Sunday, July 20, 2008

Norman Finkelstein: American Radical


"In particular he feels very passionately about the Holocaust. His parents are both survivors of extermination camps and he was deeply involved in their lives and tragedies and so on. And when he sees someone exploiting it - demeaning the memory of the victims for personal gain - he doesn't like it. I can understand that." - Noam Chomsky

American Radical, a film about the world-renowned (and in some quarters, bitterly hated) expert on the Israeli-Palestinian issue Norman Finkelstein, will be released later this year.

From the extended trailer, it looks like being very good, but I'd just say one thing about the title. Finkelstein's writing about Israel-Palestine has two major themes. First, he works to advocate a two state solution on the legal international borders, in line with the regularly expressed wishes of practically all the world's nations bar Israel and the United States. Second, he relays the fact, documented by the leading human rights organisations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and B'Tselem, that Israel has a brutal record of repression, torture, murder, theft and dispossession inflicted on the Palestinian people systematically and relentlessly for decades. Finkelstein is therefore no "radical". It is those who reject a settlement of the issue that conforms with international law, instead embracing one that privileges Israel, and who portray Israel as a paragon of virtue that seeks only to defend itself from extremist madmen, who are the real radicals, rejecting as they do the rule of law, the international consensus and indeed the factual record.

Finkelstein is, to my mind (and as you can read here), the model of what an intellectual should be: someone who uses the privilege of his ability,
knowledge and authority to help and defend those less fortunate than himself. He has shown extraordinary levels of bravery in continuing his work even in the face of a viciously spiteful smear campaign against him by apologists for Israel; people who are prepared even to go so far as to attack his mother to get at him. The sheer cynicism of the attempts to silence Finkelstein demonstrate the extent to which he is feared by his enemies.

If you're not familiar with Finkelstein's work, I would recommend starting with the book "Beyond Chutzpah", or with this highly perceptive article about the last stages of the Clinton-managed "peace process". His writing is meticulously researched, tightly argued, and extremely readable.

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