Norman Finkelstein and the right to creep us out


MJ Rosenberg hits it spot on in this blog post: Norman Finkelstein is repulsive. He also deserves to be heard.

Airing Finkelstein removes from him the veneer of martyrdom and leaves the sleazy, slithering apologist for murder he has become – and, yes, the anti-Semite he has become.  (Honestly: The Jewish credo is "never forgive, never forget.")

What an egomaniac: He urges the Lebanese to shed their blood so that he may "respect" them. Who the hell cares who he respects? And the arrogance: If you disagree with him, you are not among the "clear-headed" and the "rational," and he doesn’t even have to explain why.

Or as MJ puts it more pithily:

I can’t stand the guy. But I think he has the right to be heard on campus.

Watch the video, if you can stand it. If there’s a testament to Lebanese civility and forebearance, it’s in the restrained and refined demeanour exhibited by the young journalist.

I had my own creepy Finkelstein experience a few years ago: I attended a panel  he was addressing at the Palestine Center here in DC. Much of it was fine – I didn’t agree with him, but his points about Israel’s policies were confined largely to its alleged abuses of Palestinians, and based on actual events, not conspiracy theories. But then – and this is something of a routine – he gets worked up, the cursing and abuse begins, and then out comes the loony theory.

In this case, he was dismissing Jewish complaints about Mel Gibson’s "The Passion" as groundless, largely because the ADL had voiced similar complaints about the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar decades earlier. Both barrages of complaints, he said, were clearly timed to distract attention from Israel’s belligerence. (Wouldn’t the fault then lie with the film makers who created the pretext? But wait! Jews run Hollywood. Hmmmm.)

Anyway, I approached him, identifying myself as JTA. I tried to explain that  the ADL complaint in the early 1970s had some merit regarding the film’s sinister depiction of Jewish priests, although the reaction was probably overstated (the film was mostly a silly fin-de-flower-power romp); the complaints about "The Passion" and its resurrection of charges of Jewish deicide were of far greater merit; but in neither case did he actually address merit, he only guessed wildly at motive.

Instead of responding, he kept urging me to read the book in which he made the point, "and you don’t have to pay for it – read it for free in the book shop."

"Why wouldn’t I pay for it?" I said.

He looked away and said nothing.

Finkelstein guesses motive all the time, so I’ll do same. This is what he was thinking: Of course I wouldn’t pay for it. I’m a cheap Jew.

(I’m not sure MJ is entirely right about why Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow don’t bring Israel up; whenever I find myself wondering the same thing – "what do they think about the Israel issue?" – I pinch myself and remind myself that not everyone is as mired in this as we are. Maybe other things exercise them.)

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