When the Muslim Student Union at the University of California at Irvine planned last week's "Holocaust in the Holy Land" event (some representative video excerpts can be seen here), four days of anti-Israel agitation aimed at portraying the Jewish State as the modern avatar of Nazi Germany, it settled on the obvious choice for a keynote speaker: Norman Finkelstein.
In a cast of Israel slanderers, including Jews such as the ultra-Orthodox Rabbi David Weiss, Finkelstein was the main attraction. It’s not hard to see why. Finkelstein's resume would warm the hearts of Israel's most fanatical enemies. The professor of political science at Chicago's DePaul University is a self-proclaimed Holocaust expert and, not unrelatedly, a veritable celebrity among Holocaust deniers. Being the son of Holocaust survivors hasn't made this Jewish academic sympathetic to the six million Jews exterminated by the Nazis. In fact, Finkelstein believes that most Holocaust survivors are bogus and that "by hammering on the uniqueness of the Holocaust and the exclusive link between Holocaust and Jews, the Holocaust industry has become the main promoter of antisemitism." When is it appropriate to bring up the Holocaust? Only when it serves the purpose of bashing Israel. Finkelstein explained back in 2002 how easy it would be to put an end to the Nazi analogies to Israel, a propaganda tactic popularized by Finkelstein himself: "If Israelis don't want to stand accused of being Nazis they should simply stop acting like Nazis."
Finkelstein thus felt right at home at the annual Israel-bashing event at UC Irvine, a hotbed of anti-Israel activism. The Crystal Cove Auditorium where he delivered his remarks was at its maximum capacity, thanks in large part to the Muslim students who just weeks ago were at the same location protesting the College Republicans' showing the now-famous cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. Less controversial to them was the decision to use provocative titles like "Israel: The Fourth Reich" for the week's events. So long as it is confined to vilifying Israel, Muslim activists are staunch champions of free speech.
On this score Finkelstein did not disappoint. He began his speech, titled "Obstacles to Peace: Israelis or Palestinians", on the very subject of controversy. His thesis was that the Israel-Palestine conflict is not "controversial at all." But the professor wasn't referring to such uncontroversial matters as the need for Hamas to renounce all terrorism and recognize the right of Israel to exist before peace can be made. Rather, he meant that Israel, the lone democracy in the region, and a country to which many Palestinians are eager to immigrate, was the world's greatest human rights violator. Probably this line of thinking was not controversial to the MSU student sitting in the front row and wearing an "Intifada" T-shirt. Among a less obsequious crowd it certainly would have been a subject for debate.
But Finkelstein was not interested in debate. Indeed, throughout the night Finkelstein seemed to take it for granted that his views would go unchallenged. He often used the first-person plural when addressing the audience, declaring that the United Nations and Human Rights Organizations "are on our side." Since the facts clearly weren't on his side, Finkelstein opted to obscure them. Hence he denied that Palestinians became refugees in 1948 after being told by Arab leaders to flee to neighboring states until their advancing armies destroyed Israel. Such denials, a common feature of Arab propaganda, are supported by not a shred of evidence. On the other hand, evidence attesting to the Arab policy, including Arab sources, is overwhelming. Yet Finkelstein, making no concession to the historical record, claimed that "most historians now concur" that 1948 was an "ethnic cleansing" by Israel. As his source for this, as well as other spurious claims he made throughout the night, Finkelstein cited the Israeli historian Benny Morris. But Morris has called Finkelstein "more of a pro-Palestinian propagandist than a serious scholar." Finkelstein of course declined to mention that inconvenient detail.
Instead, Finkelstein presented himself as a brave professor speaking truth to power. About two hours into his rambling speech, Finkelstein was informed that he'd have to wrap up his remarks. He refused. After glancing at the several police officers standing at the exits, he explained that while he is a "great believer in the rule of law," he didn't approve of the "arbitrary rule of law." He would continue speaking. Yet the professor's defiance was less courageous than he may have supposed. UC Irvine would never pull the plug on an Muslim Student event and run the risk of being labeled "racist." The same spirit of appeasement was evident a few months ago, when the college police were hesitant to remove a Muslim heckler from the audience during the College Republicans' event.
Finkelstein dismissed the prevalence of such political correctness. American universities are so politically correct, he said, that they can't be "anti-anything." At the same time, he took advantage of one of the key provisions of the PC climate whose existence he denies: the freedom to attack with impunity unfashionable groups like Jews. Thus Finkelstein waved aside the notion that anti-Semitism is prevalent on campus as "preposterous." Before accepting the validity of this assertion, one should be aware that Finkelstein also made the claim that there is no evidence of new anti-Semitism in Europe. In fact, he stated that the evidence shows a decline in European anti-Semitism since 1991. Maybe Finkelstein doesn't realize that countries such as France and England are part of Europe, or that the European Union doesn’t like to publicize its anti-Semitism reports.
The fact is that Finkelstein can't recognize anti-Semitism whether it is staring him in the face or coming straight from his mouth. Shamelessly, in front of an MSU organization that uses the word "Holocaust" to characterize Israel's national defense, Finkelstein criticized what he called the "Holocaust uniqueness" argument used by Jews to justify Israel's actions and deflect attention from its human rights violations. He said that Jews were guilty of the "dragging in of the Holocaust" whenever Israel comes under international pressure. Finkelstein, who dismisses the suffering of the six million Jews who died during the Holocaust, didn't feel compelled to mention Hamas' desire to drive the Jews into the sea. His only concern with regards to Hamas was exposing the "hypocrisy" of demanding the terrorist group to recognize Israel's right to exist. In Finkelstein's mind, Israel betrays the ideals of democracy until it embraces the terrorist group intent on destroying it. Finkelstein ended the night by making the ludicrous claim that he can think of no other place in the world that has less anti-Semitism than Palestine. Perhaps if Finkelstein had stopped denouncing Israel long enough to turn on the television or visit a school on one his many trips to the region he would have had a more informed perspective.
Finkelstein probably also missed any signs of anti-Semitism on the UC Irvine campus. But it is real enough. Because Jewish students at the university have been physically threatened and are afraid to wear clothing or jewelry identifying them as Jewish, UC Irvine has become the first American college to be the subject of an anti-Semitism probe by the U.S. Office for Civil Rights. Finkelstein's host, the Muslim Student Union, has always been unambiguous about its anti-Semitism, even though it does its best to avoid using the word "Jew" when attacking Jews who live in Israel or Jews who support Israel's right to exist. "Israelis Love to Kill Innocent Children" was written on a sign posted on campus by the MSU in 2002. Also in 2002, the MSU sponsored a speech by the radical Oakland imam, Abdel Malik Ali, in the course of which he revealed his plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "Israel wants Palestinians to have their own state. It's beyond that now. No. That's off the table. One state. Majority rules. Us. The Muslims."
Last week's events at UC Irvine provided more evidence that the anti-Semitism probe is justified. Next to the mock Israeli "apartheid" wall set up in the center of campus on Tuesday, MSU students wearing leather sandals and taqiyahs passed out papers with the title "Exploiting the Holocaust to Justify Genocide." A quote from Finkelstein himself could be found just below: "The Holocaust has become the ideological justification for the oppression of the Palestinian people." Justifications for terrorism, such as blowing up teenagers at pizzerias, could be found on the "For Justice We Fight" pamphlet published by Alkalima, the Muslim magazine at UC Irvine. Targeting innocent civilians is justified, according to the magazine, because "the individual or community that participates in jihad finds itself between two blissful outcomes, either victory and the establishment of justice, or the reward of martyrdom and Paradise."
In the Jewish Finkelstein, these budding jihadists have found their useful idiot.
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