the borders and it doesn’t control the borders.
Finkelstein: Look, what you’re saying is just factually untrue. You have it out that this is [cross talk, Questioner: “It’s untrue?”] Let me finish
[cross talk, Questioner: “Israel doesn’t control the border..”] I let you finish. [cross talk, Questioner: “with Gaza?”] I let you finish. What’s true [cross talk, Questioner: “But you interrupted me.”]
Ok and you know what? [cross talk, Questioner: ..inaudible..] Listen to this. I apologize. I was wrong. I have no problem saying that. I was wrong. Ok? [cross talk, Questioner: “Yes, you were.”]
Fine. [audience laughter] [cross talk, Questioner: ..inaudible..] Ok. Let’s look at this particular question. Ahh.. You make it out that there’s this constant traffic between Egypt and Gaza.
Now, there is not. There were 2 days — 2 days — where Israel gave Egypt permission to open the border (Editor’s note: 20 October, 2005). They were monitored by the Egypt and the Palestinians but
they’re not controlled. Israel maintains the upper most control along the whole Gaza border. Nothing has changed. Zero. For 2 days they opened the border. Now you add a little fairy tale to it,
“all these weapons were going through.” Where you came up with that.. it’s a, you know, a furtile imagination. It has no basis in records. I followed what was in.. you know, written about it.
Nobody claimed that. That Israel was allowing all these weapons to pass through. But let’s turn to the broder question, the question on which I totally agree. Every country has the right to
control its borders. I think that’s a very uncontroversial proposition. But let’s put the emphasis on its borders. Israel has the right, for sure, to build a wall on its borders but
it doesn’t have the right, in order supposedly to protect itself, to build a wall that takes a sinuous route — as the World Court puts it — around the settlements in the Occupied Territories.
Again, among rational people, not a controversial proposition. Let’s take a simpley analogy. My parents, they didn’t get along with their neighbors. Frankly, they didn’t get along with anyone,
including among themselves [audience laughter]. So at some point they decide to build a wrought iron fence… they decide to build a wrought iron fence… to separate their property
from our neighbors’ property, the Golds. Ok? In New York, at any rate, when you want to build a fence to separate your property from your neighbor’s property, the first thing you have to do
is you have to hire a surveyor. And the surveyor comes to check exactly where the border is between yours and your neighbors’ property and if you build that fence literally one inch over
on your neighbors’ property, legally they have the right to tear down the fence. Now, that proposition is not complicated. But then you begin to ask yourself a question: “what happens if you’re
building a fence — you’re saying you’re building it because you don’t get along with your neighbors — and then you build the fence and the fence starts going around your neighbors’ swimming pool…
well then people begin to wonder…Is this because you don’t get along with your neighbors or is this because you want your neighbors’ swimming pool? Or in this case, the most fertile land
in the West Bank. [audience applause] And then, what happens if you build the fence so it cuts right through your neighbors’ living room? Or as in the case of the fence they’re… the wall they’re
building in the West Bank that cuts right through the West Bank.. then you begin to wonder “are they building this structure to defend themselves or to drive the people living there
to leave? and that raises all together different questions. It has nothing to do with your right to protect your border. It raises an all together different question… your right
to steal another people’s country… And I’m sorry, I don’t think that’s very complicated, at least it hasn’t been for the past century. You don’t have that right.
Questioner: [end of response; pause; several people raise hands, Finkelstein picks one, saying: Yeah. I promised him.] Just a quick one then. Unusually, I don’t know the answer to this question. [audience laughter] If the territories occupied in 1967 are considered illegaly
occupied or occupied territories… [Finkelstein: “No, it’s a belligerent occupation.”] Ok, whatever, right, I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know. What about the territories that were conquered and occupied
in 1948? Wouldn’t they be equally illegal?
Finkelstein: No. You know, ah… The.. position of the United Nations has been that ah… that the law begins from the UN… you know, i don’t wanna to, i can’t now go into
the technicalities of this but the UN position has been that Israel is entitled to the territory it acquired in the 1948 war beyond the borders that were set by the partition resolution and that the territories
that were acquired during the ah.. ahh.. ’67 war violate the UN charter. Ah… you know you can make the argument that when Israel expanded from 56% to 77% of Palestine it was illegal but the UN isn’t taking
that position and frankly I don’t see any point in getting into a quarrel with international law. I think that international law is not bad. It’s not terrific, but it’s not bad and it’s a good place to begin.
If for now other reason than most people are willing to agree with it as a place to begin and once you start to try to change it becomes a much more complicated picture. So I say, stick with what the law
says and work from there. But I agree, you can make arguments like that.
Questioner: Those of us who are involved in the anti-war movement or activists in it, are constantly being asked on issues of unity. Submerge the question of the right of return and/or
divestment in Israel or if not submerge it suspend it entirely. I have a lot of problems with that from a moral point of view. Although I understand their political point of view, which is to build a larger
organization but I just can’t except it personally. Curious to know what your own response to that would be.
Finkelstein: My basic view is: we should build on what everybody agrees on. Because even that.. we’ve not made any progress. The occupation’s been going on for 40 years.
Everyone in the international community agrees, all the human rights organizations agree that Israel has to withdraw from the territories it occupied in ’67. I think we should build on what we agree on and not
argue over what we disagree on. Now, ah.. [audience clapping] I don’t wanna deny because I see it, there are difficulties there on the question of the Palestinian refugees. All I could say on that particular
question is that I think the Palestinians are quite capable of being reasonable. You have to give a reasonable offer and then let’s see what comes of that reasonable offer. I think can resolve the conflict
reasonably. But reasonably can’t mean that you, first expect the Palestinians to renounce their right to the 77% of Palestine that became Israel and after they’ve renounced that right now they have to renounce
their right to more parts of the West Bank, they have to agree that Palestine will be divided into two, they have to agreet o give up Jerusalem, they have to agree to give up their most fertile soil on the
West Bank, they have to agree to give up their water… I can’t see how any reasonable person could possibly accept that. And it’s simply just way out of line with what the international consensus is… which is,
as i say, it’s just not even a topic of dispute. The territories… you’re not entitled to any territory that you acquired during the ’67 war. That’s just not controversial. So let’s try to get agreement and
let’s publicize what’s not controversial rather than argue over what is controversial. There’s plenty of time to get to the controversial part.
