In the course of writing this blog, I’ve chronicled some really dumb moves by the Shin Bet. But their decision in arresting and deporting Norman Finkelstein from the country really takes the cake:
Finkelstein said he was asked whether he had met with Al Qaida operatives, whether he had been sent to Israel by Hezbollah and how he intended to finance his stay in Israel.
“I was kept in a holding cell at the airport for approximately 24 hours…” Finkelstein said.
The Shin Bet apparently doesn’t understand the difference between Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Or perhaps it pretends it doesn’t know the difference in order to smear people like Finkelstein. But actually, such questions only show the utter stupidity of the agent who asked them. And since he was following a scenario sketched out for him by his superiors, I presume we can blame the entire agency for this line of questioning.
The idea that Norman Finkelstein was imprisoned by the Shin Bet is an outrage. Even if you disagree with Finkelstein’s views on Hezbollah and think that Finkelstein is an intellectual provocateur, he is a respected academic with a large international audience. In banning him, Israel has made itself look petty, small and mean.
In an exchange of e-mails with fellow progressives I was shocked to discover that several people I thought would respond positively on this issue essentially said: “Finkelstein can go to hell for all I care.” I can understand why they don’t like Finkelstein. He is prickly person who tends to argue his case in extreme terms. In the passion of his argument, he gets carried away and overstates his case.
But the amount of misinformation forwarded even by Jewish progressives about Finkelstein was astonishing. One person who works for an Israeli human rights group said he praised Hezbollah as “heroes.” He didn’t. Another who is a senior staffer for a Jewish peace group said Finkelstein “celebrated the murder of Israelis.” He didn’t. The same person said Finkelstein made him “want to vomit.” What is especially astonishing about the argument advanced by these people is their claim that Finkelstein’s deportation is not a blemish on Israeli democracy. That Israel did what any democratic country can and should do in denying entry to someone it views as hostile to its interests.
It’s also ironic that when deported, Finkelstein was on his way to visit a Palestinian activist for the very same Israeli human rights group whose staffer I referred to above. The latter essentially said Finkelstein deserved what he had coming to him. I’m continually astonished that even so-called liberals can wear such blinders.
I’m not saying Finkelstein is my favorite human being or even my favorite analyst of the Israeli-Arab conflict. But if we allow the petty, small-minded spooks of the Shin Bet to determine that a he can be banned for criticizing Israel then any one of us can be similarly denied.
Remember Martin Niemoller. He began his career hating Jews. Then he became a critic of Hitler and was imprisoned by him for eight years. By the end of his imprisonment he understood that Jews were the canary in the coal mine. By not standing up for them when he should have, he made it that much easier for Hitler to come for him later on. I am simply shocked that I should have to say this to people who work for Jewish peace groups and Israeli human rights groups. It seems like an elementary and fundamental point that should be understood by anyone sensitive to these issues. Yet it isn’t.
In thinking of this case, I am reminded of a very similar one here in the U.S. in which the Department of Homeland Security revoked a visa for Tariq Ramadan, the European Muslim scholar who intended to teach a course at Notre Dame. DHS made a similarly vague statement that Ramadan was denied entry on security grounds. His U.S. government interrogators similarly noted that he had donated money to groups affiliated with Hamas (before that group was listed as a terror organization). Daniel Pipes had argued publicly that Ramadan supported Islamic terror and the former had forwarded his claims to DHS. It is likely that Pipes’ false claims about Ramadan’s sympathy for terrorism played a similar role in his exclusion from the U.S.
My question to these erstwhile Jewish progressives who’ve deserted Finkelstein is: if DHS actually, but mistakenly sees Ramadan as a supporter of terrorism, why is this agency’s action any worse than Israel’s? In short, if a government wishes to ban someone for their political views, they should show cause how those views will actually do real harm to the nation. They should allow the victim to appeal the ruling in an expedited way: that is, they shouldn’t imprison someone like a Ramadan or Finkelstein as a common criminal until their case can be heard.
Finally, just as the Bush Administration should be made to pay a price for its ludicrous decision in the Ramadan case, so the Israeli government should be made to pay a similar price. If you want to deny a Jew the right to enter Israel simply because he says things that your own citizens say (and who are not prosecuted for saying them), but which are inconvenient to hear–then you deserve to become the laughingstock of democracies the world over.
Jerry Haber has also written a terrific post on this subject.