Norman Finkelstein on the Coming Break-Up of American Zionism: Part 2

What changed Jewish attitudes to Israel was the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The Americans saw Israel very much as a kind of outpost of American interests in the Middle East, and identified its people with great American heroes like Davey Crockett, and the struggle of the Texans for independence from Mexico. There was an equivalence between Israel’s soldiers and the heroes of the Alamo. The Israelis were invested with all the heroic values Americans believed characterised themselves, and from it being unpatriotic to support the Israelis, it became the reverse. It was super-patriotic to support them.

Crucial to this was the Israeli claim to have practised ‘purity of arms’. Unlike Vietnam, where the Americans were losing and committing terrible atrocities, the Israelis were winning without committing massacres and other breaches of human rights. This record has gradually darkened as the wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours continued. The classic case of the ‘bad war’ was Lebanon, where the Israelis killed tens of thousands of people, the majority of whom were civilians. But as historians like Benny Morris examined Israeli’s own history and war record, it became increasingly clear that Israel at its foundation had not practised ‘purity of arms’. In fact, if anything, the record of the Israeli army had actually improved and become cleaner over time.

And just as more was known and published about Israeli massacres of Palestinians and ethnic cleansing, so more information appeared about the regular use of torture by the Israelis. Previously the very few people writing and reporting on this were a Communist, a Trotskyite and an industrial chemist. They were marginal figures, whose work it was easy to shrug off and dismiss. But more and more Jews and Israelis brought to light information on torture. As Jews began their investigations, so it encouraged international groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to become involved. These had originally remained aloof from examining Israel’s record in this regard, partly from entirely noble reasons: accusing Jews of torture was too much like the accusation made against the Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust. And then the use of torture reached truly epidemic proportions of tens of thousands of detained Palestinians in the 1990s during the Second Intifada.

At the same time, Israeli politics has also become more corrupt and sleazier. Finkelstein states that Israel’s founders were idealists, who believed in the Jewish state as an ideal, and lived austere lives. They were not concerned with their own enrichment. As a result, Israel was one of the most transparent – that is to say, not corrupt, countries. Yitzhak Rabin, for example, was forced out of office in the 1980s because his wife was found to have an American bank account. There was nothing in it, but the simple fact that she had it was enough to torpedo Rabin’s stint in office. Now, Finkelstein states, hardly a day goes by without an Israeli politicians appearing in the papers because of a financial or a sex scandal.

The views of the Israelis as the injured party in the conflicts with the Palestinians, who were always provoked into war, has also been reversed. The previous received wisdom was that it was the Israelis who always made peace overtures, which were rejected by the Palestinians, ‘who never missed a chance to miss a chance for peace’. In fact, the historical reality is the exact opposite. Finkelstein quotes a book, 800 pages in length, by an Israeli scholar at one of the country’s institutes for military strategy. This academic went through everything that was written on the various Arab-Israeli wars and their causes, and found that in all of them it was the Israelis, who were the aggressors, and the Palestinians, who wanted peace. Which was nearly always rejected.

And the views of the New Historians, like Benny Morris, about how Israel from the first advanced a programme of ethnic cleansing – ‘population transfer’, in the coded jargon of the generals and politicos – and apartheid against the Palestinians has gradually entered mainstream Israeli scholarship. The lie that the Palestinians were ordered to flee their villages by the invading Arab armies was exposed by Benny Morris, who found that no such call actually took place. Finkelstein makes the point that you can now read a mainstream Israeli history school textbook, and it’s very little different from what left-wing, dissident historians have been saying. At the same time, it’s now accepted that what the Israelis are inflicting on the Palestinians through their systematic discrimination is indeed apartheid. It’s actually been described as such by the Israeli paper of record, Ha’aretz. And when Ha’aretz uses the term, you know that attitudes have changed.

As a result, American Jews, and especially young American Jews, have been increasingly indifferent and distanced from Israel, despite the AIPAC and the official Israel lobby.

Finkelstein’s talk lasts for about 1 hour and 22 minutes, or thereabouts. After this is there’s about another hour or so where he answers questions from the audience. These cover topics such as the religious dimensions to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the historical friendship between Muslims and Arabs, and Finkelstein’s work exposing the ‘Holocaust Industry’ – the exploitation of the suffering of the Jewish people during the Nazi genocide for the profit of the campaign’s leaders and the Jewish organisations. This is particularly odious to Dr Finkelstein, as it demeans the real human suffering of the true victims, who all too often don’t see a penny.

One of those asking the questions is a young woman from a very Christian background. She states Dr Finkelstein has not tackled the spiritual motives at the heart of Zionism. She admits she does not know much about the conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs, but is impressed by the strong similarities between Judaism and Muslim, Arab culture. She understands from the people at her Presbyterian church that the Jews have a very strong urge to settle in the land of their ancestors, based on the Covenant between the Lord and Abraham. Finkelstein replies to this by saying that the reason he did not discuss it, as once you start invoking religion you put it beyond the possibility of reaching a political solution. He states that if someone came up to you and said that, according to the Bible, you should move out of your house because it was of great spiritual significance to them, you would not do so. At this point, some of the audience clap and cheer. He shuts them up, stating that although he’s an atheist, he has no wish to damage other’s faith. He also states that she must be aware that during the period of slavery, the Southern lawyers defending the institution did so using tracts from the Bible about Ham, whose descendants were forced to serve Noah’s other sons, because he saw his father naked when drunk. Finkelstein states that the justices, who ruled against slavery did not tackled the religious arguments, but simply ruled according to secular law.

The girl responds by making a comment about Arab terrorism. This is answered in turn by an Arab member of the audience, who understandably denies that his people are terrorists. He states that they are loving people, and advises her to read the book L’Amite Judeo-Arabe by a French author, which details the long friendship between Jews and Muslims. It was the Islamic world, he states, which took the Jews in and protected them after they were expelled from Europe. Later, another audience member, a Palestinian, adds further information to this. He is a Palestinian, and states that in his village there were Jews, who had Arab names, just as there were throughout the Arab world from Yemen to Iraq. There was no spiritual animosity between them. Indeed, he states that the desire of the Jews to possess the land seems to start in the Bible 3,000 years ago, and then absolutely nothing until the foundation of Israel. He argues very strongly that the conflict between the Isrealis and the Palestinians is not religious.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “Norman Finkelstein on the Coming Break-Up of American Zionism: Part 2”

  1. 61chrissterry Says:

    Reblogged this on 61chrissterry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: