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Norman Finkelstein
Overview

Don’t let Norman Finkelstein’s credentials as a professor and as the son of Holocaust survivors or his venomous style intimidate you. A political scientist, Finkelstein has become a favorite on the campus circuit and he may be one of the most difficult anti-Israel speakers to counter. He venomously attacks Zionism, Israel and what he calls “the holocaust industry.”[1] He observed that he used to meet hostility on the campuses, but now gets warm receptions because “nowadays the "other side doesn't bother coming out, because they know that Israel's case is indefensible.”[2] He is optimistic that this will continue since “Muslim students, especially Muslim women, have been doing a terrific job organizing.”[3]

Finkelstein’s one-sided views are not very different from those of his close friend, Noam Chomsky whose extreme leftism he shares, but he adds one unique twist. He charges that Jews became interested in the Holocaust only after 1967, and did so only to extort money-Holocaust reparations are an “extortion racket” by “crooks” and “gangsters”[4] -and to provide a cover and defense for Israel’s “crimes.” He is not a Holocaust denier. Instead he is enraged at the post-Holocaust industry, including the Jewish claim that it is a “unique event,”[5] and his views feed the ugliest anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Finkelstein can be vicious. He called Elie Weisel, the dignified Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, “resident clown of the Holocaust circus.”[6] He called Allan Dershowitz “that hoodlum from Harvard.”[7] He is equally vicious about Zionism and Israel and relentlessly promotes Palestinian propaganda and its distortions. He claims the current conflict was constructed by the Israeli and American governments, the Zionists, and wealthy Jewish elite. Reflecting on a speech Finklestein gave at Loyola University, one professor editorialized that “Finklestein did not speak at all about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. He spent an hour damning Israel….”[8] While he objects to the industry that abuses the memory of the Holocaust, he has no qualms about using that memory for his own purposes, and repeatedly accuses Israel and its supporters of being Nazis. He piously praises the International Solidarity Movement (ISM),[9] a pro-Palestinian “peace group” that abets terrorism, and the terrorist group Hezbollah.[10]

As a speaker, Finklestein is often abrasive and derogatory to students who do not share his views. He is widely known to intimidate students from the podium, often times shouting down honest, empirical questioning before calling the individual responsible for it a Nazi.[11] Among the things you are likely to hear:

*“Nowadays people are not Zionist by conviction, they are Zionist because it is useful for their political and more recently financial self-interest. The guiding light is what serves their self-interest, not ideological commitment.”[12]

*“[T]he occupation in the West Bank and Gaza…is not really comparable to South Africa because I think it is much worse.”[13]

*Zionism is inherently racist.[14]

*Israelstarted the 1967 and 1973 wars. .[15]

* “I have the deepest respect, and I’m not just saying that, I have the deepest respect for the folks from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM ). I’ve seen them in action and I wish I’d find before I meet my maker the kind of courage that they display daily when they’re out there putting their lives on the line.”[16]

* “I did make a point of publicly honoring the heroic resistance of Hezbollah to foreign occupation. Why not? The Communist parties throughout Europe organized the downtrodden and led the resistance to Nazi occupation.”[17]

* “Yet, if Israelis don't want to stand accused of being Nazis they should simply stop acting like Nazis.”[18]

* “Only the willfully blind can miss noticing that Israel's current invasion of the West Bank is an exact replay of the June 1982 invasion of Lebanon. To crush the Palestinians' goal of an independent state alongside Israel - the PLO's "peace offensive" - Israel laid plans in August 1981 to invade Lebanon.”[19]

*“The US qualifies as the main terrorist government in the world today”[20]

* “Israel is probably the least safe place for Jews to be in the world today. Likewise, especially in recent years, the Jewish state, far from resolving the "Jewish Question," has plainly exacerbated it, by associating Jews with, and by mainstream Jewish organizations associating themselves with, Israel's brutal occupation.”[21]