Questioner: I’ve read several times that Jews were kicked out of Arab countries at the ah.. the establishment of Israel. There’s claims that it was done in huge numbers to try to
equate it to what happened to the Palestinians. Is there any truth to any of that?
Finkelstein: Well look, it’s a mixed picture and frankly there isn’t very good scholarship on the topic. Ah.. if you look at what, for example, Avi Shlaim, the Oxford professor
who happens to be an Iraqi Jew… he did a quite interesting interview a few months ago.. he was an Iraqi Jew and he was among those who left in 1948.. and he’s emphatic that they were not expelled.
There are issues of property and restitution of property but he says in ’48 what happened to the Iraqi Jews was not expulsion. Ah… and you have to look at it on a country by country basis [audience noise]
and see what happened but [audience noise] I wouldn’t make any [audience noise] broad statements about it. I think in some … places the argument for expulsion is strong, in places like probablyi in Yemen and
Iraq it’s weak. But… Ah.. I wouldn’t make any categorical statements but there are places plainly where they were expelled [inaudible]. Though I would have to emphasize that there just isn’t any really solid
scholarship on it and probably people are working on that now.
Questioner: In the beginning of your talk you were talking about, you know, the entire ICJ’s ruling on the barrier.. you were talking about how [inaudible].. every single
Palestinian should be.. um… should receive compensation because their lives are significantly damaged because of this and I agree completely every single Palestinian should get compensation because it’s unfair.
So I’m wondering, given that you think that, why you criticize Stuart Eizenstat under the Clinton administration and people who work for Holocaust reparations for.. people like my grandparents.
I just don’t see how someone who believes so strongly in one case, which I agree with…
Finkelstein: I think that’s a very excellent question. I think that’s a fair question… but I think there’s a misunderstanding on the question. I was emphatically..
I was emphatically for compensation for the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. I would have to have been because I worked for about 20 years trying to get compensation for my late mother. My father was
compensated from the Germans. He had a monthly… ah.. he had a monthly ah… stipend, whatever you wanna call it… from the Germans, my mother did not and I fought very hard throughout her life
to get the compensation. I think in principle .. ah.. compensation is absolutely fair. Ah.. but what happened in this case? Let’s look at some of the issues. I’ve written a quite long book on the topic, I
can’t [inaudible] summarize it right now. Let’s look first at the question of the Swiss banks. The claim was that there was billions of dollars which Jews had sent to Switzerland before.. during the Nazi
rise to power and that after the war the Swiss banks refused to give back the money to the Jews who survived and their heirs. That was the claim. So, let’s first get the record straight. Although
separately from my myself — I was unaware — that the first person to attack folks like Stuart Eizenstat was not me. The first person was Raul Hilberg. In 1999 he was interviewed by several Swiss and
German newspapers and Hilberg said: “for the first time in history, the Jews, the American Jews are using the blackmail weapon.” Why did he say that? Let’s look at the basic facts.
Number 1, the Nazi Holocaust is occuring during the Depression, it’s the 1930s. Number 2, most Jews live in the schtetl, they live in Eastern Europe. They don’t have that much money. Remember, Tevye, in Fiddler On The Roof, “if
I were a rich man”. He didn’t say he was a rich man. He didn’t say he owned a Swiss chalet and a mercedes. No, he dreamt of being a rich man. Most Jews did not have money.
Number 3, as I’m sure you know, when you have money it gets you out of a lot of jams. So those Jews who did have money, they managed to get out. That’s what money does for you. And they then went to their
Swiss banks and got their money withdrawn. So Hilberg said, “if you look at the face of it, this claim” — as he put it (I wish I could immitate his jestures) — “billions of dollars” he says “is ridiculous. It’s a ridiculous claim.”
Number 2, when you look at what the findings showed, there was a very exhaustive audit done of the Swiss banks. It cost at the end $700 billion.. yes… no, excuse me, take that back..
$700 million, excuse me… [audience laughter] it cost $700 million… please I gotta make that correction, $700 million.. and the audit found that the claims that were made by Eizenstat and others,
for example, that the Swiss banks had systematically destroyed the records of Holocaust survivors in order to conceal the fact that they had kept the money, those claims were false. They were not true.
Number 4, on the record of the Swiss.. on the record of the banks, it should occur to most people, if you’re in Nazi Germany or in Eastern Europe.. and if you’re in Eastern Europe or in Central Europe
and you see a war on the horizon the assumption is.. all the countries in Europe are going to sooner or later be occupied by Germany. So where do you send your money? You send your money to the US.
A) It’s across the ocean and B) you have a lot of relatives in the US ’cause many Jews from Russia and elsewhere went to the US. And so there was an interesting question. The question was: why weren’t the
American banks audited? Why the Swiss banks but not the American banks? Now, 5, what happens? It turns out subsequently, the record of the Israeli banks was worse than the record of the Swiss banks and as
we speak now the Israeli banks on whom an audit was finally done, and was found to have kept several hundred million dollars, as we speak now, nearly seven years after the Swiss banks paid out
$1.25 billion for which there was no factual basis, the Israeli banks still refuse to pay up. Now, I don’t see why Stuart Eizenstat were so up in arms abouyt Switzerland but nothing about Israel.. let alone
the United States, it’s your country… Finally, there’s this whole question of the Holocaust survivors, who are they? They started after the Swiss and they went to the Germans and they said:
“there are all these survivors of the slave labor camps, the ghettos, the work camps. all these survivors who weren’t compensated.” Well, factually, it wasn’t true that non of them were compensated.
My late father, got a monthly check from Germany. The estimates are that about one quarter got monthly checks from Germany. But there was another issue. An issue which, frankly, began to irk me. And the issue
was how the numbers of survivors were growing by the year. So now if you check the records, they’re claiming 1.5 million survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. You have to think about what that means, these figures.
