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A Campus Debate on Israel By: David Meir-Levi
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, October 20, 2008


“Israel, Palestine, and the Rule of Law” – a symposium with Norman Finkelstein, John Dugard, and David Meir-Levi. Santa Clara University, Thursday, 10.16.08, 7:00-9:00 pm. The moderator was Professor David Sloss, Dean of the Center for International Law at Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California.

Dr. Sloss introduced the speakers.  His introductory remarks about me were quite appropriate and accurate.  He also did a good job of keeping time and moving the evening forward.  He did not, however, introduce the other two participants accurately.

Professor Dugard is a professor of international law currently teaching at Duke University. He has served on the world court and until recently was the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the “occupied territories” in “Israel-occupied Palestine”.

[Not included in Dr.  Sloss’ introduction: Prof. Dugard’s role as special rapporteur on Palestine was confined to investigating only the violations of human rights perpetrated, supposedly, by Israel.  In that capacity, Prof. Dugard systematically ignored Palestinian acts of terror, and enthusiastically described in glowing terms the “…determination, daring, and success” of some of the terrorists and their terror acts.  Moreover, he is the only appointee of the UN who regularly rails against the UN-sponsored quartet and the Road Map…despite the fact that the UN itself, his employer at the time, strongly endorsed the road map as a way to peace in the Middle East.  Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that he was perfectly free to criticize the human rights violations perpetrated by the Palestinian  Authority…because he did so with regard to the Palestinian Authority’s imposition of the death penalty upon Palestinians accused of collaboration with Israel.  So Palestinian violations against Palestinians evoke his ire and calumny.  However, the 140+ suicide bomber attacks against Israel, the 18,000+ shooting attacks since the Intifada began (9/29/2000), the 5000+ qasam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on to Sederoth, the attempted (but, happily, intercepted) mega-terror attacks against Israeli sky scrapers and fuel depots which could have taken the lives of thousands….these do not merit his comment. (source: www.unwatch.org)].

Dr. Finkelstein has taught at Brooklyn College, Hunter College, Rutgers Univ., New York Univ. (NYU) and DePaul University, but is now a “free-lance” scholar with numerous publications and speaking engagements to his credit.

[Not mentioned in the introduction: He was fired from the first four due to the fact that he never had even one of his numerous articles published in a professional academic journal, all of his publications are anti-Israel and Holocaust-minimizing screed appearing in extremist anti-Semitic websites and on-line journals;  and the chairman of his department at one of these colleges asserted that he was fired for “incompetence, mental instability, and abuse of students with politics different from his own” (source: Alan M. Dershowitz, “Finkelstein’s Bigotry” WSJ, 5/4/2007).  He was denied tenure at DePaul for the same reasons, and is now a self-described “independent scholar”.]

He is the author of several books.

[Not mentioned in the introduction: the most infamous of these is “The Holocaust Industry.”  Both Alan Dershowitz (Prof. of Law at Harvard Univ.) and Peter Novick (Prof. of History at Univ. of Chicago) concluded that “…no facts alleged by Finkelstein should be assumed to be really facts, no quotation in his book should be assumed to be correct…..an examination (of Finkelstein’s sources in his book) reveals that many of these assertions are pure invention.”  Professor Omer Bartov, an authority on genocide, characterized Finkelstein’s book as “…a novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’…brimming with indifference to historical facts, inner contradictions, strident politics…indecent…juvenile…self-righteous, arrogant and stupid.” (source: Dershowitz, ibid).

Unlike Professor Dugard, Finkelstein is a failed academic and a disgraced scholar, functioning now in a pseudo-academic (or perhaps, better, anti-academic) role as a free-lance diatribalist disguised as an “independent scholar,” sort of an unemployable pseudo-academic maverick who insists that his current unemployed maverick status is because his enemies, including a Jewish conspiracy and Zionist cabal, are trying to silence him….because they fear the “truth” that he preaches.]

I looked forward to our panel discussion last night, and found it both satisfying and corroborating of the accusations against both panelists (in italics above) which were omitted from the introductions.

