Professor Norman Finkelstein, the controversial, sometimes abrasive, author and academic delivered a lecture entitled The Apartheid Wall to a near-capacity audience last Wednesday evening at the Hall Building.
Although the subject of his talk was ostensibly the barrier currently being erected by Israel in the West Bank, Finkelstein, a political science professor at DePaul University in Illinois, spent most of his time recounting the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict leading up to the present situation.
Criticizing what he called the “nonsense” that gets “broad dissemination” in the mass media, Finkelstein argued that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a clash of religions or civilizations, but a struggle over land and dispossession.
“In fact, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not really very complicated at all. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon or rocket scientist to understand it,” said Finkelstein. “For the past several years, it’s even fair to say that there’s pretty much what one could call a broad consensus on what happened in Israel-Palestine over the past hundred years.”
From before it’s inception, Finkelstein said, Israel and it’s leaders have faced a dilemma: how to create and maintain a state with an overwhelming Jewish majority in a land where Arabs were/are the overwhelming majority.
According to Finkelstein, the only two options were outright “ethnic cleansing” (or “transfer”) of the Arab population, or an apartheid-like system with a “settler minority lording it over a large, indigenous exploited majority.”
In 1948, the year Israel was founded, Zionist leaders chose the former option Finkelstein said, leading to the expulsion and flight of roughly 700,000 Palestinians.
But by 1967, when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza during the Six-Day War, realities had changed. Expulsion became politically unfeasible, leaving only the latter option of “apartheid” settler colonization.
“Israel was at an impasse, and now they’re trying to resolve it by creating that Bantustan, by building the wall in the occupied territories,” Finkelstein said.
In his most controversial work, The Holocaust Industry, Finkelstein, himself the son of Holocaust survivors, argued that the Nazi Holocaust of Jews has been exploited for political and financial gain by some Jewish organizations. Touching on that book, Finkelstein denounced what has come to be known as the “new anti-Semitism.”
“The ‘new anti-Semitism’ plays the same functional role as the Holocaust does,” said Finkelstein. “Its purpose is to taint any criticism of Israel with the label of anti-Semitism.”
Sparing few, Finkelstein lashed out at political leaders and actors on all sides, but he reserved his barbs of the night for Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and his book The Case for Israel.
Referring to Dershowitz as a “pathological fraudster,” “shyster” and “imbecile,” Finkelstein accused him of plagiarizing much of The Case for Israel from Joan Peters’ long-discredited From Time Immemorial. The latter claimed, amongst other things, that Palestinians never really existed as a distinct people and that their mass exodus in 1948 was spurred on by radio messages from Arab governments.
“Until I debated him, it never occurred to him that being a Harvard professor, he has to read the books that he wrote,” Finkelstein said, eliciting a roar of laughter from the crowd. “After the debate I had with him, he went around saying ‘I was ambushed.’ Yeah, it was an ambush, I read his book and he didn’t.”
Outside the hall, a group of about a dozen protesters carried signs and handed out flyers while inviting arriving audience members to “see why Nazis love Finkelstein.”
“The way I see it, Norman Finkelstein has an ideological axe to grind against the Jewish community and Israel,” said Noah Sarna, former co-president of Concordia Hillel. “It’s not a matter of him being critical of Israel, he’s an ideological zealot.”
The lecture was sponsored by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.