*“Just as Germans for generations to come would have to bear the burden of Nazism, so Jews for many generations to come would have to bear the burden of Israel's merciless assault against the Palestinian people.”[22]



[1] Jonathan Mahler, “New York Diarist: The Cooked Book,”The New Republic, May 4 1998 http://www.tnr.com/archive/0598/050498/diarist050498.html

[2] M. Junaid Alam, “An Interview with Norman Finkelstein,” Counterpunch, Dec 4 2003 at http://www.counterpunch.org/alam12042003.html

[3] M. Junaid Alam, “An Interview with Norman Finkelstein,” Counterpunch, Dec 4 2003 at http://www.counterpunch.org/alam12042003.html

[4] Don Atapattu, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: A Conversation with Professor Norman Finkelstein” Counterpunch, December 13 2001, athttp://www.counterpunch.org/finkelstein1.html

[5] Don Atapattu, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: A Conversation with Professor Norman Finkelstein” Counterpunch, December 13 2001, athttp://www.counterpunch.org/finkelstein1.html

[6] Don Atapattu, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: A Conversation with Professor Norman Finkelstein” Counterpunch, December 13 2001, athttp://www.counterpunch.org/finkelstein1.html

[7] Lecture at benefit for ISM, Nov 10 2004 at http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=2015

[8] LoyolaUniversityNewspaper Editorial: http://maroon.loyno.edu/news/2003/05/09/Editorial/Balanced.Debate.Missing.From.Loyolas.Campus-434287.shtml?page=1

[9] Lecture at benefit for ISM, Nov 10 2004 at http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=2015

[10] Finkelstein response to an op ed in the Lebanon Daily Star (Dec 15 2001) that criticized him, on Finkelstein’s website at http://normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=4&ar=15

[11] Student letter: http://uwstudent.org/article/2003/06/10/132127388/comment/19650?order=ASC

[12] A Conversation with Professor Norman Finkelstein: “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” Counterpunch, Dec. 13, 2001. Available on the web at http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=3&ar=46

[13] Don Atapattu, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: A Conversation with Professor Norman Finkelstein” Counterpunch, December 13 2001, athttp://www.counterpunch.org/finkelstein1.html

[14] Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Holocaust, 1995, p.188

[15] Daniel Pipes Review of Finkelstein’s book at http://www.meforum.org/article/318

[16] Lecture at benefit for ISM, Nov 10 2004 at http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=2015

[17] Finkelstein response to an op ed in the Lebanon Daily Star (Dec 15 2001) that criticized him, on Finkelstein’s website at http://normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=4&ar=15

[18] Norman G. Finkelstein, “First the Carrot, Then the Stick: Behind the Carnage in Palestine,”
April 14 2002 at http://normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=4&ar=12

[19] Norman G. Finkelstein, “First the Carrot, Then the Stick: Behind the Carnage in Palestine,”
April 14 2002 at http://normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=4&ar=12

[20] A Conversation with Professor Norman Finkelstein: “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” Counterpunch, Dec. 13, 2001. Available on the web at http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=3&ar=46

[21] Don Atapattu, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: A Conversation with Professor Norman Finkelstein” Counterpunch, December 13 2001, athttp://www.counterpunch.org/finkelstein1.html

[22] Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996, p. 16 at http://www.radioislam.org/historia/zionism/fink.html

Biography

Finkelstein has fomented controversy since his graduate student days at Princeton University where he earned his PhD in 1988. Born in 1953, this son of two Holocaust survivors has devoted his career to venomously attacking Zionism, Israel, Jews and what he calls the Holocaust industry.[1] He has understandably been called a “Jewish anti-Semite” and historian Peter Novick called him a “zealot” on a “hate campaign.”[2]

Most scholars dismiss Finkelstein’s work because of its questionable scholarship and scathing polemics. At Princeton, he “literally could not get the faculty to read his thesis or to come to his thesis defense….[and] they will not even write a letter for him saying that he was a student,” reported Finkelstein’s close friend and mentor, famed leftist ideologue Noam Chomsky.[3] Finkelstein also could not get a teaching job and became a part-time social worker until he finally got an appointment in the Political Science department at Hunter College in New York City. He bitterly reports that after 10 years there, he was dismissed and “forced to relocate to Chicago to find temporary work,”[4] probably because of his controversial book, The Holocaust Industry. He currently teaches political theory at DePaul University.