If you take someone like Hilberg or Henry Freelander, or Simon Wisenthal, who recently passed away. You ask Wisenthal, as he was asked in Austria, how many survivors of the slave labor camps, the ghettos and the
concentration camps, how many do you think are still alive. He gave a figure I quote in the book of 15,000. Ah… so Henry Freelander, Raul Hilberg, they said, their estimate was that about 100,000 Jews
survived the concentration camps, slave labor camps, and ghettos in May 1945. And that seemed perfectly credible because I, growing up, always believed, having read the scholarship on the topic, that what
the historians said about it was true, namely, it was a systematic, methodical, assembly line, industrialized extermination of the Jews. Well if it was a systematic, methodical, assembly line, industrialized extermination of the Jews,
where are all these survivors coming from? My late mother used to exclaim, “if everyone who claims to be a Holocaust survivor actually is one, who did Hitler kill?” Everyone you meet claims he or she was a
Holocaust survivor and what truly was happening was.. the numbers were being escalated, increased, year by year, because unless you have very high numbers you can’t justify the demand for large amounts of money.
If it’s only 15,000 who are alive, then your demands for money they have a finite.. they have a limit. So the numbers kept increasing and increasing and increasing… and they had no relationship to reality.
And my point was — this, this is Holocaust denial. Because if you keep increasing the number of survivors, you decrease the number of victims. And that’s exatly what the Holocaust deniers said: “it wasn’t
that bad.” But you know what? I’m pretty old fashioned about this. I think it was that bad. I think it was horrible. I think it was a collossal crime and that’s why I think very few people survived.
And 60 years later very few people can be alive because the average age cohort of a survivor was about 18 to 22. If you were younger or you were older, the Nazis wiped you out. They kept alive those who were young
enough and physically able enough to work. So if you were 18 to 22 in 1939, you’d have to be an age cohort of the mid 80s now. The average life expectancy is 73, here it’s about 74, in the Soviet Union.. it’s much
lower now, but you know, it was around the 60s.. How can so many people be alive? And the worst part of it was — and the part I found personally most distasteful was — the money was not going to the survivors.
It was going into the coffers of the Jewish organizations who turned it into a racket. And I think — I thought then and I think now — it’s wrong to turn the collossal suffering Jews endured during WW2..
I think it’s wrong to turn it into a shakedown racket, blackmail and ah… I opposed it. And frankly, on most of the points I just stated, nobody disputes it anymore. Read what the Jewish survivor organizations
have to say. I attended all of the court hearing in Brookly, NY with Judge Carmen and Burt Newborn and Stuart Eizenstat. And at all the hearings, it was all the survivors, the NAHOS organization
(The National Association of Jewish child Holocaust Survivors), the real survivors, who kept saying, “this isn’t fair, we’re not getting the money. that’s not right. you used us.” And I think it’s true.
And that’s why I call it a double shakedown: they shookdown the Swiss banks, they shookdown German industry, and then they shookdown the survivors. I think that’s wrong.
Questioner: On the anniversary of your parents’ demise, who were heroic Holocaust survivors, do you say Yahrzeit? [Finkelstein: “Excuse me?”] do you observe Yahrzeit?
Finkelstein: I don’t observe any… out of respect, actually, for my parents who were devout atheists, I don’t observe the holidays. What can I tell you? You know… you want me to invent something? Again, I can give you the politically correct answer and tell you about my deep religious devotion — I won’t. I know my late mother and actually, my father, at the very end… actually it was 10 years ago yesterday that my late mother passed away, October 19, 1995. A friend of mine, a Persian friend, a friend of the family, she went to my mother and in the last minutes she started to talk about G-d — the friend — and my mother said: “Get away from me with G-d!” [shrugs] Look, my mother’s father was very devout… close to a Rabbi, and ah.. they became disabused of religious ideas during the war, and that’s how I was… I didn’t come out differently, in the end. [audience noises]… I’m not gonna fake it. I don’t see what that proves. What does it prove? Do you think it proves I’m not faithful to their memory? Do you think it proves I’m dishonoring them? That I don’t say Yahrzeit or whatever it is? Does that prove that? What is it supposed to prove? It’s like this guy’s who said “do you consider yourself the Jewish David Irving?” …what kills.. what really surprises me — i won’t use the street language “kills me” — is like the low level of the questions. the level of sheer ignorance and imbecility and the insulting nature of the questions. I gave a talk. I tried to dignify Yale University. As best as I could. I think, you know… every student that’s here — it’s an honor, and I deeply respect it. And I try to respect that. I gave facts. I refer to scholarship. I try to be serious. And what kinds of questions you get? That’s not serious. And that’s the whole point of my lecture this evening. I’m trying to talk about the facts. But people contrive things, invent things, everything to steer you away from the facts, drag you away from the facts. “Let’s NOT look at what Amnesty says! G-d forbid what B’Tselem says! G-d forbid what … says! G-d forbid what Human Rights Watch says! Let’s talk about “do you say Yahrzeit when your parents died.” I think that’s pitiful.
Transcript: Part 1, October 20, 2005
Good evening, I’m Stanley Heller, chairperson of the Middle
East Crisis Committee and host of the Struggle-TV news, and
I’d like to welcome you to this event. The event is
co-sponsored by Yale Council on Middle East Studies; the
Arab Student Association; Al Aouda, Connecticut; and the
Connecticut Chapter of the Palestine American Congress.
Norman Finkelstein pulls no punches. He’s direct, unsparing
and challenging. He categorized Joan Peters’ very highly
praised book, From Time Immemorial, as a hoax. He called
the demands some Jewish organizations put on Swiss banks, as
a shake-down. And he describes a recent book by the most
senior member of the Harvard Law School faculty as a fraud.
But he backs up his provocative charges with evidence. He
reads the footnotes. Meticulously and then goes back and
reads the sources. And then he produces solid works of
critical scholarship in books like “A Nation on Trial: The
Goldhagen thesis”, “The Holocaust Industry”, and his most
recent book “Chutzpah”, ah, excuse me “Beyond Chutzpah:
The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History”.
Finkelstein specializes in debunking mythology, fabrications
that glorify decades of colonialization, occupation and
Norman Finkelstein has taught political science at New York
University, Hunter College and currently teaches political
theory, at De Paul University. Please welcome, Norman
Lets just get the sound right. Can you hear me at the back?
