Norman Finkelstein’s luck was to be born (in 1953) to parents who had survived the Holocaust. With audacious perversity, Finkelstein has drawn upon this birthright in legitimating the anti-Semitism that he has perfected into something like a nightclub routine in his appearances on the college speaker circuit.
A political scientist who has made a point of specializing in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Finkelstein has been a faculty member at Brooklyn College, Rutgers University, Hunter College, New York University, and most recently, DePaul University, where he was an Assistant Professor from 2001 to 2007. When he was recruited by DePaul, he had recently been fired from two New York-area adjunct teaching jobs (NYU and Hunter College) because of his lack of substantive scholarship and his obsessive rants against Jews and Israel. In June 2007, Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul.
A disciple of the historian and Holocaust denier David Irving, Finkelstein typically places in quotation marks his references to the "six million" Jews exterminated by the Nazis – to demonstrate his belief that the figure is a grossly exaggerated fabrication. In an interview with the German paper, Die Welt, Finkelstein said: "Not only does the 'Six Million' figure become more untenable but the numbers of the Holocaust industry are rapidly approaching those of Holocaust deniers…. Indeed, the field of Holocaust studies is replete with nonsense if not sheer fraud."
In his 2003 book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, Finkelstein (drawing again on his family narrative) wrote, "'If everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one,' my mother used to exclaim, 'who did Hitler kill?'" He added: "My parents often wondered why I would grow so indignant at the falsification and exploitation of the Nazi genocide. The most obvious answer is that it has been used to justify criminal policies of the Israeli state and U.S. support for these policies."
Elsewhere in the book, Finklestein stated: "The Zionists indeed learnt well from the Nazis. So well that it seems that their morally repugnant treatment of the Palestinians, and their attempts to destroy Palestinian society within Israel and the occupied territories, reveals them as basically Nazis with beards and black hats."
In a December 2001 interview with radical left CounterPunch Magazine, Finkelstein said of Jewish organizations that seek compensation for Holocaust survivors, “It is no accident that Jews invented the word 'chutzpah.' They steal, and I do use the word with intent, 95% of the monies earmarked for victims of Nazi persecution, and then throw you a few crumbs while telling you to be grateful…. They have disgraced the memory of the Jewish people's suffering on the one hand by turning it into an extortion racket."
From time to time, Finkelstein speaks at events sponsored by chapters of the Muslim Student Union and the Muslim Students Association, where his anti-Israel animus has made him a superstar.
In October 2005, Finkelstein was a special guest speaker at Yale University, where he delivered a speech titled "Israel and Palestine: Misusing Anti-Semitism, Abusing History.” In that address, according to a report in the Yale Daily News, Finkelstein derided Jewish Americans for their high "level of mental hysteria" about Holocaust denial. He asserted that the phenomenon of the so-called "new anti-Semitism" had been fabricated out of whole cloth by Jewish organizations. He made numerous references to the "Jewish lobby" that was allegedly manipulating U.S. foreign policy. And he depicted the Arab-Israeli conflict as a "simple one" rooted in what he called Israel’s long history of ethnic cleansing and egregious human rights violations. Notably, he did not once use the words "terrorists" or "militants" in describing the Palestinian side.
At the invitation of the Muslim Students Association of Columbia University, for example, Finkelstein delivered a March 2006 speech titled "Israel and Palestine: Misuse of Anti-Semitism, Abuse of History." According to a report on the event in the Columbia Spectator, Finkelstein characterized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a "contrived and fabricated controversy"; declared that "regardless of intent, Israel is in effect guilty of state terrorism"; and alleged that the "only difference between Israel terrorism and Hamas terrorism is that Israeli terrorism is three times as lethal."
Finkelstein also criticized Columbia University President Lee Bollinger's refusal to support an anti-Israel divestment campaign or to depict Israel's treatment of Palestinians as "apartheid." Accusing Bollinger of "intellectual terrorism," Finkelstein declared: "I think it's a sorry truth when the president of ... [Columbia] subordinates the pursuit of truth to the pursuit of fundraising."
In May 2007, UC Irvine's Muslim Student Union sponsored a talk by Finkelstein in which he stated, "Most peace initiatives came from the Arab world.... Arabs showed a remarkable tendency for compliance with negotiations. It was Israel that violated formal and informal agreements." Finkelstein also said the following about the terrorist group Hezbollah: "I have no interest whatsoever in Hezbollah as a political organization. I have only one interest: ... Do the Lebanese people or does Hezbollah have the right to resist foreign occupiers? ... Every victory of Hezbollah, I celebrate." In response to this, his captive audience cheered loudly and shouted "Allahu Akbar" ["God is great"].
In a January 2008 interview on a Lebanese television station, Finkelstein (who very recently had met with Hezbollah leaders) said this about the terror group:
"I was of course happy to meet with the Hezbollah people ... And I have no problem saying that I do want to express solidarity with them ... People have the right to defend their country from foreign occupiers, and people have the right to defend their country from invaders who are destroying their country.... There is no way that the United States and Israel are going to tolerate any resistance in the Arab world.... Israel is determined, with the United States, to put the Arabs in their place and to keep them in their place.... Israel and the United States are attacking, because they will not allow any military resistance to their control of the region.... If Hezbollah laid down its arms and said, 'We will do whatever the Americans say,' you wouldn't have a war -- that's true. But you'd also be the slaves of the Americans. I have to respect those who refuse to be slaves.... There will [someday] be a leader who comes into power in Israel, who is willing to make the concessions, after the conditions have been created -- namely, Israel has to suffer a defeat."
As is invariably the case with Israel-haters, Finkelstein’s contempt for the Jewish state also colors his assessment of Israel’s closest ally, the United States. When asked whether he thought that "the West was in some way responsible for the tragedy of September 11," Finkelstein replied:
"Regrettably, it's payback time for the Americans and they have a problem because all the other enemies since the end of World War Two that they pretended to contend with . . . were basically fabricated enemies…. Frankly, part of me says ... 'you know what, we deserve the problem on our hands because some things bin Laden says are true.' One of the things he said on that last tape was that 'until we [Muslims and Arabs] live in security, you're not going to live in security,' and there is a certain amount of rightness in that. Why should Americans go on with their lives as normal, worrying about calories and hair loss, while other people are worrying about where they are going to get their next piece of bread? Why should we go on merrily with our lives while so much of the world is suffering, and suffering incidentally not with us merely as bystanders, but with us as the indirect and direct perpetrators."
In a similar spirit, Finkelstein said on another occasion: "If you understand terrorism to mean the targeting of civilian populations in order to achieve political goals, then plainly the U.S. qualifies as the main terrorist government in the world today."
Articles in Frontpage's Collaborators series:
Marc H. Ellis