Finkelstein began his career repeating Palestinian propaganda with Zionists and Israel portrayed as an aggressive, colonialist, evil force but he adds some peculiar twists of his own. In one essay, he vividly described the injustice and suffering the US inflicted on Native Americans and argued it was similar to what Israel had inflicted on the Palestinians.[5] He spent time in the West Bank supporting the first Intifada and wrote a glowing account of the goodness of the Palestinians and of Israel’s sheer evil.[6] He frequently uses hyperbole to describe Israel’s “atrocities” such as when he wrote that at the Hebron detention center, the IDF “would break their clubs on the prisoners' bodies, hit them in the genitals, tie a prisoner up on the cold floor and play soccer with him - literally kick and roll him around. Then they'd give him electric shocks, using the generator of a field telephone....They would crush the prisoners, ...turning them into lumps of meat.”[7] He expresses fawning admiration for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a pro-Palestinian activist group, [8] and for the Iranian backed terrorist group, Hezbollah. [9] He draws analogies between Israel and the Nazis. [10] Pro-Palestinian websites eagerly post his materials, such as radioislam.org.

Finkelstein remained relatively unknown outside of pro-Palestinian circles until he shifted his attention to the Holocaust and gained instant notoriety with his book, The Holocaust Industry (2000). He charges that a cabal of corrupt Jewish elites began to exploit the Holocaust after 1967, turning it into an industry to “shake down” undeserved money from Europe and to provide justification for Israel’s illegal ‘occupation’ of the Territories by painting Jews as perpetual victims. He also charges that Jews have brought anti-Semitism on themselves, in part by creating this industry. The book met a storm of criticism from Holocaust scholars. Though they agreed that some of the issues Finkelstein raised had also been raised by other scholars, they charged that his heated polemics, distortions and conspiracy theories were warped, “juvenile, self-righteous, arrogant and stupid” “baseless” and were a “unique twist” on the anti-Semitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.[11]

Though Finkelstein angrily insists that he is not a holocaust-denier, especially given that his parents are survivors, even the British Guardian concluded that “Finkelstein sees the Jews as either villains or victims - and that, I fear, takes him closer to the people who created the Holocaust than to those who suffered in it.” [12] In fact, right-wing groups and Holocaust deniers such as David Irving warmly endorsed the book and include it on their websites.[13]

Ironically, Finkelstein exploits the Holocaust himself, using his status as the child of survivors to give legitimacy to his arguments and to his self-appointed “holy mission” to unmask the Judeo-Zionist conspiracy.[14] In the moving dedication in his first book, he wrote: “To my beloved parents: Maryla Husyt Finkelstein, survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Maidanek concentration camp and Zacharias Finkelstein, survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz concentration camp. May I never forget or forgive what was done to them.”[15]

Today, Finkelstein is on a new, high publicity attack mission, this time against Allan Dershowitz. He led the questionable charge accusing Dershowitz of plagiary in his book, The Case for Israel.[16] Finkelstein’s critique was not about the accuracy of Dershowitz’s arguments or facts, but rather about how he footnoted certain sources.