Are you okay? Good.
Well, thank you very much for inviting me. And that was a
short introduction, which I, I’m grateful for. Ah, because
I’m going to be speaking for a fairly long period of time, I
want to try to cover as much ground as I can this evening
and also allow for the questions and answers and for us to
have an exchange of opinions.
I want to begin, before I get to the heart of my discussion,
I want to begin by discussing two recent events, most of
which, both of which, most of you will be familiar with.
And use those events as a point of departure for looking at
the heart or the core of my this evening… my talk this
In July 2004, the International Court of Justice, delivered
a milestone verdict on the wall that Israel is building in
the occupied territories. As it happened, the verdict
didn’t, or the opinion, the advisory opinion, didn’t deal
with only with the question of the legality of the wall but
it touched on a large number of kindred topics, which in
many respects, cut to the core of the Israel-Palestine
For example, the high court decision explicitly reported or
recalled that the territory Israel occupied after June 1967,
for our purposes, the West Bank and Gaza, that those
territories are occupied territories. That is to say, under
International Law, it’s inadmissible to acquire territory by
war. The International Court of Justice pointed both to the
UN Resolution 242 as well as the General Assembly Resolution
of 1970, as well as Article 2 of the United Nations Charter
and said, under International Law, acquisition of Territory
by war is inadmissible, Israel has no title to a square inch
of the West Bank, of Gaza, and they keep repeating, of east
Number two, well that means, just to put it in plain terms,
that West Bank and Gaza are not disputed territories, as
we’re often told nowadays, they are Occupied Territories.
Number two, the World Court decision at several junctures,
recalled that all the settlements that Israel has built in
the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, all those
settlements are illegal under International Law. They
recalled Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention which
prohibits an occupying country from transferring its
population to occupied territory. As well as recalling
several — I think it’s 3 or 4 — security council
resolutions, stating that Israel has no right under
International Law to build the settlements in the occupied
territories. That means, simply, all 400,000 settlers have
to leave, and all the settlements have to be dismantled.
Number three, as I mentioned a moment ago, the International
court of Justice, repeatedly included East Jerusalem as
occupied territory. Its status is exactly the same as the
West Bank and Gaza. And finally, as most of you know, the
World Court ruled, that the — or gave its advisory opinion
— that the wall Israel is building in the occupied
territories is illegal under International Law. It has to
dismantle it, provide compensation and so forth.
What’s striking about decision… the decision — the
opinion — is not, how far, not only how far-reaching it
was, what’s really striking about the decision, is the
unanimity with which it was reached. The vote was 14-to-1.
Of the 15 judges, 14 went along with everything I just
described and even the one dissenting judge, Thomas
Bergenthal, from the United States, even his dissent from
the decision was a half-hearted dissent. Because he begins
by saying, in his declaration that “In fact, I agree with a
lot of what the World Court has decided.” I won’t go
through everything he agreed on, there’s one point however
which deserves, which merits recalling, or underlining, and
that is, he says at the end of his declaration, “If the
wall that’s being built in the West Bank, if its purpose is
to protect the settlements, then it’s illegal under
International Law.” Case closed.
What’s striking about that fact, and I won’t have time to go
into it right now, what’s striking about that fact is in the
last High Court of Justice ruling, the Israeli High Court of
Justice ruling, the ruling that dealt with the Israeli
settlement at Alfai Menash, the chief justice of the Israeli
court, Mr. Barach, he is very emphatic in his second ruling,
it was the second judgment of the High Court. He’s very
emphatic that “We”, meaning the state of Israel, “are
operating withing the framework of International Law”, and
he argues as well that “Everything we’re doing is
consistent with the World Court opinion. He says, “The
only difference is, we disagree on the facts, but we agree
on the law.” Now, that’s a flat out lie, because every
member of the World Court, including the one dissent,
Mr. Bergenthal, they all agreed that, under International
Law, protecting the settlements is illegal and Barach, Chief
Justice Barach, is very straightforward in the second
judgment, the Alfei-Menashe judgement that they’re building
the wall to protect the settlements. And therefore,
everyone on the world court agrees, notwithstanding what
Barach has stated, everyone agrees, that wall is illegal.
Incidentally, for those of you who are troubled by my usage,
linguistic usage, the Court, the International Court of
Justice, even ruled on that question. It begins its
advisory opinion by stating that “Some people call this
structure a fence, some people call it a barrier, and some
people call it a wall. We have examined all three terms,
each of them has its… each of which has its shortcomings,
but in the end we agree it’s a wall.” On everything the
opinion of the World Court is diametrically opposed to what
Israel is doing and has been doing for the past 40 years.
In fact, what’s most striking is, and this will be, I’ll
return to it in a moment, on all of these issues:
inadmissibility of acquiring territory by war, the
illegality of the settlements, the fact that East Jerusalem
is occupied territory. On all of these issues, they are
virtually unmentionable in the United States. In public
life, you cannot say East Jerusalem is occupied territory,
you cannot say the settlements are illegal. You cannot say
the territories are occupied. If you look at the by-lines
in the newspaper, it used to say, at one time: “West Bank,
comma, Occupied Territory.” It no longer does. Now it’s
officially, “disputed territory.” But not according to
the World Court. It’s Occupied Territory.
Let me turn to a second example. One that is fresher
perhaps in the minds of most of you, namely the events in
Gaza. However you want to characterize them, I think
everybody here would agree, that the depiction in public
life in the United States was, that prime Minister Sharon
had made a major gesture towards peace, that he ended the
occupation of Gaza, and now, as we are repeatedly told, the
ball is in the court of the Palestinians to match the
gesture of Prime Minister Sharon. That I think, we can
agree, is a fair description of how events in Gaza were
depicted here. It’s very striking, however, when you
compare that depiction — the depiction of public life, in
public life, in the US — with what human rights
organizations, other authoritative bodies, have to say about
the Gaza withdrawal.
