Branded as controversial by some, morally and intellectually principled by others, Dr. Norman Finkelstein will be bringing his analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict to the University of Calgary Sat., Apr. 3.
"I'll be discussing various kinds of ways the historiography, both scholarly and popular, on the Israel-Palestine conflict has distorted perceptions about what actually happened over the past 100 years," said Dr. Finkelstein from his office in Chicago.
Having received his doctorate from the Department of Politics at Princeton University, he currently teaches political science at DePaul University.
He is the author of four books, the most recent titled The Holocaust Industry. The Jewish son of Holo- caust survivors is known for his fierce attacks on Zionism and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Dr. Finkelstein accuses the American Jewish establishment of exploiting the Holocaust for political and financial gain.
He stressed the essential facts of the conflict are simple. A fierce advocate of international law, he derides the violence employed by both sides and is extremely critical of Israel's occupation policies.
"I don't think the Israelis are gratuitously sadistic, but the kinds of activities they carry out are," said Dr. Finkelstein. "The torture, the targeted assassinations, the targeting of ambulances, the use of human shields, the land confiscations, the collective punishments, the closures, so on and so forth. It's a brutal and repressive occupation, and it depends on violating international law."
Dr. Finkelstein's lecture is presented by the Palestinian-Canadian Student Society and has struck a nerve with members of the Jewish students' organization Hillel.
"His views are radical," said U of C Hillel President Fiana Bakshan.
Bakshan is concerned that Dr. Finkelstein's talk will only heighten the sense of conflict on campus.
"Most Jews do not believe in what he preaches or what he talks about," said Bakshan. "Everyone is entitled to present their own views on campus, it's just the way that it's presented and what is presented that I take issue with."
PCSS Vice-President of Public Relations Shadi Baduid sees things differently.
"Dr. Finkelstein is a peaceful man and an accredited scholar," he said, noting PCSS gave 10 free tickets to the Calgary Jewish Centre. "We're trying to provide a platform for alternative viewpoints on the conflict."
Dr. Finkelstein credits his research and argument style to his friend and mentor, Dr. Noam Chomsky.
"I think his basic style, which is applying reason to facts, making normal moral judgements which the average person can easily apprehend, being as free as one can be of any kind of jargon, and also being absolutely scrupulous about endnotes, citations and footnotes. That's the Chomsky style," explained Dr. Finkelstein.
He noted the motivations behind Israel's targeted assassinations of Palestinians are varied but share the common distinction of illegality.
"The fact of the matter with the targeted assassinations has been extensively documented by organizations like B'tsalum, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and so forth," he said. "Number one, they are illegal under international law. Number two, Israel in many cases had the wherewithal to simply go in and take the person, there was no need to assassinate the person.
"If you take the case of the assassination in July 2002 of [Hamas leader Salah] Shehade in Gaza, when they dropped a one-ton bomb on a densely-populated neighborhood and killed, I guess the number was about 10 children. I think the obvious reason was they were trying to sabotage a cease fire that was going to include Hamas and Islamic Jihad. [The Israelis] were fully aware that a deal had been brokered by the Europeans to end all attacks on civilians inside Israel. Around 48 hours before the ceasefire was about to be signed, Israel dropped the bomb and killed Shehade.
"The purpose of these assassinations is not to stop terrorist attacks," he concluded.
The Israeli Security Wall
Dr. Finkelstein also questions the stated motivations for the wall Israel is constructing in the West Bank. He noted the current plans for the wall will encroach upon roughly 50 per cent of the West Bank, incorporating some 350,000 Palestinians on the Israeli side.
"In the long run, will it solve Israel's problems?" he asked. "I must say I can't discuss those terms in a kind of morally abstract world. It's like asking, did the construction of the wall in the Warsaw ghetto solve Germany's Jewish problem? Well it did, in the long run, but I think for a morally sane person, that's not the kind of question you ask.
"The first question you ask is: is a wall legal?" said Dr. Finkelstein. "I think quite clearly it's not. Is the wall about protecting Israel from terrorist attacks? If they wanted to protect Israel from terrorist attacks, there's a very simple thing to do: you build a wall on your border. The wall is not to protect Israel from terrorist attacks, it's to protect the settlements."
A vocal proponent of non-violent resistance, Dr. Finkelstein admits the prospects have been hurt by past events.
"We have to keep in mind one of the reasons movements of non-violent resistance haven't taken off in the occupied territories is every time they have begun to take off, for example during the first couple of years of the first intifada, mainly 1988-90, which was an overwhelmingly non-violent civil disobedience to the Israeli occupation, the Israeli's ruthlessly repressed it," he said. "Many Palestinians, in my opinion, incorrectly inferred from that experience that non-violent civil disobedience won't work with the Israelis."