Yesterday, I got a chuckle when I learned that Israel had denied entry to Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors who has made a living criticizing Israel and, recently, has been a cheerleader for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. Good for Israel, I thought. I wouldn’t let him in my house either.
I’ve written about Finkelstein a few times recently—when he spoke at Cal State Northridge and drew the hisses of the Jewish Defense League and two weeks ago when, speaking at UC Irvine, he accused Jeffrey Goldberg of torturing Palestinians—but I didn’t feel this news was worth slowly spinning the cogs upstairs, so I let it sit. And I was rewarded. I just got back to my computer after an evening out, and I had a chain of e-mails back and forth from liberal Jews that began when Richard Silverstein published this post:
Let’s get a few things out of the way before we wade into the particulars of this case. While Finkelstein is known for his criticism of the Occupation, he is an advocate of a two-state solution. So let’s immediately dismiss all the malarkey bruited about by the pro-Israel crowd that he is a Holocaust denier (he is a child of survivors) and either anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. That’s all bullcrap. There is a difference between being a critic of Israeli policy and opposed to Israel’s existence. There is a difference between criticizing Jewish groups and leaders who have done well by the Holocaust and denying the Holocaust.
I am simply dumbfounded that Israel would have the chutzpah to take such outrageous action. Not only is Finkelstein a U.S. citizen, he is Jewish, and he is a distinguished academic. On what possible grounds can Israel claim he poses a security risk?? Merely because he intended to visit people in the Territories to whom the Interior Ministry objected? I’m dying to know how the Ministry defends this action. What will they point to in Finkelstein’s record that justifies his arrest?
I am hoping that Jews and Israelis with more conservative politics than mine will recognize this act for a grave threat not just to Israel’s critics like Finkelstein, but even to those who support Israel.
Maybe Silverstein is right. There must be some precedent here, but it does seem like an extreme measure to bar an American citizen, even an unsavory one like Finkelstein, without evidence that he poses a real and serious threat. I can accept that.
But two of the replies in the chain of e-mails were from M.J. Rosenberg, a well-respected liberal Jew and Mideast policy expert, who first said FDR and Lincoln would have done the same and that he was “with the Israelis 100%” To this he added, “Interning people based on ethnicity is evil. Deporting people for inciting against their soldiers and people and colluding with killers is justifiable. Defending the likes of NF discredits the legitimate left. He should not be allowed in Israel.”
Here was my playing-both-sides response:
I have not decided if I agree or disagree on this one. I’ve spoken with Finkelstein a few times and always feel the need to check for my wallet. Maybe Israel acted undemocratically, maybe not. But who can blame them?
In fact, that was one of the lamest rhetorical questions on record. Because we all know: Someone can always blame Israel.