Let’s begin with B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center
for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which is the
main Israeli human rights organization, monitoring the West
Bank and Gaza. In March of this year, B’Tselem issued a
report on Gaza, it was a hefty report, about a hundred and
fifty pages, and it was entitled, “One Big Prison.” And
went on to describe, in some detail, what life is like in
Gaza. At the end of the report, they looked into the
question of the disengagement plan, which had just been
ratified. And they said that under the disengagement plan,
Israel still controls all the land borders, still controls
all the water … points of entry in the water, still
controls the air space, still controls all the movement of
goods and people between Gaza and the rest of the world,
still maintains the right to enter Gaza militarily at will.
And they concluded at the end of their lengthy report that
Israel’s claim, that the occupation of Gaza has ended, they
used the word, “That’s questionable.”
Human Rights Watch, the main US based international human
rights organization, on August 19th, it issued a statement
on the events in Gaza. And they stated, categorically,
that, repeating again what B’Tselem had written, “So long
as these methods of control remain in Israel’s hands,
Israel’s claim of an end of the occupation, is
questionable,” oh, no, no, that was, excuse me, that was
B’Tselem. The Human Rights Watch concluded “Whether the
Israeli army is inside Gaza or distributed around its
periphery and restricting entrance and exit, it remains in
control. That is to say, notwithstanding the extravaganza
of news coverage about the so called Gaza disengagement,
under International Law exactly zero, precisely zero, has
changed. Gaza was, and still is, occupied territory and
Israel controls all movement. It’s not a complicated idea,
it’s a fairly straightforward one. If jailers throw the
keys to the prisoners, allowing the prisoners to free
themselves from their cells but then the jailers redeploy on
the periphery of the prison, and shut tight the gates, the
prisoners are still in prison. Nothing has changed. And
that’s exactly what, under International Law, happened in
Gaza. The prisoners were freed from their cells but the
prison itself is still shut tight.
Okay, that’s at the legal level. How about at the practical
level? The level of daily life. The world’s leading
authority on Gaza is, I think, unquestionably, Sara Roy, of
Harvard University. She’s written the most substantial
study on the Gaza strip and shortly after the so called
Israeli disengagement, she wrote an article and she says
that “Gaza remains an imprisoned enclave.” So far as its
economy is concerned, she wrote that, “most likely, the
already catastrophic conditions at Gaza almost certainly are
going to deteriorate.” That was also the opinion of
another very mainstream authoritative body, the World Bank,
which wrote that if Israel seals Gaza’s borders, the
disengagement plan will, quote, “create more hardship than
is seen today.” So at the legal level, nothing has
changed; at the practical level the greatest likelyhood is,
things are going to get a lot worse.
That’s Gaza. What about the West Bank? The case of the
West Bank, Israel is currently absorbing, according to the
best figures we have, about 10% of the West Bank including
the most fertile land and the crucial water resources. The
most authoritative report now on the West Bank, or on what
I’ll get to right now, Jerusalem, was put out by another
very mainstream organization, the International Crisis
Group. And the Crisis Group put out a report entitled “The
Jerusalem Powder Keg.” What did it find? Before I turn to
that, just a couple of basic figures. There are now more
settlers who have entered the West Bank, during this year,
approximately 14,000, who have entered this year, there are
now more settlers who have entered the West Bank, than the
settlers who were taken out of Gaza, approximately 8500. In
addition, Israel has now confiscated more land, just in
July, just in July, it confiscated about 25 miles of land
around Male Abi Neen. It confiscated more land than it
withdrew from in Gaza which was about 19 sq. miles.
What does the Crisis Group report? It says the following:
Number one, the wall that Israel is building is now on the
verge of bisecting the West Bank into two.
Number two, it’s imprisoning about 200,000 Palestinians on
one side of the wall, separating them from the West Bank.
And it’s separating about another 100,000 Arab-Jerusalemites
from their schools, their hospitals and so forth inside
Number three, it’s absorbing East Jerusalem, which means its
making impossible a Palestinian state, because, they say, to
quote, use their metaphor, they say “A Palestine without
Jerusalem is like a chassis without an engine. It’s
inconceivable,” they write, “that you can have a
Palestinian state without East Jerusalem as its capital,”
and yet that’s exactly what’s happening now. How do they
conclude? They say as follows, let me just get their
concluding remarks, they say that “Although Prime Minister
Sharon has been giving lip-service to a two-state
settlement, the actions of the Israeli government are at war
with any viable two-state solution and will not bolster
Israel’s security, in fact they will undermine it, weakening
Palestine pragmatists and sowing the seeds of growing
I begin with those two examples with a purpose in mind and
they’re to illustrate the huge chasm, the unbridgeable
chasm, that exists among mainstream scholars, authoritative
bodies — legal bodies. An unbridgeable chasm that exists
between those who are knowledgeable on the topic, those who
are respected in the topic and those who have authority on
the topic, where among them there exists a consensus. There
is no controversy. That’s what’s so striking. The World
Court decision, 14 to 1 with even barely that one, a
dissent. On Gaza, every human rights organization wrote the
same thing. Every responsible authoritative economic body
wrote the same thing. And so you have this very peculiar
phenomenon. You have a consensus among all respected bodies
on what’s going on in the Occupied Territories, and that
consensus is totally at odds with what we’re told and what
we see in public life in the United States. It’s an
unbridgeable chasm. And that’s what I want to look at
today. How do you explain this huge chasm? This abyss,
that separates what all the documentation shows, what all
the scholarly literature shows and what we’re told on the
one hand as against and what we’re told in the United States
and what’s even permissible to say in the United States.
Or to put it somewhat differently, why is there so much
controversy about a topic which, if you examine the
scholarly literature, the legal literature, the human rights
literature, why is there so much controversy about a topic
which, if you look at the actual scholarship and
documentation, there’s no controversy at all? In a word,
the Israel-Palestine conflict is a remarkably,
uncontroversial topic. And, that’s a peculiarity. How do
you explain the passionate, the vehement disagreement that
rages over a topic which, if you look at the actual
scholarship and human rights documentation, it’s not
controversial at all? That’s what I want to discuss this
evening, and I’m going to begin, with a personal note, not
because my autobiography ought to be of any interest to
anyone here, but for reasons which I think will become clear
at the end of my talk.
