An interview with Norman Finkelstein, the son of holocaust survivors
He has a right to be heard and the public has the right to read and study his words
American Jewish Professor Norman Finkelstein has heavily criticized Israel over its operation in Gaza. A son of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein has been barred from Israel for 10 years and was denied tenure at DePaul University in Chicago because of his critical stance on Israeli policies.
According to Finkelstein, Israel, a state built on the ashes of the Holocaust, is now committing a holocaust against Palestinians in Gaza. In a telephone interview with "Today's Zaman," Finkelstein said Israel was a "terrorist state" created by the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948. Praising Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish people for their courage in supporting Palestinians, Finkelstein referred to Israel as a "satanic" and "lunatic" state. Finkelstein's parents survived the Nazi camps in World War II and then immigrated to the US.
After his book “The Holocaust Industry,” in which he accused many prominent Jewish leaders of abusing the victims of the Holocaust, was published, Finkelstein was almost declared persona non grata by America’s influential Zionist circles.
What does Israel want to achieve with this operation?
Basically, Israel wants to achieve two goals: to restore what it calls its deterrence capacity -- that means to spread fear among Arab states about itself. This is a core principle of Israeli strategic doctrine. Arab states have to be afraid of Israel, afraid of its military might, and Arabs should do what Israelis want. They shall follow Israeli orders.
Israel’s military deterrence suffered a setback in May 2000, when Hezbullah succeeded to expel Israeli occupying forces from south Lebanon. Almost immediately in the aftermath of the failure, Israel planned another war with Hezbullah to re-establish its deterrence capacity. In 2006, after long preparation and using its air force, Israel suffered another ignominious defeat in Lebanon against Hezbullah.
The second goal was to defeat the Palestinian peace offensive. This has been another basic principle of Israeli doctrine: You do not negotiate with Arabs. You give them orders. The Palestinian organization Hamas was becoming too moderate; it was transmitting, giving the signal that it was ready to go along with the two-state settlement based on pre-1967 borders. The leadership of Syria and the West Bank have also been making statements like this. So Israel started to get worried that it would be obliged to negotiate a settlement which the international community has been supporting for the last 30 years.
Those who are against this settlement are the US or Israel, backed by the US. So when Hamas was becoming moderate and holding to the cease-fire it agreed in June 2008, it was showing herself to be a credible negotiating partner. Hamas was standing by its word. In the meantime, Israel has neglected another core principle of cease-fire, namely easing the blockade. So Israel had to defeat this Palestinian peace offensive. It always does this. It provokes Palestinians into reacting, and it wants to either destroy Hamas or inflicts so much damage that Hamas will have to say it will never negotiate with Israel. That is exactly what Israel wants. Israel never wants a moderate negotiating partner because if there is one, pressure on Israel will grow. Hamas is willing for a settlement; Hamas stands by its word. But Israel does not want to negotiate.
What you are basically saying is that Israel is not interested in peace at all.
Israel wants peace in its terms, and its terms are that West Bank should belong to their state.
Will the operation be successful?
First of all, we have to use proper language. There is no operation, and there is no war. What is happening is a slaughter, a massacre. When you have 200 to 300 kids killed, that is not a war. When you have a strong military going in against a defenseless population, that is not a war. When you shoot a fish in a barrel, we do not call it a war. As an Israeli columnist put it, it does not need too much courage to send jets and helicopter gunships to shoot inside a prison. What just happened was not a war. One-third of the casualties were children. It was not a war; it was a just a massacre.
In terms of the Israelis’ goals, you have to say it was successful. It inspired fear among Palestinians and Arabs generally that Israel is a lunatic state and that you have to follow its orders. No. 2, it destroys Hamas as a negotiating partner. You now hear from Hamas that it will not negotiate peace. That is what Israel wanted.
On your Web site, there is an argument that the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are doing to the Palestinians exactly what was done to them by the Nazis. Do you agree with that?
I think Israel, as a number of commentators pointed out, is becoming an insane state. And we have to be honest about that. While the rest of the world wants peace, Europe wants peace, the US wants peace, but this state wants war, war and war. In the first week of the massacres, there were reports in the Israeli press that Israel did not want to put all its ground forces in Gaza because it was preparing attacks on Iran. Then there were reports it was planning attacks on Lebanon. It is a lunatic state.
But do you agree with the characterization?
Look at the pictures and decide for yourself. I am not going to tell people what they should think about it. But what I say is they should look at the pictures and decide for themselves. (For the pictures go to: http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=11&ar=2510)
Why have you been barred from entering Israel for 10 years? As the son of Holocaust survivors, you cannot enter Israel.
Let’s be clear on a certain point. I was not entering Israel; I have no interest in going to Israel. I was going to see my friends in the occupied Palestinian territories. And Israel blocked me to go and see my friends in the West Bank. Under international law, I do not think they have any right to do that. I was not posing any security threat to Israel. The day after I was denied entry to Israel, the editorial of "Haaretz" was asking, “Who is afraid of Norman Finkelstein?” They were also saying that I was not a security threat. I do not have any particular interest to go and visit that lunatic state.
