News just in from Monsters and Critics: Norman Finkelstein, the provocative political scientist known for his criticism of Israeli policy, arrived today at Ben Gurion Airport and was promptly arrested by the authorities and informed he would be deported tomorrow on “security grounds.” His attorney, Michael Sfrad, informs us that in usual circumstances this means that Finkelstein will be unwelcome in Israel for the next ten years. Finkelstein had been intending to visit the Occupied Territories.
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. This is a country claiming it is a democracy which values civil rights. What civil rights has it accorded Norman Finkelstein? If the government can ban him, then it can ban virtually anyone for virtually any reason. Our motto should be: remember Martin Niemoller!
If I visited Israel and planned to tour the Occupied Territories they could make an argument for arresting and deporting me as well since, despite the fact that I am a progressive Zionist, I am also a critic of Israeli policy. If I had more money and didn’t have a young family to worry about I would deliberately try to follow precisely Finkelstein’s itinerary in order to test Israel’s alleged democracy. If the government wants to engage in outrageous conduct, they should be made to pay a price for it in international opprobrium.
I am only sorry Finkelstein did not resist deportation and appeal the decision. This would’ve forced the government to put up or shut up and held it up to international scrutiny. But likely Finkelstein would’ve been arrested and sent to an Israeli prison for an indefinite period until his case could be heard. Who would have the time or inclination to go through that? Not all of us are Martin Luther King and willing to sit in the Birmingham jail.
This case reminds me of Tariq Ramadan’s visa revocation by the U.S. government several years ago. He was denied entry on virtually the same grounds. The ACLU sued the government and I believe the case is still in litigation.
For those wishing to protest against Finkelstein’s detention, you may call, fax or e-mail:
Minister of Interior
2 Kaplan St., Qiryat Ben-Gurion
P.O. Box 6158, 91061 Jerusalem
Tel. 972-2-670-1411 / 972-2-629-4722
Telephone 1: 972-2-640-8410
Telephone 2: 972-2-640-8409
If you are American, call the State Department’s Hotline for American Travelers: 202-647-5225. Let them know this is happening and is in violation of international law. Call your Congress member and senator NOW and advise them a U.S. citizen is being denied access to Israel.
If you are an Israeli, please start working the phones…this denial of entry is all being done in your name!
UPDATE: Mitchell Plitnick writes in an e mail that Israel probably objects to Finkelstein’s defense of Hezbollah’s right to resist the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Mitchell finds nothing wrong with Israel detaining Finkelstein if the government finds his previous statements on this subject objectionable.
But a number of Israeli citizens have voiced similar views about Hezbollah. As far as I’m aware there is no Israeli law saying a citizen can’t criticize an Israeli war or argue that a Lebanese group has a right to resist an invasion of its country. And even if there is, I’m not aware of anyone being prosecuted for this. So if a citizen can do it why can’t a Diaspora Jew do it? Admittedly, this is a controversial point of view within Israeli society. But the whole point about being a democracy means you allow consideration of controversial views. If you don’t then you’re not a democracy.