I first became involved with the Israel-Palestine conflict
in June 1982 at the time of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon,
myself and several other Jews formed a little called “Jews
Against the Israeli Massacre in Lebanon.” The group was a
disaster, I used to say it was the second biggest
catastrophe after @ and @. Nonetheless, many of us, as
members of the group, we began to argue and debate all sorts
of topics. And one of the topics we argued and debated was
Zionism. The question was are you now or… are you now or
have you ever been, a Zionist? I myself had no particular
commitment either way, I hadn’t studied the topic, and I
don’t usually make a commitment on intellectual or
theoretical topics unless I’ve studied them fairly closely.
And so for the next couple of years, since that was a common
item of discussion and debate, I studied the history of
Zionism and the history of the Israel Palestine conflict.
Roughly midway along, along I decided this was as
interesting a topic as any and I turned it into my doctoral
dissertation and in April 1984 I had just completed the
research phase of my doctoral dissertation. And I was about
out embark on the organizing and writing phase. For those
of you who have gone through that process you know that’s
one of the phases you do everything you can to avoid and you
look around for any excuse. And actually I found a pretext
to avoid that stage, but it wasn’t an artificial one, it was
a real one.
In April 1984 I entered a bookstore called, it was Harper
and Row back then, now it’s called Harper-Collins, and they
had their — the publisher — they had their own
bookstore. I entered Harper and Row bookstore and featured
on the main table was this very… this mammoth volume
titled “From Time Immemorial”, the origins of the Arab
Jewish conflict over Palestine. I, needless to say, it was
my area of study so I picked it up turned to the back and
there was a very impressive roster of blurbs for the book.
It read like a Who’s Who of American Arts and Letters. Saul
Bellow, the Nobel laureate in literature; Elie Wiesel, the
Nobel laureate for what nobody knows but Elie Wiesel; then
there was Barbara Tuchman, the famed historian her main book
being the “Guns of August”; there was Lucy Dawidowicz the
holocaust historian. It was a very impressive list. And
soon enough, the book garnered approximately 250 reviews in
the United States ranging from ecstasy to awe. So for
example, Martin Peretz the editor and publisher of “The New
Republic” then as now, Martin Peretz wrote a review, a
breathless review, in which he said, “This book, if read
will change the history of the future.” Whatever that
means but it sounded portentous enough. And the truth be
told, were the book accurate, it would have, as they
claimed, revolutionized our understanding of the
Israel-Palestine conflict. The core thesis of the book was,
that Palestine had been empty on the eve of Zionist
colonization, Zionist settlers came, made the desert bloom
and then Arabs from neighboring countries, surreptitiously
entered Palestine, they sneaked in to take advantage of the
new economic opportunities and then they pretended to be
indigenous to the land. And so, you were now being told,
that those 4.5 million Palestinians — that was the figure
back then — had individually and collectively fabricated
Now, a lot of people in my camp, the left, dismissed the
book as nonsense, as it was called then, Zionist
propaganda. and just laughed it off. I however was not
willing to do that, because as a young man, I had, and a
student, I had very deeply held convictions about the world,
where it was headed. I was absolutely certain in those
convictions, and it wasn’t a certainty borne of faith, I
thought and I still do think, I did an awful lot of study
and research before I reached those convictions. And
whenever I had doubts about my convictions — and
occasionally I entertained one or two doubts — there were
always people in authority, who I deeply respected, Harvard
professors, @ professors, who, whenever I had those doubts,
managed to dispel those doubts by saying my convictions were
right. Now, as it happened, they were wrong. And the world
has a way of sometimes just crashing in on your castles in
the air and that’s what happened to me. And it was pretty
devastating for me when it happened. Fortunately it was a
young enough age and I was able to bounce back. However, I
wad determined, after that episode in my life, that I would
never again make a mistake like that. Not only because I
was wrong but because it was extremely humiliating that you
had these deep convictions which you dismissed anyone else’s
beliefs with in some way as being deficient, and it turns
out that you ought not to have dismissed them. So,
peremptorily, I was wrong. How wrong I was, I don’t know.
Sometimes I think 40%, sometimes I think 50%, sometimes I
think 80%. I’m still not sure. But I’m certain, I’m
certain of the fact that there were a lot of errors in my
And so when the Peters’ book came out I was determined I was
not going to be made a fool off a second time. And so
although everybody else said, it was just propaganda, I
honestly wasn’t so sure. The book had 1853 footnotes. It
had a demographic study which had been ratified by the Chair
of Population Studies at the University of Chicago. A
fellow named Philip Howzer, who wrote in an appendix that he
checked the study, it’s accurate. So, that was pretty
imposing, and in particular since I knew nothing about
demography. But I sat down because I knew authorities were
wrong before, authorities could be wrong again.
And I went through the book. The first thing I did was try
to tackle that demographic study. And it was very dense.
The prose was nearly impenetrable. And … it was, it was
three chapters and at the end there were these charts, these
appendices where all the calculations were done. And I sat
down with a paper, pencil and every night I would just work
at it, after I came home from my job. And maybe around 4 or
5 days into it, it’s around 130 AM, I’m looking, I’m
looking, I get that chill down my spine, my eyes begin to
water, I realize the key number in those charts is a fake.
It wasn’t a mistake, it wasn’t an error, it was quite clear
from how the material was organized, that the number was a
fake. And it was a kind of exhilarating feeling and as my
good friend, the late economist, Paul @ later said to me,
discovering a fraud is every scholars eureka. And this was
my eureka moment. I got up from my bed and I started to
pace my little studio apartment. @ type setting for those
of you who’ve been a graduate student and I said, “I did
it, I did it, I did it.” And of course, to use that
new-age language, I wanted to find somebody to share the
news with, it was 130 in the morning and I’m Jewish so I
called my mother. And, I said, “Ma, you wont believe it, I
did it, I did it, I did it,” and she said, “I’m very happy
for you, I’m very proud of you. What did you do?” And
obviously there was no way I could explain what I did,
except to say say I figured out a fraud. And after that I
started to go through every footnote in the book, one by one
I went to the New York Public Library research branch, one
of the great libraries in the world. And it turned out that
every single footnote, relevant to her main thesis, had been
in some way, doctored, mangled or falsified. The whole book
was a fake, from start to finish. It didn’t fit in the
category of scholarship, good or bad scholarship. It didn’t
fit in the category of propaganda. Because propaganda
that’s good propaganda, has a kernel or truth. It fell into
an all together separate category, a category we call fakes,
hoaxes, frauds. That’s the category we’d put “The
Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and actually the first
version of the article I wrote for… on Joan Peters’ book
was called “The Protocols of Joan Peters”. And I went
through, as I said, the 1800 footnotes, documented the book
was a fraud, and the truth of the matter is, ah, I was
introduced as somebody who debunks, at the risk of sounding
like false modesty, it’s not really difficult at all. What
I did with the Peters book was actually not very
challenging. The book was totally preposterous. It was a
ridiculous book. And it took only a matter of months for me
to demonstrate that. I started in April, I had completed
the manuscript by December.