There are Jewish intellectuals who now call Israel a “terrorist state.” Is that a correct description?
I am not sure how you cannot agree with that. The goal of the operation was to terrorize the civilian population so that Palestinians would be afraid of Israel. This is the dictionary definition of terrorism. The dictionary definition of terrorism is targeting a civilian population to achieve a political goal. The goal of this operation or rather massacre was to terrorize the civilian population and to wreck and destroy as much civilian infrastructure such that the Palestinians would submit. When you attack schools, mosques, ambulances, hospitals, UN relief organizations, what is that? If this is not terrorism, then what is terrorism?
In your famous book, The Holocaust Industry, you argue that the state of Israel, one of the world’s most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, cast itself as a victim state in order to garner immunity to criticism. Have we seen this during the Gaza operation?
They tried to use the Holocaust; it was funny in a very sick way. The leader of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, wrote an article, and he said it is no coincidence that this war in Gaza is occurring around Jan. 27, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day. He wants to pretend some connection. In fact there is a connection, and the connection is Israel is committing a holocaust in Gaza. But that is not the connection he had in mind. He wanted to play the Holocaust card; I think that it is not working very much anymore. It was clear that during this last massacre in Gaza, liberal Jewish public opinion turned against Israel. If you look at the petitions, demonstrations, letters, support to Israel, not only in the international community but also among the Jewish community, is diminishing. So the Holocaust card, the anti-Semitic card, is not working as efficiently as it was working once.
You will probably be called anti-Semitic as well.
I do not think this propaganda is successful anymore.
In your book Beyond Chutzpah, you argue that Israel was created after the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, but the question whether it was premeditated remains to be answered. If it is premeditated, then can it be called genocide?
Well, it was premeditated, and I think the record is pretty clear. Even Israel’s former minister of foreign affairs, Shlomo Ben-Ami, in his book published several years ago called “Scars of War,” said that it was quite clear that it was a premeditated expulsion in 1948 and it was anchored in the Zionist philosophy of transfer. Ethnic cleansings are ethnic cleansings, and they are war crimes.
Why do you think US media is so one-sided and so pro-Israeli?
I think it has two components. First of all, Israel serves American interests in the region and American media always give a free pass to those states that serve American interests. That is the overall picture and not much different from other parts of the world. The horrendous governments like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, they also get free passes in the American media. This is the larger context.
And there is, of course, the secondary factor, which is the ethnic element. In many of these newspapers and the media in general, there is a large Jewish presence, and there is a sense of Jewish ethnic solidarity, which plays a role. But I think we have to qualify the secondary factor in two ways. We should not lose sight of the primary factor, which is Israel is the client state of US.
No. 2: In this past war, the liberal Jewish population mostly under the age of 40 completely defected from the war, the massacre. They have been opposed to the massacres from the first day.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been very critical of Israel on Gaza, and some American circles lambasted him in return. What do you think about his stance?
I wish he had gone further. I wish he had gone as far as Qatar, Mauritania, Bolivia and Venezuela in breaking diplomatic relations with that lunatic state. But as far as he has gone, the point on which he stands, has been terrific. And I was glad to see Hamas respected the gestures of the Turkish government and said they would be willing to have Turkish troops stationed on “our border.” That is a very high praise for the Turkish government.
Turks are showing Palestinians compassion, decency and justice. All the Turkish people should take pride in this stance, as was the case on the eve of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was the Turkish people and government who showed courage. Ninety-six percent of the Turkish people opposed the war in Iraq. The Turkish government refused to give Americans use of their land to attack Iraq. Now Turkish people and the Turkish government are redeeming themselves again by standing on what is right, what is decent and what is just. I say the highest praise for Erdogan and the Turkish people.
How do you feel about Israel’s operation in Gaza personally as the son of Holocaust survivors?
It has been a long time since I felt any emotional connection with the state of Israel, which relentlessly and brutally and inhumanly keeps these vicious, murderous wars. It is a vandal state. There is a Russian writer who once described vandal states as Genghis Khan with a telegraph. Israel is Genghis Khan with a computer. I feel no emotion of affinity with that state. I have some good friends and their families there, and of course I would not want any of them to be hurt. That said, sometimes I feel that Israel has come out of the boils of the hell, a satanic state. Ninety percent of the population continues to cheer, to exalt and feel proud and heroic. They send a Sherman tank to a playground and torch children. Is this heroism? Is this courage?
You were not allowed to teach at DePaul University despite a very good academic record and also had some problems in getting your Ph.D. from Princeton. Why?
Well, I had some problems. I really cannot discuss my problems in the face of what is going on in Gaza. It will be so silly, trivial and stupid. Three hundred or so children -- they were incinerated to death; phosphorus bombs were thrown indiscriminately over Gaza. Everything these people wanted to rebuild was destroyed again. This Israeli state invaded in 1978, again in 1982, again in 1993, again in 1996, again in 2006, and 2008, and it always destroys, destroys and destroys. And then these satanic narcissistic people throw their hands up in the air and ask, “Why doesn’t anybody love us? Why don’t our neighbors want us to be here?” Why would they?
"Today's Zaman" (Turkey) Jan. 19, 2009