In an otherwise disdainful and painfully partisan profile of Norman Finkelstein written by Jewish Week reporter Stewart Ain, Norman Finkelstein reveals that he plans to meet with Israeli consular officials in September to get an undertaking from them that he will be allowed to enter Israel should he attempt to do so (he was recently deported by Israel due to his outspoken criticism of its policies):
Finkelstein is preparing for what may be his biggest fight, albeit one he doesn’t relish. He plans to go to the Israeli Consulate in New York in September to seek an assurance that he will be admitted in December. Such assurance, he said, would allow all concerned to “avoid the spectacle of me applying under the Law of Return [which gives every Jew the automatic right to acquire Israeli citizenship]. … It’s hard to see which side will find that more ridiculous.
“I don’t incite riots,” he continued. “I’m just going to see a friend in the occupied Palestinian territories. I’m not there to see Israel. I do not need for every facet of my life to be politicized. If Israeli authorities would just grant me a visa, I’ll move on.”
Finkelstein said he hopes to visit a Palestinian, Musa Abu Hashhash, who lives with his wife and children near Hebron. They first met in 1988 when Finkelstein went to Israel with a delegation from the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee and Finkelstein dedicated one of his books to the man, who works for B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group. He stressed that his visit to Israel would be a “private” affair and that he had “no interest in turning this into a political issue. … I don’t think they can deny me, and I don’t want to turn it into a test case for the Israeli High Court.”
If they refuse, and Finkelstein invokes the Law of Return and takes Israeli citizenship, it would no longer be possible to prevent him from visiting the country. I just wonder whether the IDF, in a fit of pique, will call him up for miluim (reserve duty). Then you’d have the added spectacle of the Israel critic refusing to serve and then being jailed as a seruvnik (refuser). Of course, all of this is doubtful since I don’t believe the army calls you for duty unless you’re physically in the country; and as someone who never served in any army I can’t see that he’d be much use to the IDF, even as a mere reservist. But I’d never underestimate the willingness of the IDF and intelligence establishment to punish its critics.
There would be a delicious irony here: the Shin Bet attempts to make Finkelstein persona non grata in punishment for his outspokenness against Israeli policy toward the Arabs. Finkelstein then one-ups them by becoming an Israeli citizen, a prospect that’s got to fill them with revulsion. So which is worse: allowing Finkelstein to visit his friend in the West Bank unfettered? Or standing on sordid principle and forcing your worst nightmare to become one of you?
Returning to the issue of Ain’s antagonism for his subject. Let’s take but a single sentence out of an entire diatribe concealed as a piece of journalism:
No more loyal students, no more lectures to prepare, no more radio debates with his arch-enemy, Alan Dershowitz, no more national spotlight; Finkelstein is the man no one wants, and perhaps for good reason.
Just because Finkelstein doesn’t currently teach doesn’t mean he has no “loyal students.” In fact, he has thousands of students he has taught who feel tremendous loyalty to him. And while he may have no more college lectures to prepare, Finkelstein continues to lecture around the country. In fact, he just spoke here in Seattle at the University of Washington Hillel.
It is yet another presumptuous statement to claim Finkelstein “has no more national spotlight” since his books are as relevant and as quoted as ever. He continues to be an important part of the Jewish discourse on all the subjects about which he’s written including the Holocaust and Israel.
If Finkelstein is the “man no one wants,” then why did Ain want to interview him? Why did a documentary filmmaker spend several years making American Radical about the former college professor; a film which promises to make a big splash when it is released. The very statement is ludicrous.
I find it demeaning that Ain would ask Finkelstein whether, in his inability to secure college teaching work, he considered becoming a high school teacher; and it is unconscionable that Ain repeated the scurrilous Dershowitz charge that Finkelstein’s mother, an Auschwitz survivor, was a kapo. How can Ain or his editors countenance such calumnies? Did the reporter not research the collaboration charge by visiting Finkelstein’s website to see the powerful rebuttal he wrote? And if he had, how could he possibly have found asking such a question to be in good taste?
Reading the profile I felt deeply embarrassed for Finkelstein that he should be treated so shabbily by the Jewish press. This is yet another example of the parochialism and partisan nature of Jewish communal journalism in the face of controversial subjects related to Israel.