Professor Dugard did his 20-minute presentation first. He focused on:

      The advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ, in the Hague) regarding Israel’s defensive barrier, which he consistently referred to as a “wall.”  The ICJ’s advice was to dismantle the “wall” and pay compensation to Palestinians inconvenienced by it.  Professor Dugard noted that this was an “advisory” opinion and not a legal decision with the force of law, yet he asserted that Israel was in violation of international law because it did not obey that opinion.  He also noted that Israeli “settlements” on the Palestinian side of the green line were illegal, and Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem was an illegal act.

      He then discussed criticism of the ICJ’s opinion which came primarily from Israel, and the USA.  He brushed off this criticism by asserting that the “wall” should have been built along the green line which was the legal boundary of the West Bank, and that by not doing so, Israel was really using the “wall” as a way to steal Arab land.

      He then returned to the issue of the status of the ICJ opinion, acknowledging that it was advisory only, but re-iterated the assertion that the “settlements” are illegal.   He went on to add that the US representative to the ICJ agreed that the Israeli “settlements” are illegal.  He neglected to mention that the US representative boycotted the entire proceedings due to the one-sided and highly politicized nature of the ICJ’s actions in refusing to take in to consideration the Palestinian terrorism and the defensive barrier’s role in reducing Palestinian acts of terror. He closed this part of his presentation with the accusation that Israel has done little to alleviate the humanitarian crisis which it has caused in the West Bank and Gaza Strip due to its illegal “occupation” of these territories.

      He ended his presentation with commentary on the fact that the world and the UN have done nothing to enforce the ICJ’s opinion.  He did not explain why any governing body or the UN should do anything to legally enforce what is actually nothing more than an opinion.  He voiced his own criticism of the USA by asserting that the real reason that the UN has done nothing to enforce the ICJ opinion is because of the USA veto.

Professor  Dugard’s comments were greeted with applause.

Dr. Finkelstein spoke next.  He focused on what he called the fundamentals about which there can be no dispute and no compromise. He invoked Ghandi who 65 years ago stressed that there can be no compromise on fundamentals.  And these fundamentals in the Arab-Israel conflict are:

      Israel’s apartheid regime, as documented so thoroughly by ex-President Carter in his book, is illegal and immoral and in violation of international law and in defiance of the rule of law.  Thus the “wall” and the settlements are illegal and in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

      Although the six-day war was a defensive war, acquisition of territory via defensive military actions is illegal (just as is acquisition of territory via aggressive military actions).

      And it really was not a defensive war because Nasser had no real intention to attack, and even if he had, CIA opinion was clear at the time (voiced to President Johnson) that Israel could “beat the hell out of Egypt”.

      Thus the only way for there to be peace in the middle east is for Israel to comply with international law, retreat completely to the pre-six-day war “green line” borders, dismantle and evacuate all “settlements”,  dismantle the “wall”

Dr. Finkelstein’s comments were greeted with wild and enthusiastic applause.

I spoke last. I abandoned my prepared notes (*) and focused instead upon the errors and omissions of the previous speakers.

      International law is clear.  While both offensive and defensive use of force to acquire territory is illegal, there is an important difference between these two types of territorial acquisition which was not mentioned by the previous speakers:  a victim nation’s territory acquired by an aggressor belligerent in an offensive war must be returned at once.  But regarding the aggressor’s territory acquired by the victim of aggression in the process of defense against the aggressor, the disposition of that territory must await the peace treaty between the belligerents.  In the absence of a peace treaty, the defender/victim maintains legal sovereignty over the conquered territory.  Therefore, since in the six-day war Israel fought a defensive war against tripartite Arab aggression (Egypt, Syria, Jordan) on three fronts at once, and since none of the Arab nations agreed to a peace treaty (this non-agreement having been coordinated at the Khartoum Conference in August/Sept, 1967 with the infamous three Khartoum “NO”s – “No Recognition, No Negotiations, No Peace; we have lost round 3 but we can lose 40 rounds; Israel can lose only one”) Israel’s sovereignty over the conquered territories is legal. 

