7 thoughts on “Oxford Union, Under Pressure from Peace Now UK, Disinvites Finkelstein from Israel Debate – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. “Every so often a group you thought was a political ally does something so bone-headed you half wonder who’s side they think they’re on. Peace Now UK is such a group.”


    In my humble opinion Peace Now UK is not your ally. Neither, for that matter, is Americans for Peace Now or Shalom Achshav.

    They will criticize Israeli policy to some extent, but there is a line that they will never cross. In the end they are very concerned with telling the world how many Jews and Israelis hate the occupation, and not at all interested in making significant changes in Israeli policy. They are one of the most inappropriately named groups I know. They want to talk about peace (it makes you look good) and do very little about achieving it (you make a lot of enemies).

    That is why they should be called “Peace Later” and were included in Mearsheimer and Walt’s list of groups that comprise the Israel lobby.

  2. Usiskin wrote a letter to the Guardian completely misrepresenting Finkelstein’s views; he assumed that Finkelstein was a one-stater, and he most definitely is not.

    Peter Tatchell was to have argued the two-state solution, but he withdrew when Finkelstein was disinvited. This is what he writes on “Harry’s Place,” a charming British blog

    Can people please stop their ill-informed speculation and stop following false trails?

    This is the inside story about the Oxford Union debate from people involved in the Oxford Union, as relayed to me and rechecked by me.

    But first:

    The Oxford Union is to be congratulated for attempting to hold a debate that avoided the usual simplistic, polarised Israel v Palestine punch up.

    It’s motion was:

    “This House believes that one state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

    I am told by the Oxford Union that the original line-up opposing the motion was Alan Dershowitz, Lord Trimble and myself.

    Despite our different perspectives, we were ALL opposed to the idea that one-state is the ONLY solution. We ALL supported the idea of a two-state solution.

    This would have made for a very illuminating, complex and sophisticated debate – avoiding the usual clichés.

    I am told that Alan Dershowitz refused to participate unless he could write the motion and choose the speakers. If this is true, it sounds like he was trying to rig the debate.

    The Oxford Union could not accept such terms. So Alan Dershowitz pulled out of the debate. He was replaced by Norman Finkelstein. Alan went beserk and attacked the Oxford Union for inviting Norman. This is a bit rich. Norman would not have been invited if Alan had not pulled out.

    Under pressure from Dershowitz and pro-Israelis, the Oxford Union say they dropped Norman from the line up and replaced him with a pro-Israel speaker.

    Alan and others seem to have misread the debate as a debate about Israel, when it was about a one-state versus a two-state solution. It is quite possible for pro-Israelis to support either side. A right-wing ultra Israeli could favour a one-state solution based on Israel’s control of the whole region. A left-wing (or right-wing) Israeli could favour two-states as the most likely path to peace and security.

    The same goes for Palestinians. It is possible for a pro-Palestinian to support either a one-state or a two-state solution (most now favour the latter).

    This debate was NOT about the pros or cons of Israeli or Palestinian policy. That debate has been done to death.

    The Oxford Union has assured me that there will be a new Israel-Palestine debate in the New Year. The original supporters of the motion, such as Ghada Karmi, will be reinvited. To oppose the motion, the invitees will be Alan Dershowitz, Norman Finkelstein, Lord Trimble and myself.

    Now this WILL be a very interesting, positive debate. To have Alan and Norman on the same side, both arguing for a two-state solution, is exactly the kind of breaking down of enmities, barriers and fixed positions that we need, in order to work towards a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

    I hope Alan will accept the invitation and contribute to the debate.

    PS: This is what I have been told by insiders at the Oxford Union. I cannot say for certain that it is the truth but I have no reason to doubt that they have given me a truthful account.

    Posted by: Peter Tatchell at October 26, 2007 09:23 PM

  3. You really must check your facts and sources before publishing ad hominem attacks on individuals. You owe Paul Ussiskin an apology and a retraction.

    1) The Jerusalem Post article never credited Peace Now with the disinvitation to Finkelstein. Please read it more carefully.
    2) You demonise Alan Dershowitz. He quite rightly pulled out of speaking when he learned that Finkelstein was to be a co-debater on the 2-State side. I would have done the same. What is the point in agreeing to a team with one member who is less than committed (to put it mildly) to the motion?
    3) I was at the debate and I spoke. The Union President admitted to over 200 people present that the selection of Finkelstein on the 2-State side had been an error.
    4) The catalyst for the disinvitation to Finkelstein was not Dershowitz or indeed any member of the ‘lobby’ as demonised by Walt and Mearsheimer. It was a Presbyterian by the name of David Trimble who is a Lord and won the Nobel Peace Prize for making peace in Ireland. He was also on the 2-State team and like Dershowitz realised that the selection of Finkelstein must have been a simple error – which it was.