In his work, Finkelstein uses defamatory and degrading invective against his opponents. As one reviewer observed, it is difficult to see how work that is filled with so much “rage and dogma” will promote rational inquiry and responsible scholarship.[17]

Nonetheless, Finkelstein has become a regular on the lecture circuit, with pro-Palestinian groups inviting him to speak on their campuses. His website proudly includes a complete listing of his schedule with video, audio and written transcripts of his speeches. In addition, The Holocaust Industry received more attention in Europe than in the US, and has been translated into 18 languages. A documentary based on it, “The Insult,” is scheduled to be shown on British TV in April 2005. Finkelstein is also to appear in several other documentaries.

Books:

Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history(University of California Press: forthcoming June 2005)

The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering (Verso: 1995; expanded second edition, 2003)

Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (Verso: 1995; expanded second edition, 2003)

A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen thesis and historical truth (with Ruth Bettina Birn) (Henry Holt: 1998)

The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A personal account of the intifada years (University of Minnesota: 1996)



[1] Yair Sheleg, “The Finkelstein Polemic,” Ha'aretz Magazine. Friday, March 30, 2001, archived on Finkelstein’s website at www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=3&ar=11

[2] Yair Sheleg, “The Finkelstein Polemic,” Ha'aretz Magazine. Friday, March 30, 2001, archived on Finkelstein’s website at www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=3&ar=11

[3] Peter R Mitchell and John Schoeffel (eds), Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, 2002, p 245

[4] Don Atapattu,“A Conversation with Professor Norman Finkelstein How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” December 13 2001, archived at www.taivaansusi.net/politiikka/finkelstein.html

[5] Norman Finkelstein, “A Comparison Between Native Americans and The Palestinians,” The Link, December 1999, archived at http://www.radioislam.org/historia/zionism/NatAmFTP.html

[6] Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, 1996

[7] Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, 1996, pp. 47-49, archived at www.radioislam.org/historia/zionism/fink.html

[8] Lecture at benefit for ISM, Nov 10 2004 at http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=2015

[9] Finkelstein response to an op ed in the Lebanon Daily Star (Dec 15 2001) that criticized him, on Finkelstein’s website at http://normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=4&ar=15

[10] Norman G. Finkelstein, “First the Carrot, Then the Stick: Behind the Carnage in Palestine,”
April 14 2002 at
http://normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=4&ar=12

[11] Omer Bartov, “A Tale of Two Holocausts,” New York Times Book Review, August 6 2000 at www.nytimes.com/books/yr/mo/day/reviews/000806.06bartovt.html

[12] Jonathan Freedland, “An Enemy of the People,” The Guardian, July 14 2000 at
www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,343173,00.html

[13] Yair Sheleg, “The Finkelstein Polemic,” Ha'aretz Magazine. Friday, March 30, 2001, archived on Finkelstein’s website at www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=3&ar=11

[14] Omer Bartov, “A Tale of Two Holocausts,” New York Times Book Review, August 6 2000 at www.nytimes.com/books/yr/mo/day/reviews/000806.06bartovt.html

[15] Cited on Finkelstein’s website, “Biography,” at http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/content.php?pg=5

[16] http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=11&ar=1

[17] Andrew Ross, “The Holocaust Industry,” Salon, August 30 2000 at http://dir.salon.com/books/review/2000/08/30/finkelstein/index.html


Accusations and Defamations

Ben Gurion was “comically racist,”[1]

Elie Weisel is the “resident clown of the Holocaust circus”[2]

“That hoodlum from Harvard, Allan Dershowitz”[3]

SimonWiesenthal Center. “This is really a gang of heartless and immoral crooks, whose hallmark is that they will do anything for a dollar.”[4]



[1] Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Holocaust, 1995, p.188

[2] Don Atapattu, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: A Conversation with Professor Norman Finkelstein” Counterpunch, December 13 2001, athttp://www.counterpunch.org/finkelstein1.html

[3] Lecture at benefit for ISM, Nov 10 2004 at http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=2015

[4] Don Atapattu, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: A Conversation with Professor Norman Finkelstein” Counterpunch, December 13 2001, athttp://www.counterpunch.org/finkelstein1.html

 



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