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Norman Finkelstein counters anti-Semitism ‘libel’ over harsh comments on Gaza

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Editor’s note: Last Thursday, Norman Finkelstein spoke on a panel at Princeton titled “Black and Palestinian Solidarity,” and made harsh comments about Israel’s treatment of Gaza. The Daily Princetonian covered the event on October 11, and the headline stated flatly, “Finkelstein GS [Graduate School] ’87 delivers anti-Semitic remarks at panel…” 

The article focused on Finkelstein’s exchange with a Princeton freshman who said he had served in the Israeli Defense Forces on the Gaza fence. Jacob Katz said, “he did witness violence from the Palestinian side, contrary to Finkelstein’s claim that Palestinian peace efforts are entirely nonviolent.”

Finkelstein responded, per the Princetonian: “’You have to deal with the fact that you come here and you announce that you were on the border. You are a concentration camp guard. That’s a hard thing for a Jew to have to swallow. But that is [a] fact…. No shame,’ Finkelstein went on. ‘Most concentration camps guards don’t go around now broadcasting that fact. There should be a lot of shame at what you are doing.’”

The article also stated,

“During the talk, Finkelstein expressed an anti-Semitic trope, saying, ‘They [the Israelis] are biped bloodhounds drinking the blood of one million [Palestinian] children.’… Finkelstein later asserted that Gaza is a concentration camp, saying that any refugees’ attempts to leave result in death, regardless of age or ability… ‘They just want to breathe and to live,’ Finkelstein said repeatedly.

An organizer of the panel, Leopoldo Solis, was quoted saying, “We do not condone how these words changed the conversation to a less-productive space.”

Finkelstein responded to the charge with a letter saying the Princetonian is avoiding facing the truth of Gaza’s martyrdom. He gave us permission to publish it.  

The Daily Princetonian states that I delivered “anti-Semitic remarks” at a panel on black and Palestinian solidarity. This is a most serious allegation. But is it true?

The article, which was subsequently “edited to better reflect the context and content of the panel as a whole,” was originally a sustained libel against me to the exclusion of the other panelists. In the revised version, the other panelists are quoted, but the libel remains intact. Were it written by the Israeli consulate, the article would have made perfect sense, but the ‘Prince’ is supposed to prioritize the interests of the Princeton community.

The ‘Prince’ interviewed Jewish students who allegedly were pained by my remarks, but it apparently couldn’t find a single audience member who appreciated them, even as my intervention evoked loud applause. I went out for dinner afterwards with many of the attendees, including several Jewish students.

The ‘Prince’ managed to track down all the principals for a comment (sponsors, select audience members), but didn’t manage to solicit a comment from the headlined subject of the article.

The ‘Prince’ reported that Jewish students were scared for their safety, but missed the incongruity that, if they were so scared, why did these frightened persons come up afterwards to speak with me?

The ‘Prince’ noted that a dissenting Jewish student in the audience struggled to have his words heard, but it failed to mention that I was the one who firmly insisted dissenting voices from the audience be heard.

The oddest thing, however, is that the ‘Prince’ managed to report on every aspect of some Jewish students’ reaction to my talk, even on our private conversations afterwards, and to provide multiple hyperlinks to other alleged statements by me in the past, without once mentioning a single word about the subject of my lengthy talk: Gaza’s martyrdom.

In my remarks, I noted inter alia [among other things] that: over 70 percent of Gaza’s population consists of refugees, and half its population consists of children; Israel has imposed an illegal and inhuman medieval siege on Gaza since 2006 that has been uniformly condemned by humanitarian and human rights organizations as a flagrant violation of international law; Israel has punctuated its brutal siege by launching fully eight large-scale massacres since 2004, the last of which, Operation Protective Edge (2014), left 550 Gazan children dead and 18,000 homes methodically destroyed while one Israeli child was killed and one Israeli home was destroyed. In addition, 97 percent of Gaza’s water is unfit for human consumption; humanitarian and human rights organizations have repeatedly sounded the alarm that Gaza is on the brink of being physically unlivable; leading Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling of the Hebrew University and a leading Israeli journalist covering Gaza, Amira Hass of Haaretz, have both described Gaza as a “concentration camp;” and Israeli snipers have been intentionally targeting with lethal weapons children, medics, journalists, and disabled persons nonviolently protesting the blockade of Gaza.

Alas, none of these exhaustively documented, shocking facts registered with the ‘Prince.’ Its sole concern was the alleged hurt feelings of an Israel soldier in the audience who announced that he was one of the guards along the perimeter fence of this concentration camp caging in one million children.