The challenge was not, and I want to underline it for what
I’ll say later, the challenge was not exposing the Peters
fraud, the challenge was publicizing it. Because so many
institutions and individuals were now invested in that book,
those 250 reviews ranging from ecstasy to awe. But how
would it look, if a graduate student, who had only studied
the topic for two years, was able to demonstrate, that this,
as Barbara Tuchman put it, a historical event in itself —
that’s what she called the book — that it was a complete
collection of nonsense. So it took a very long time to
publicize my findings, they were finally acknowledged
roughly in 1986, when the former columnist for the New York
Times, a fellow named Anthony Lewis, wrote a column entitled
“There Were No Indians.” And that was the end of Joan
Peters. She presumably went into the sunset with about a
Her book by the way was a national best seller, went into
7… 8 hardback printings and I’ll return to it later, it
resurfaced again in February 2001 — a topic I’ll return
to. Well, since the expose of the Peters’ hoax, I’ve
devoted most of my public life to the Israel-Palestine
conflict. It’s not a topic I teach, but it’s my political
vocation and its now been about 20 years since the Peters’
episode, and 20 years periods, are obviously, small
milestones in one’s life and moments of reflection. And so
when I reached that 20 year period, I had to ask myself,
Okay, what did you learn from all this? You’ve done a lot
of reading on the topic, at the expense of many other things
I wish I had read, So what’s your conclusion? And I reached
the underwhelming conclusion that in fact the
Israel-Palestine conflict is not very complicated at all.
It doesn’t raise any particularly complicated historical
questions, political questions, moral questions, legal
questions. It just doesn’t. Let me just give you
illustrations from the main areas which concern us.
If you take the question of the history of the
Israel-Palestine conflict, it’s true that for a period of
time, there was among those studying the topic, quite
vehement disagreement. There was a main body of
scholarship, basically the Israeli view of what happened, I
won’t use the word narrative, I refuse. Basically the
Israeli view of what happened and for those of you who have
read, for example Leon Uris’s novel Exodus, it’s basically
the Exodus view of history. And that was the dominant one,
and then there were a few people, on the fringes, who
challenged the dominant view put forth by Israel and its
Lets take one typical example. Lets take the question of
the Palestinian refugees. When I was growing up and studying
the topic, there was the dominant view, that in 1948 the
Palestinians were told by the neighboring Arab states, what
were called the Arab radio broadcasts, they were told to
leave and that once the Arab … invading Arab armies had
swept the Jews into the sea that the Palestinians could
return to their homes. That was pretty standard, the famous
Arab broadcasts. As it happens, already in early 1960s it
was known that that was factually not true. There were a
couple of historians, one an Irishman Erskine Childers and
the other a Palestinian, Walid Khalidi. Who went back and
checked the Arab radio broadcast recordings. Because in
1948 during the war, the British, the Americans were closely
monitoring the region and preserved the recordings of the
Arab radio broadcasts. They checked them, there was no
evidence of these radio broadcasts. Even though it was
already well known in the 1960s among those who wanted to
know, the Arab radio broadcast claim endured until roughly
the late 1980s. In the late 1980s several Israeli
historians examining the Israeli archives most notably Benny
Morris of Ben-Guiron University. He looked into the
archives and he said, look there’s no evidence of these Arab
Now, at this point, I was talking back in the 70s and 80s,
at this point in time, there’s pretty much a consensus, you
can call a broad consensus, among historians that in the
nineteen, in 1948, the Palestinians were victims of — the
term they use — of an ethnic cleansing. Even Benny Morris
will acknowledge, even though he’s now quite on the right
end of the spectrum, he’ll acknowledge it was an ethic
cleansing. It’s not true that they agree on everything. So
for example, Benny Morris famously argued that the
Palestinian refugee problem was borne of war not by design,
that is to say, there was a war, and as we all know, wars
generate refugees. So Morris says it was an ethnic
cleansing, but it wasn’t premeditated, it was on account of
the war. Then there are other historians who say, untrue,
the Zionists intended at least from the early 1930s to
expel, or as they called it, transfer the Arabs out of
Palestine, the opportunity came in 1948 and they exploited
the opportunity to systematically expel the indigenous
population from the area that became Israel.
It’s true that there’s some disagreement still but it’s with
a quite narrow range. The whole Israeli claim has dropped
off the spectrum. Everyone agrees, it was an ethnic
cleansing. There are differences on what caused it, so
there are still differences. But the truth is, it seems to
me, the range of difference is quite narrow.
When you turn to the human rights dimension of the conflict,
not the historical dimension, the human rights dimension of
the conflict what’s most striking is, there’s not just a
broad consensus, there’s a consensus, full-stop.
Israel-Palestine is among the most heavily, my guess is, the
most heavily, monitored area by human-rights organizations.
You have the international organizations, Human Rights
Watch; Amnesty International; you have the local
organizations, B’Tselem, Israeli Information Center for
Human Rights in the Occupied Territories; and then you have
the local affiliates of international organizations,
Physicials for Human Rights in Israel, Public Committee
Against Torture in Israel, and so on and so forth.