[It is important to note that neither speaker contradicted me in their subsequent remarks.  Thus I conclude that my understanding of international law is correct.  Professor Dugard cannot not but know this dimension of international law; yet he ignored it in his presentation and in later commentary.]

      I then pointed out that while one could argue (not that I agree, but one could argue) that Israel’s “occupation” and its “settlements” and its defensive barrier are problematic and may be stumbling blocks to peace,  they are not violations of international law.  Moreover  they do not violate the Fourth Geneva Convention because the Geneva Convention does not prohibit voluntary settlement of the occupier’s population (although it does prohibit forced exile of the indigenous, and forced relocation of the occupier’s, population), nor does it prohibit reasonable means for maintaining security (such as military outposts, army camps, guarding roads, taking action against terrorists, inter alia), nor does it prohibit the construction of a barrier for defensive purposes which will impede the movement of the occupied population in order to stop infiltration of terrorists and combatants.

[It is important to note that neither speaker contradicted me on this issue.  Thus I conclude that both Dr. Finkelstein and Prof. Dugard are quite aware that when they insist that Israel is in violation of the Fourth Geneva  Convention, they know that they are wrong….but they make those assertions anyway.]

      I then went back to my prepared notes, and turned to the issue of the nature of the conflict: not a struggle for Palestinian “national self-determination” but rather an endless, relentless, brutal, savage terror war punctuated with full-scale wars, the sole purpose of which is the destruction of the state of Israel and the genocide of its Jews.  I gave examples of the 15 opportunities for Palestinian statehood, since 1937, which Palestinian leadership rejected in favor of war and terrorism, demonstrating that statehood was never the goal of the violence (see my books, Big Lies and History upside Down, for details).  I also gave examples of the Arab leadership’s anti-Jewish hate speech and diatribe of genocide from the Hajj Amin el Husseini (1920’s-40’s) through Arafat and up to Hamas and Hezbollah.

      I then quoted Zahir Muhse’in, former Palestinian terrorist leader and member of the Palestinian National Council, who told the world on March 31, 1977, in an interview with British journalist James Dorsey, published only in Dutch (“Wij zijn  alleen Palestihn om politieke redden” in the Amsterdam weekly, Trouw), that there is no such thing as a Palestinian.  The concepts of the Palestinian nation and Palestinian history and the Palestinian national homeland were all invented (no time to mention this, but they were invented by the KGB in the early 1970s when the Soviet Union trained Arafat’s terrorists in order to deploy them against the West in the Cold War – see my books for details) in order to create a justification for continued war and terrorism against Israel.  Thus, even Palestinian leaders unabashedly acknowledge that their struggle is not for statehood but for the destruction of Israel.

      I closed with a quick survey of the times when Israel did make peace (Egypt, 1979; Jordan, 1994), thus demonstrating that when Israel has an honest peace partner, it makes peace and cedes territory (all of Sinai to  Egypt, thousands of dunams of land east of the Jordan River to King Hussein of Jordan).  The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that when Hamas and Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad and the el-Aqsa martyrs’ brigade etc…are willing to make peace, Israel will make peace with them and be willing to negotiate the ceding of west bank territory for the 2-state solution.

My talk was frequently interrupted by cat-calls, hoots, whistles, yelling from the audience, with a few calling me a liar.

We then had a few minutes for speaker responses.  Dr. Finkelstein insisted that I was wrong, but he gave no specifics.  Dr. Dugard merely repeated his original assertions about Israel’s illegal actions, insisting that if only Israel were to obey international law, there would be peace in the entire Middle East.

I pointed out, in response to the two other speakers’ post-presentation comments, that when Israel unilaterally and unconditionally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, uprooting 9,000 Israelis who had lived there for 35 years, it did so with the intention of jump-starting the peace process.  All it got in return was Hamas’ commitment for more terror, and 5000 qasam attacks, and almost weekly attempts to infiltrate suicide bombers and other terrorists in to Israel.  Thus, assertions that Finkelstein and Dugard had made at previous events (*), namely that Israel was still occupying the Gaza Strip because it controlled land and sea and air entry, were irrational; because for Israel not to control those points of entry would be tantamount to condemning to death some unknowable number of Israelis who would fall victim to the terror attacks that Hamas could then (in the absence of the controls at the borders) successfully mount against Israel.  No nation would act differently.  To assert that it should is to support terrorism and mass murder.

