05 August 2012

Norman Finkelstein and Tablet

David Samuels, Tablet Magazine's literary editor, produced a Q and A with Norman Finkelstein. Let me start with saying that interviews of this kind could be very helpful and revealing, and to a large extent this one was a success. Knowing a bit about the subject, I wasn't disturbed or surprised by his answers at all, but the introduction by David Samuels was another matter. Check this out:

Yet, like it or not, Finkelstein’s influence on public debate is by now undeniable, with his once-radical ideas having been embraced throughout the Jewish community, from his debunking of the idea of Israel as “a land without a people” and his diagnosis of a strain of American Jewish Holocaust obsession to his assertions of the immorality of the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
That was really disturbing. And I don't mean the "factual" part of this long sentence, that's easy to debunk. Like the sentence "A land without a people for a people without a land", whose history is interesting by itself, and which, of course, wasn't debunked by Finkelstein the fearless pioneer. You can read in the same link about some of the debunking that started when Norman Finkelstein wasn't yet planned*. To say that Finkelstein is the one whose "assertions of the immorality of the occupation" are in any way original is a pure fallacy. As for "his diagnosis of a strain of American Jewish Holocaust obsession": yes, we may have something original there, but let's not forget the curious situation, where a man, who spends most of his awake hours nailing the Jewish Holocaust obsession, is leeching on this same Holocaust financially, doing this so tirelessly and for so many years. And, of course, take into consideration (careful at that) this:
You simply can’t imagine what it was like growing up the child of Holocaust survivors.
I guess that Finkelstein doesn't even start to realize what, in fact, he is saying in that sentence. The ultimate irony of it will, most probably, be missed by him forever. But self-reflection was never a strong quality of this self-aggrandizing pompous git who, even when he is saying something to the point, succeeds to do it in a manner that will be a turn-off to a most sympathetic viewer:

And the man doesn't understand why people, even the ones who are ready to "embrace" his ideas, are turned off:
OK, so let’s ask the question: Has any professor worked to get me a job at any university? I want to be factual. Answer: No.
Has any professor worked to get me a guest lectureship for a year? Answer: No.
Has any professor worked to get me a lecture, even once? Answer: No.
...You were in graduate school, you remember the thing called a brown-bag lunch. Has one professor invited me for a brown bag lunch? Answer: No. We’re not even talking about cost.
You know, there are quite a few professors at Columbia who are pro-Palestinian. Has one of them invited me for anything? No.
And do you no know why, Mr Finkelstein? No? Pathetic.

But my knowledge and understanding of the Finkelstein subject is somewhat finite, so I can only offer a limited range of reasons (beside his being a natural turn-off):

Maybe because of this:

Or because of that:
Finkelstein visiting a Hezbollah "freedom fighters" cemetery

Or, possibly, because of that loathsome example of gloating over Hitch's death?

Or, perhaps, due to all of the above, coupled with somewhat funky academic credentials?

But, you know, all of the above is beside the point. And the point was that the assertion by David Samuels about Finkelstein's ideas being "embraced" by Jewish community is disturbing.

I confess to not keeping a hand on the pulse of American Jews in particular and Americans in general. So, my doubts about this assertion caused me to poll my fellow Watchers on the WoW team. So far these are the responses I got (in the sequence of their arrival ):

I know very little about Finkelstein, but after reading on him a bit, I believe it to be a bald-faced lie. Finkelstein promotes the immorality of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Bull pucky. The Israelis have every right to the West Bank, not the Palestinians. Whereas the author thinks Finkelstein's logic is unassailable - I find it to be ridden with self-loathing holes. There is no way that the Jewish community embraces this progressive pablum.

If you are known by your friends, mentors and those you admire, then Finkelstein fits right in with his idealogue Naom Chomsky. A singularly despicable Marxist and human being, Chomsky and Finkelstein both seem to share a hatred for Israel and Jewish history and they do so by using intellect as a shield. He views protecting Israel from another holocaust as obsessive, thus proving himself to be an elitist, vain, selfish asshat.
I am a Jew. Norman Finkelstein does not speak for me any more than Barack Obama speaks for me. When it comes to the question of Israel I would put the two of them in the same basic category and would embrace each of them in the same way. Not at all!

--Sun Tzu

p.s Use the Force, Luke! Use the Force (God of Israel) ... back out quiet.


No hateration, but I disagree with that statement.

To the extent most American Jews even know whom Finklestink is, he has a sterling reputation as a Holocaust denier, a very useful 'antiZionist' with an obviously Jewish name and an academic plagiarist. The plagiarism is why he was fired from Northwestern. I wouldn't urinate on him if he was on fire.

He has a sort of following amongst the sort of creatures who populate J Street and groups like A Jewish Voice For Peace, but saying that his ideas have been 'embraced' is a real stretch...although not when you consider who's saying it.

Yes, David Samuels himself is an interesting character, who writes for anti-Israel organs like Harpers, the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Atlantic.

He's famous for a fawning profile of Yasser Arafat and a wonderful piece entitled 'Kanye West, American Mozart', both in the Atlantic. In other words, a reliably useful idiot, who is nevertheless entitled to his opinion.
I never heard of Finkelstein. I know of Henry Finkel of the Boston Celtics :)
I agree with Rob here. Finkelstein has no influence in the larger Jewish community. Samuels is a good writer, but I think he's flattering his subject here.
I am a Jew who tries to pay attention to the news and am only barely aware of Finkelstein. If the legacy media didn't give him a platform from time to time, he would have no influence whatsoever.

And perhaps I think about him more than do most American Jews. He can better be described as self-hating than can most gay conservatives -- and we hear that slur on a regular basis.
Yeah... even taking into account the obvious right way leaning of the questioned team, Finkelstein seems about as accepted and as embraced as a bad case of head cold.

(*) Of course I wouldn't say it. No matter what he is, he was an apple of his parents' eyes.


Stan said...

The anti-Israel Jewish phenomenon is an industry from which Finkelstien makes his livelihood. His political views are business decisions.


SnoopyTheGoon said...

That's entirely possible. However, with a twisted mind like that of F., I wouldn't bet on it. He is too irrational and self-obsessed to be a good business decision maker.

Dick Stanley said...

I have enjoyed some of the articles in Tablet, but for the most part there's no question it's a Lefty outfit. You go in to it with that understanding and you can find value here and there, now and then. Just not all the time and in all of the articles.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

As many others, they are a mixed bunch, for sure.

Sara Noble said...

He hasn't earned anything on the backs of his parents. I seriously don't like him. What an arrogant guy. He's telling others to not be so clever as he condescendingly tells us what to think. He doesn't speak for me and I hated listening to him.

Noga said...

He is such a sad human being. I think his self diagnosis about how his parents' Holocaust experiences mutilated his child's soul are dead on. He speaks about it freely when he quotes some of things his mother told him; the fact is he does not understanding to this day what they mean. It could be heartbreaking if he weren't so utterly hateful, as you say. He no longer disgusts me as he used to. He is a terribly suffering human being who is a perpetual, incurable, outsider, even to himself. After that interview in which he tore apart the BDS self-delusional pretensions, even his staunchest admirers like our beloved, calm and judicious cousin Abukhalil and the folks on that great blog (so beloved by Mearsheimer) "Mondowiess" suddenly began to suspect that he might be a Zionist after all.

The more he is exposed to mainstream media, the more he will discredit and marginalize himself.

Anonymous said...

NF never taught at Northwestern, never accused of plagerism. Did shift the debate from who's right/who's wrong to The Occupation. Never had two nickels to rub together so if profit is his motive - he should join a Wall St. firm.