The ‘Prince’ deemed it an “anti-Semitic trope” to describe Israeli snipers as “drinking the blood of Gaza’s one million children.” Perhaps it would have preferred the description by the world’s leading authority on Gaza’s economy, Sara Roy at Harvard University, who is also the daughter of survivors of Auschwitz: “Innocent human beings, most of them young, are slowly being poisoned by the water they drink.” Children being poisoned: that, too, is an “anti-Semitic trope.” It also happens to be true.

The ‘Prince’ quoted me as recalling by analogy abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s description of slave-catchers as “biped bloodhounds” and his public declaration that if a slave catcher sought to take the slave back, he “will be murdered in the street.” Both my parents were survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto, my father was a survivor of Auschwitz and the Auschwitz death march, and my mother was a survivor of Majdanek and two slave-labor camps. Every other member of my family on both sides was exterminated. I will perhaps be forgiven for loathing concentration camp guards and murderers of innocents.

The ‘Prince’ accuses me of anti-Semitism. It would appear, however, that not only is the messenger being vilified for his discomfiting message, but the delivery of that message is being tagged as anti-Semitic so as to silence future messengers.

Mondoweiss Editors

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7 Responses

  1. edwardm on October 15, 2019, 12:46 pm

    I once watched a video of a NF lecture – I wish I could find it – a Jewish student was the lone dissenting voice in the room during the Q&A- and getting some flack. NF defended him – he said it took bravery to stand up in a room of people who disagree with you, that he reminded NF of himself at younger age, full of passion, and he took special care that the young man “had a chance for his retort” at the close of the session. If it was possible for me to feel any more respect for the man – I felt it then. He doesn’t try to shut down dissenting voices by publishing lies about them – or trying to prevent them from finding employment. He clearly likes young people and encourages them to ask questions – to learn. That’s what a great teacher is.

  2. Kathleen on October 15, 2019, 3:32 pm

    Read piece…going to read all of the links later. Finkelstein is one of my heroes. Applies compassionate concerns to all Palestinians who suffer. To all Jews who have suffered.

    NF was on the front lines of this human rights social justice issue early on. Not easy to do being Jewish. Not afraid to stand up to bigotry, hatred, violence sanctified by the Israeli government and military

  3. henspert on October 16, 2019, 1:32 am

    I agree with Kathleen, Norman is my hero too! Informed, intelligent and steadfast persistence. We need more like him. Robert

  4. subconscious on October 16, 2019, 6:07 am

    Some members of the Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP), one of the organizers of the event, have also published an article in The Daily Princetonian (the “Prince”) denouncing Finkelstein:
    Besides invoking the accusation of blood libel, AJP claims that Finkelstein was monopolizing and “derailing” the discussions. So far, I’ve only seen one clip of the event, which is posted by the “Prince”, is a couple of minutes long and seems to have cuts:
    In the video, which does not include the alleged blood-libel statements, Finkelstein compares Israel to Jim Crow South with its community-wide lynching-and-mutilation events.

  5. Misterioso on October 16, 2019, 9:51 am

    Attention Dr. Norman Finkelstein:


    You are a brilliant and courageous scholar. Your knowledge of the conflict expressed in your many books is accurate and thoroughly documented. Your compassion and support for the long suffering, dispossessed, ethnically cleansed, illegally occupied and brutalized indigenous Palestinians, especially those in the occupied Gaza Strip, who have been forced to live under the vicious racist boot of Zionist “Israel” is an inspiration for all who truly believe in and support hard won international humanitarian law.

  6. CHUCKMAN on October 16, 2019, 9:31 pm

    Kind of sickening that Norman Finkelstein thinks he even has to answer such stupidly libelous charges, but that’s the world we live in.

    I’ve read a couple of Finkelstein’s books, and I can say that he is a decent man trying to get people to understand truth.

    But the truth for many Israelis is simply something which cannot be admitted.

    After all, they’ve held millions of people against their will for more than half a century, giving them no rights or justice or hopes.

    That’s about as horrible a crime as we can find in the modern world,. They’ve every reason to want to hide it.

  7. Truthbug on December 31, 2019, 11:12 am

    I’ve learned only recently of this debacle at Princeton. NF is also one of my heroes, and I’m glad to see that he’s still the feisty activist. I am, however, still puzzled about his reasons for saying that BDS isn’t a good strategy. I believe he likes the idea of boycott and divestment, but for some reason, he thinks the BDS people really want to destroy Israel, using the BDS rhetoric as a ploy. At least, that’s my understanding of it, and I’d appreciate it if anyone would correct any of my errors. Why does he say they really want to destroy Israel?

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