Here too my comments were greeted with jeers and hoots.

Then Dr. Sloss took questions from the audience.  He asked for decorum, but when the audience was quite indecorous, he did little to admonish them or reduce their enthusiasm to express their distaste for my presentation.

Most questions from the audience were addressed to me.  Almost all were from very hostile questioners a few of whom were candid enough to vociferously express their opinion that I am a liar.  I did not take notes on all of them (too busy preparing my rejoinder) but two were important because they allowed me to add to my prepared presentation.

One related to Israel’s “state terrorism.”  This question allowed me to point out that Israel is the only nation in the entire world, and across all of world history (to my knowledge) which actually values the lives of its enemy’s civilians more than it values the lives of its soldiers.  The so-called Jenin “massacre” is a good example.  Israel could have bombed from the air to wipe out the terror centers in the Jenin refugee camp.  There would have been no Israeli casualties but hundreds or even thousands of Palestinian civilian casualties, because the terrorists hid among the civilians.  Instead Israel chose to send its troops in to the rabbit warren streets and alleys of the camps in order to lead Palestinian civilians to safety and root out terrorists in house-to-house fighting.  25 Israeli soldiers were killed, so that Palestinian civilians would not be killed.

This comment brought a very emotional response from Finkelstein who rambled about various accusations made against Israel regarding its “state terrorism” in the killing of civilians, especially Palestinian children.  I did not have a chance to respond to him, but later I was able to point out that the terrorists routinely use their own children as human shields.  Neither Dugard nor Finkelstein contradicted me.  They know that the terrorists use their own children as human shields, but they none the less support the lie that the IDF targets children.

The other question related to Israel having ethnically cleansed Palestine in 1948.  This allowed me to summarize the evidence for the quadrupling of Arab population in Palestine between 1855 and 1947 due in large part to the economic improvements brought about by the British and the Zionists – hardly an ethnic cleansing.  I made reference to Justin McCarthy’s study which made use of Turkish and British evidence to calculate the population rise.  The Turkish land deed records, land purchase records, tax records, and court cases regarding disputed land ownership demonstrate beyond rational doubt that the Zionists bought land, did not steal land, and created (together with the British) the economic conditions for this massive increase in Arab population.  More hoots and cat-calls.

At this point, Finkelstein could not control himself; he interrupted me and began to yell in to the microphone that I did not know what I was talking about because there is “zero evidence” for Arab population growth.  Dr. Sloss tried to stop him from interrupting me, but Finkelstein ranted on.  I reminded the audience of the evidence, all published, all in English, and all compiled by a non-Jew/non-Israeli/non-Zionist at Columbia University whose work was underwritten by the Palestine Exploration Society officed in Ramallah (down-town West Bank).  Finkelstein then corrected me, saying that Professor McCarthy is not at Columbia (which is indeed true, he teaches at Univ. of Louisville, in Louisville, KY) – but the fact that Finkelstein knows McCarthy, and where McCarthy does not teach, is indication that he is aware of the evidence compiled by McCarthy and ignores it in his own presentations, and was lying to the audience when he said that there was “zero” evidence for Arab population growth.

The evening ended at 9:00 pm, but very insistent and mostly hostile questioners kept me occupied at SCU until c. 10:15.

I would not say that I won the debate, but I did very energetically and accurately both present Israel’s side and critique/contradict the lies and half-truths of the other presenters.  Had I not been there, the event would have been an anti-Israel hate fest rather than an educational panel discussion.

 (*) I am grateful to several people who attended the presentations by Finkelstein and Dugard at Berkeley on the previous Wednesday evening, and earlier still at Stanford.  These people were kind enough to send me summaries of the presentations, so I could know in advance what Finkelstein’s and Dugard’s main themes were likely to be, and thus brush up on international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention prior to the Thursday evening event.


David Meir-Levi lectures in English, Hebrew, and Spanish and is a contributor to Frontpagemag.com.


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