In my recent Comment is Free column, Shut Out of the Homeland, I implicitly criticized some Jewish progressives for supporting Israel’s decision to deport Norman Finkelstein last week because of his criticisms of Israeli policy. I didn’t name names because these individuals stated their views in a semi-public e mail exchange and I didn’t feel it was right to do so.
Now, Murray Polner informs me that one of them, M.J. Rosenberg has written publicly about his views and I can criticize them explicitly. Though M.J. was far more dismissive and vituperative in the e mail thread than he is publicly, I’ll confine myself to quoting what he’s written:
This column is written in grays, not in black and white. So, while I’m at it, I want to comment on the Israeli government’s decision not to permit Norman Finkelstein, a virulently anti-Israel American Jewish professor, to enter the country. Finkelstein was arrested at the airport and questioned by the Shin Bet security service for several hours on Friday. He was then expelled and told he could not return for ten years. This has become a big issue on the web and has occasioned much criticism of Israel.
Finkelstein is stridently anti-Israel and literally cheers on its enemies. During the 2006 Israeli war with Hezbollah, he addressed a rally in New York to express solidarity with Hassan Nasrallah and to say, “right now, we are all Hezbollah.” This past January, Finkelstein went on Lebanese television to chide his hosts for opposing the destruction Hezbollah helped bring on their country.
Read his words. This is an American Jew, who lives in the comfort of the United States, going on Lebanese television to criticize anti-Hezbollah Lebanese for their reluctance to die in the struggle against Israel!
…I often criticize arm-chair right-wing warriors here who are always ready to fight to the last Israeli. Finkelstein will fight to the last Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese in his own perverse holy war.
Pretty incredible stuff.
Nonetheless, I don’t much like banning people because their ideas are noxious.
But if Israel does evict the likes of Finkelstein, let it also expel those right-wing fanatics who land at Ben-Gurion airport every day, are welcomed at passport control, and go off to the West Bank settlements to plan attacks on Palestinians and incite against the Israeli government.
The same rule should apply to all hatemongers, right or left. Let ‘em in or send ‘em back. In the meantime let Finkelstein take his vacation elsewhere.
Rosenberg implicitly supports Finkelstein’s deportation (he did so explicitly in the e mail exchange) but pulls his punches a bit publicly.
Several things bother me about Rosenberg’s claims here. But first, let me say that I agree with Rosenberg’s sense that Finkelstein is a bit of a ranter and that some of his views are offensive. I too thought it was outrageous for Finkelstein to claim on the one hand that he had no right to tell Lebanese what to do, and on the other to shame the interviewer for not putting up more of a fight against Israelis.
But Rosenberg is dead wrong about Finkelstein’s overall views about Israel. M.J. has fallen into Finkelstein’s own trap by adopting the sweeping, black and white judgments (I thought you wrote your column in grays, M.J.) the latter uses in his rhetorical arguments. Finkelstein is not “anti-Israel.” He is anti-Israeli policy. He is anti-Lebanon war. In fact, Finkelstein supports a 2-state solution just as M.J. and I do. In calling him “anti-Israel,” M.J. makes precisely the same mistake that right-wingers make when they call people like him and me anti-Israel. We’ve both been victims of these slurs and shouldn’t fall prey to them merely because Finkelstein espouses views somewhat more vehement than our own.
I challenge M.J. to come up with any statements of Finkelstein’s that are truly anti-Israel; that proclaim a one-state solution or are anti-Zionist. He can’t. So M.J., a little more precision is called for especially since you have a public platform and the ears of so many liberal Jews.
In my Comment is Free piece, I conceded that Finkelstein’s formulations can be annoying and offensive at times. He loves to go for the jugular. That’s not how I debate or argue. But unlike M.J., I’m not willing to turn my back on Finkelstein because he’s not a nice, elegant, smooth-talking debater.
If M.J. remembers his Martin Niemoller, he’ll recall that when tyrants come for their enemies they don’t distinguish between who is most and least offensive. They come for us all sooner or later. If we don’t stand together we hang alone as a signer of the Declaration of Independence famously said.
M.J. is applying his political principles selectively and inconsistently and he should know better. Unlike M.J. I don’t believe anyone should be denied entrance to Israel unless they advocate physical harm against specific individuals or groups. If Finkelstein is eligible for Israeli citizenship (as he is since he is not a criminal), then he should be kosher enough to visit the country. In supporting his deportation, M.J. is depriving Israelis of engaging with his views. And those views are ones espoused by Israeli citizens so there’s no reason Finkelstein should’ve have his own opportunity to espouse them too. Not to mention that Finkelstein wasn’t even visiting Israel. He was visiting the Occupied Territories which Israel hasn’t yet annexed. Therefore, it had absolutely no legal right to bar Finkelstein from travel there.
M.J. you didn’t keep your eye on the ball on this one. You allowed your intense dislike for Finkelstein to cloud the bigger issues. It’s not like you to do this since on so many other issues your analysis is superb.