Each of these organizations has its own legal staff,
research staff and field staff. Each is fiercely
independent. And each turns out, or churns out, the
luminous reports on the Israel-Palestine conflict. In
preparation for the book I just completed, I would say I
went through at minimum several thousand pages of human
rights documentation over a 20 year period. What… what I
found most striking, and I will say I was genuinely
surprised, what I found most striking was, there was no
disagreement, about what’s happening there. Now, that’s
unusual. First of all, for those of you who study law, you
know how easy it is to turn and twist a word or a phrase to
try to get it to mean what it doesn’t mean. And many people
make a profession of doing that. They’re called lawyers.
Number two, Human Rights Law, is a relatively new branch of
law, of International Law. Which means it has a lot of gray
And number three, much of human rights documentation
consists of observation. There’s a demonstration, here are
the Palestinians, there is the Israeli army. Who started
the melee? Did the Palestinians throw rocks? Were there
any armed people among them? Were the armed people standing
in front of unarmed people? Among the Israelis, did they
give warning shots? Were they aiming at the feet? Or were
they aiming at the torso and the head? All of that is
observation. And, just by virtue of, as most of you know,
the Roshomon Phenomenon — the great Kurosawa film, about
several people seeing the same incident but remembering it
differently. Just by virtue of Roshomon Phenomenon, you
would expect that there would be differences in what’s
reported. But what was most striking, as I went through the
reports is that for a 20 year period, I found exactly one
incident, ONE. One demonstration, where two human-rights
organizations disagreed. Otherwise, everyone agreed on
everything. It wasn’t controversial. And that brings me
now to the core of my remarks, this evening, namely, if what
I’m saying is true: there’s a broad consensus on the
history, and there’s a consensus full-stop on the human
rights, then why is there so much contention and
disagreement on the Israel-Palestine conflict?
And I want to suggest that there are two kinds of
disagreement on the Israel-Palestine conflict. One of which
I would call, legitimate disagreement, that is where honest
people can agree to disagree, and illegitimate disagreement,
that is to say, fabricated disagreement.
[End of Tape 1]
Subject: Your Presentation at Yale
Hello, Professor. I just watched your presentation at Yale on the
Internet, and it was truly impressive. As your website points out, the
contrast between your presentation and the account of it sent in to the
student newspaper by the three Zionist students is incredible. Such
fanaticism and/or dishonesty from those at an elite “Ivy League”
university is very sad. Anyway, I was so impressed by your presentation, I
went to our university bookstore and bought a copy of Beyond Chutzpah.
Keep up the fine work, and please come back to Vancouver some time. I
didn’t get a chance to see you here last year.
Date: Wed, February 15, 2006 8:40 am
Subject: your 2.15.2006 op ed: factually incorrect
Dear Todd Rosenbaum,
There’s a factual error in your recent Op Ed piece in the Cavalier Daily where you state: “Finkelstein is … has alleged that Holocaust survivors misuse and exploit their experiences for financial gain.” The Cavalier Daily
Finkelstein’s printed and recorded record has been to
a) to echo Raul Hilberg, the leading historian on the Nazi holocaust, in accusing the orchestrators of the reparations campaign of a double shakedown: one of the Swiss banks and the other of the survivors of the Nazi holocaust
b) accuse Jewish elites, not survivors or “Jews” in general, of exploiting the Nazi holocaust
See his books Beyond Chutzpah and The Holocaust Industry.
For a recent illustration, you can view the Q&A section of a Yale talk Finkelstein gave on 10.20.2005 (video & mp3 of Yale talk here).
This question is asked at 29 min 56 sec of the Q&A portion of the Yale talk:
Questioner: In the beginning of your talk you were talking about, you know, the entire ICJ’s ruling on the barrier.. you were talking about how [inaudible].. every single Palestinian should be.. um… should receive compensation because their lives are significantly damaged because of this and I agree completely every single Palestinian should get compensation because it’s unfair. So I’m wondering, given that you think that, why you criticize Stuart Eizenstat under the Clinton administration and people who work for Holocaust reparations for.. people like my grandparents. I just don’t see how someone who believes so strongly in one case, which I agree with…
Finkelstein: I think that’s a very excellent question. I think that’s a fair question… but I think there’s a misunderstanding on the question. I was emphatically.. I was emphatically for compensation for the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust…
I think in principle .. ah.. compensation is absolutely fair. Ah.. but what happened in this case? Let’s look at some of the issues. I’ve written a quite long book on the topic, I can’t [inaudible] summarize it right now. Let’s look first at the question of the Swiss banks…
Finally, there’s this whole question of the Holocaust survivors, who are they? They started after the Swiss and they went to the Germans and they said: “there are all these survivors of the slave labor camps, the ghettos, the work camps. all these survivors who weren’t compensated.” Well, factually, it wasn’t true that non of them were compensated. My late father, got a monthly check from Germany. The estimates are that about one quarter got monthly checks from Germany. But there was another issue. An issue which, frankly, began to irk me. And the issue was how the numbers of survivors were growing by the year. So now if you check the records, they’re claiming 1.5 million survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. You have to think about what that means, these figures. If you take someone like Hilberg or Henry Freelander, or Simon Wisenthal, who recently passed away. You ask Wisenthal, as he was asked in Austria, how many survivors of the slave labor camps, the ghettos and the concentration camps, how many do you think are still alive. He gave a figure I quote in the book of 15,000. Ah… so Henry Freelander, Raul Hilberg, they said, their estimate was that about 100,000 Jews survived the concentration camps, slave labor camps, and ghettos in May 1945. And that seemed perfectly credible because I, growing up, always believed, having read the scholarship on the topic, that what the historians said about it was true, namely, it was a systematic, methodical, assembly line, industrialized extermination of the Jews. Well if it was a systematic, methodical, assembly line, industrialized extermination of the Jews, where are all these survivors coming from? My late mother used to exclaim, “if everyone who claims to be a Holocaust survivor actually is one, who did Hitler kill?” Everyone you meet claims he or she was a Holocaust survivor and what truly was happening was.. the numbers were being escalated, increased, year by year, because unless you have very high numbers you can’t justify the demand for large amounts of money. If it’s only 15,000 who are alive, then your demands for money they have a finite.. they have a limit. So the numbers kept increasing and increasing and increasing… and they had no relationship to reality.”
Thanks very much,