    You can read more in my posts on Harrys Place

  4. The truth is that we will never know what led to the disinvitement, but we do know that the opponents of Finkelstein misrepresented his position intentionally, and Jonathan Hoffman continues to do so. The only person who appears to know the sequence of events is Luke Tryl, and he said one thing to Finkelstein and another to the Oxford Union, as Hoffman implies in his comments on Harry’s Place. What is clear is that Mr. Tryl likes to please people, and I suppose that this is an admirable quality. Why believe Ottolenghi over Peter Tatchell? I imagine — and here Hoffman agrees — that Tryl got in over his head and buckled.

    I find it hard to believe that Lord Trimbell did not know that Finkelstein was to have appeared with him. He may not have known all the brouhaha over Finkelstein. But nobody agrees to participate in these things without knowing who else will be on the panel. That is why there is always an invitation dance beforehand.

    Mr. Hoffman owes Finkelstein an apology for stating that he is “less than committed (to put it mildly) to the motion.” In fact, Finkelstein is deeply committed to the motion, and he and Noam Chomsky have been criticized for that commitment. Apparently, Hoffman’s acquaintance with Finkelstein is through the distorting prism of Dershowitz. Hoffman cannot show where Finkelstein argues for the destruction of Israel, or a one-state solution.Only two weeks ago, Finkelstein on his website endorsed the letter by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, Carla Hills, Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, Thomas R. Pickering, Brent Scowcroft et al. that appeared in the NYRB which begins, “The Israeli-Palestinian peace conference announced by President Bush and scheduled for November presents a genuine opportunity for progress toward a two-state solution.” Are we to infer that Finkelstein’s endorsement was less than committed? Or perhaps it was a calculated plot to make his appearance at the Oxford Union that much more devestating.

    Hoffman’s Zionism blinds him to the fact that there are many people who are not Zionists who strongly favor a two-state solution — not in 1947, to be sure, but in 2007. He simply refuses to address that point. I think he is incapable of doing so. Ditto for Usiskin. And that speaks volumes about their inability to grasp intellectually the options. “Either you are for Zionism or your are for the destruction of Israel and its Jewish citiznes.” Dershowitz says. But to reduce the Middle East to this alternative is a Zionist myth. And not even a Zionist myth — a political Zionist myth.

    Jonathan, if you are reading this — give an argument for your claim that Finkelstein is not committed to the two-state solution based on his writing on his subject, ribono shel olam! Don’t you think that if would have been more effective — as Peter Tatchell suggests — had Dershowitz and Finkelstein argued together for two-states — albeit from different perspectives.

  5. You really must check your facts and sources

    Virtually everything in yr. comment is discredited first by Peter Tatchell’s multiple comments in the thread you link to in which Peter (one of the invited debate speakers) spoke directly to insiders at the Union who confirmed Dershowitz’s malevolent role. The CiF post by another invited speaker also confirms this version. In addition, there is Jerry Haber’s post in which he quotes an e mail from Luke Tryl to Finkelstein in which he blames not David Trimble, but pressure placed on the Union from many sources. But the most obvious one would be Dershowitz. In this e mail, Tryl doesn’t mention a mistake or Trimble. He blames the external pressure for the disinvitation. Besides, how can a serious debating society invite a speaker, then disinvite him & claim it was all a mistake. That’s preposterous & you know it or at least should now it.

    Your Trimble theory is based on a concoction brewed up by a neocon writer at Commentary Magazine’s website. You may attach credibility to Commentary as a source, but I don’t. You’ll have to do better I’m afraid.

    And read my most recent post on this where I place blame more squarely on Dersh than on Peace Now UK (which still retains a measure of credibility). But here in this post you have Peace Now’s own claim that it derailed Finkelstein’s participation. If you have a problem w. my placing blame on them you should take it up w. them since they claimed credit & I took them at their word.

    Further, I note in my later post that I gave Usiskin an opportunity to explain his own side of this & he refused. So I’m afraid I don’t owe Peace Now UK. They made their bed & will now have to lie in it.

  6. I agree with the comment about following untrue speculation. A one state solutions is probably the only answer that will work, but I feel sad that this is unlikely to ever be achived

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