Debunking Old Myths Regarding the Israel/Palestine Conflict
Rummaging through a few pages of Norman Finkelstein's website, I came across video and audio transcripts of one of Finkelstein's lectures, held in Canada in 2004, with the title "Is Criticism of Israel Anti-Semitic?" and believed I had previously read transcripts of this lecture and decided to reminisce a little. I was wrong: I hadn't come across a transcript of this material before and most likely was confusing it with another article or lecture.
The lecture in question is about 1h40 long and is broken up into seven audio/video streams. Broadly speaking, Finkelstein's speech can be broken up into three parts: debunking myths on the Israel/Palestine conflict, analysis of what constitutes "the New Anti-Semitism" and finally (the least interesting part I felt) musings on the Dershowitz/Finkelstein feud.
I found the first sixty minutes or so by far the most attractive part of the whole thing because, without presenting anything substantially new, Finkelstein debunks some of the most common myths regarding the conflict that so often pollute the arguments deployed by staunch pro-Israel supporters. Worth reiterating, in my view:
- The conflict is not unique and valid parallels can be drawn with various, similar situations in past history.
- The conflict is not complicated or hard to understand. It doesn't require harking back to "Biblical enmities" or "Cosmic justice". It doesn't take rocket science to comprehend it.
- American support for Israel, now overwhelming and unwavering, didn't start until after the 1967 war. Post WW II and prior to 1967 the loyalties of the Americans lay squarely with West Germany, the new fortress against Communism. At that time, there was little, if any, sympathy for Israel, back then decidedly a leftist country in search of its own socialist utopia. The Holocaust was hardly a topic of interest in the American mainstream. American Jews, broadly speaking, also held Israel at arms length, for fear of being accused of having dual loyalties.
- Palestine was not an empty space, prior to the arrival of the Zionists, and Arabs did not migrate there en masse pretending to be the indigenous people of Palestine, the Palestinians. The myth that there really is no Palestinian people continues to be dissipated today, in particular by extremists in the pro-Israel movement.
- The 1948 refugee problem was not created by Arab radio broadcasts, urging the Palestinians to flee, so Arab invading forces could sweep the Jews into the sea. No records of such broadcasts were ever found and the story is a hoax.
- There is nothing new about the "New Anti-Semitism": waves of new anti-Semitism have been created repeatedly to meet political expediency.
Finkelstein spends also some time on the now largely forgotten hoax, the book called "From Time Immemorial" by Joan Peters, a 1984 bestseller which continues partly to be responsible for the myth that "there are no real Palestinians". Finkelstein's meticulous work in exposing this colossal piece of fraud cost him an academic career, as Chomsky explains here.
If you haven't yet seen and heard footage of the "Is Criticism of Israel Anti-Semitic?" lecture, you can do it here. Finkelstein is clear and eloquent, as well as entertaining in parts. Remember, this about a lot more than just the "New anti-Semitism", which is in itself a fairly boring subject...