This dream of mine is nowhere near as elegantly articulated or stirring as Martin Luther King’s, but it nevertheless represents some creative brainstorming. It all began with this short passage in the Jerusalem Post:
On Tuesday, the Shin Bet said that if Finkelstein tried returning to Israel it would need to re-evaluate its position.”
This got me to thinking, by God, the Shin Bet is tacitly inviting Finkelstein to try again; or else they’re warning him that they might “re-evaluate its position” by locking him in prison and throwing away the key. I started thinking–why not test the Shin Bet’s statement? Why not return to Israel?
Then my brainstorming became grander and bolder: don’t just return to Israel, but make a bold political statement out of Finkelstein’s return. After the ugliness at DePaul, local Chicago activists organized a teach-in on academic freedom which included Ben Gurion University professor Neve Gordon, John Mearsheimer, and Finkelstein.
So I started thinking why not do something similar in Israel with Finkelstein again being either the guest of honor or featured speaker. You could turn this into an academic conference on issues like Israeli democracy, ethnic identity and conflict in Israel, Israel-Syria peace negotiations, the critical importance of freedom of travel and speech in democratic society. The conference could happen both in Israel and in the West Bank say, at Bir Zeit University (since one couldn’t expect Israelis to be able to travel freely to the West Bank nor Palestinians to travel to Israel to attend either session).
Think of the interesting figures you could invite who have had experiences similar to Finkelstein’s who could address this gathering:
1. Tariq Ramadan, whose U.S. visa to teach at Notre Dame was revoked in part because Daniel Pipes and other neocons lied claiming Ramadan was a supporter of Islamic terror.
2. Yigal Arens, computer security expert at the University of Southern California and son of Israeli former defense minister, Moshe Arens. The younger Arens was invited to lead a section of a Ben Gurion University conference in his field. But the Shin Bet conference participants objected to his presence because he is a strident critic of Israeli policy. Conference organizers disinvited him.
3. Avrum Burg, whose new book The Holocaust is Over, scandalized the Israeli political elite when it was published in Hebrew last year because Burg, scion of a distinguished Orthodox Zionist family, has moved to France and turned his back on Israeli Zionism.
4. Menachem Klein, professor at Bar Ilan University, whose academic department refuses to grant him tenure because his analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict violates the department’s narrow political-academic consensus.
5. Neve Gordon, professor at Ben Gurion University, who has endured a savage letter writing campaign to his university president and trustees smearing his name and seeking to get him fired for his critical writing about Israeli policy. Another Israeli academic, Steven Plaut, called him a “kapo” and “Juden-Rat,” and ended up losing a libel case brought by Gordon and a subsequent appeal.
6. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, an Israeli-Arab law professor at the Hebrew University who was denied permission to exit Israel (again while at Ben Gurion airport) to attend an academic conference; all this at the hands of the same Shin Bet which deported Finkelstein.
7. Hadeel Abukwaik, one of seven Palestinian Fulbright winners who recently gained permission to take up their U.S. studies after it was initially denied by the IDF which refused to allow them to exit Gaza.
8. Juan Cole, professor at University of Michigan, denied endowed chair at Yale University after a campaign by right-wing alumni attacking him for being anti-Israel.
9. Rashid Khalidi, professor of MIddle East studies at Columbia University, similarly smeared while he was under consideration for an endowed chair at Princeton University and also fired from teaching a course to New York City public school teachers about the Middle East, because of false charges made by Daniel Pipes of supporting Arab radicalism.
10. Nadia Abu El-Haj, professor of anthropology at Barnard College, targeted by pro-Israel militants who attempted unsuccessfully to deny her tenure for her critical writings about Israeli archaeology.
11. Sami Bahour, Palestinian-American entrepreneur and peace activist denied entry to Israel for no discernible reason.
12. Zvi Schreiber, Israeli technology entrepreneur and developer of G.ho.st, a program allowing computer users to access their computers anywhere in the world. The project is a collaboration between Israelis and Palestinian programmers.
13. Rabbi Menachem Froman, founder of Gush Emunim and West Bank settler, who is close to Hamas. The Shin Bet prevented Froman from holding a joint press conference to promote his ideas about Israeli-Palestinian peace.
As part of this conference, I’d love to hear a concert by Mira Awad, a wonderful Israeli Arab singer and popular theater and TV actress who hasn’t been able to get a recording contract to produce her first recording. Her music is not considered commercial enough (as defined by Israeli Jewish record executives). And why not add to the concert David Broza, who recorded the first Israeli-Palestinian musical duet for his song, B’Libi; and Noa and Khaled, whose performance in Hebrew and Arabic of John Lennon’s Imagine is stirring beyond belief; and Idan Raichel, whose music is at the cutting edge of the intersection of Israeli and world music. A performance by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim would also be stirring.
I also devised a few ideas about how to shame/compel the Shin Bet into granting Finkelstein entry. He could fly to Israel with several of the conference speakers forcing the Shin Bet to grant entry or eject all of them. The could call the flight the “Voyage of the Banned.” Other conference speakers could meet him at Ben Gurion along with his lawyer, Michael Sfard (just in case). Joining them could be a few journalists, TV cameras and perhaps an MK or two. I’d say this might give the Shin Bet pause. And if it didn’t, the conference organizers could hold the event/s anyway and leave an empty “Elijah’s chair” on stage for anyone detained by the Shin Bet.
Of course, it’s easy to dream. Israelis would be the ones to have to do the hard work to make this dream happen. But it was great fun dreaming a dream of Israeli democracy and of forcing the Shin Bet to live up to the ideals of its own country’s Declaration of Independence.
This is one of your most wonderful posts. And thanks you invited us into your dreams.
What I like best about this is the subliminal challenged to Daniel Pipes. Wouldn’t we all like to see that guy mad as hell, just once.
Mad like Rumpelstiltskin, stomping his foot and and explode spreading into the universe like the Urknall. …
I pondered what else I could do to him. Eternal return as a fly living only four days and being aware that there is no way to get out of this vicious cricle.
thanks Richard, this was a real pleasure.
eugene schulman says
A few others I’d like to see on your invitation list: Ilan Pappe, Noam Chomsky, Tony Judt, David Shulman, Joel Kovel, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and of course, yours truly. Hell, why not also invite names like Abe Foxman of ADL, David Harris of AJC. Maybe if they came you could get the Lobby to foot the expenses. And don’t forget Dersch. You could stage a debate between him and Finkelstein. That would add some fireworks to the party.
If you’re gonna dream, dream big! The Jewish olympics?
Canadian Finkelstein petition:
Rupa Shah says
A great post! Followed by wonderful suggestions. If I may, I would add Prof Henry Siegman and Mr Tony Karon to the list of speakers ( a miniconference with simutaneous sessions discussing specific issues! ) and it could be recorded for viewing later on the internet!
I was at the De Paul teach-in on Academic Freedom.
The whole programme is on their website to hear and to watch.
Thanks for posting the petition. It has been forwarded around the world!
good post there Mr. Silverstein.