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Transcript: Q&A Session, October 20, 2005
Finkelstein: “…Israel would be much wiser to just withdraw from the West Bank and create a state which anyhow
will be dominated by Israel and Jordan on the other side, so rationally, it probably serves their interests to just leave… And that the main reason
they’re staying is for ideological reasons. And then other people argue there are rational reasons for staying there. So I think it’s always, as a general
rule, it’s difficult to separate out the ideological from the rational motive and in the case of the United States, as everyone I’m sure knows, there’s
always this argument about whether or not US policy in the Israel-Palestine conflict is determined by strategic interest or on account of the Jewish
lobby and I think there also it’s very hard to separate out and prove one way or another. You can find instances in which the power of the lobby
did prevail and then you find instances where the power of the lobby crumbled when a US national interest became clear. So I don’t think these are
clear cut cases. I think arguments can be ma.., rational arguments, convincing arguments could be made on both sides so I don’t get hot under the collar
trying to prove one side or the other.
Questioner: Joan Peters …. inaudible… and did she write anything else?
Finkelstein: Joan Peters.. according to Professor Dershowitz in his last book The Case For Peace, I
destroyed her promising academic career. I would’ve thought it was her book that, assuming it was her book, that destroyed her… ah, i’m not sure
if it was an academic career or career. She disappeared, though in one of those wonderful ironies, which are I think, revealing about the lunacy
of American life on this particular issue, in February 2001, shortly after the 2nd Intifada and the public relations debacle that attended it,
her book From Time Immemorial, unchanged, unedited was reissued and immediately became a best seller. If you go to Amazon.com now actually
her book is doing better than mine [laugh]. She still gets five stars, five stars, five stars, they love it, one person complains that it’s understated.
I don’t know how you can understate “the fact that there were no Palestinians there[audience laughs]…” and things go merrily along. That’s the strange
place we live in on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Everyone knows it’s a fraud but it doesn’t change anything because they just love that thesis.
Questioner: ..Israel’s human rights violations and the claims of the Palestinian people to what’s currently the Israeli state… what do you think is the legitimacy of the existance of Israel.
Finkelstein: Every country in the world has a degree of human rights violations. In Israel’s case, as I’ve said, there are some egregious characteristics and it’s also the longest occupation in the modern world but I don’t think that changes at all its legitimacy. Israel,
you know, it’s a state, like any other state in the state system and the question of its right to live in peace with its neighbors is the same as
everyone else’s. You know, if we’re honest about these things and don’t become fanatics and zealots and lose site of reality… so during
the Israeli invasion of Jenin and Nablus it kille din the scores in each place. I think there were 21 civilians killed in Jenin. I think 30-something,
or may be more, civilians killed in Nablus. And then a little while later the US goes into Iraq and it basically does to Jenin and..
what was done to Jenin and Nablus, the United States does to Najaf and Falluja but now it’s not in the double digits, it’s in the triple digits, it’s not
the tens but it’s the hundreds who are killed. That’s a function of power. Obviously the United States has much more power, both politically and militarily,
so it gets to kill in each case hundreds of innocent civilians. So I’m not going to pretend that, you know, Israel’s is the worst human rights record in the
world but I think we should be honest about 2 facts: the record A) is aweful, B) there’s a way to resolve the conflict [background noise, person yelling] and C) we’re financing it.
And I think most people, if they knew the truth about it, wouldn’t want to support that. [background noise, person yelling] That’s why we’re constantly
lied to about it. Propaganda costs a lot of money. You know, these organizations invest a lot in the lies and the reason they invest a lot in the
lies is because they know that people, if they knew the truth, wouldn’t like it. Otherwise, why waste the money? Doesn’t make sense.
Questioner: How do you explain this strange coalition that we’ve seen between American Jews.. mainstream Jewish…
and the fundamentalist Christians who are, if you loook at their theology, are basically anti-Jews. How do you explain this? [person or a few persons talking in
Finkelstein: Well, I think there are 2 issues. Obviously there’s a confluence of interests on some issues relating to
the ideas of the Christian Right about the promised land and so forth. [person or a few persons talking in the background]
But I think there’s been a tendency recently to try to obscure the fact that the real problme is the lobby. You know, for the Christian fundamentalists,
yes, they’re pro-Israel, but it’s not their cause. They have other causes. But there’s an effort now to blurr over it and claim that it’s not just
the lobby, it’s also the Christian fundamentalists and so forth… I don’t really think that’s true, you know, Israel is not really Jerry Fallwell’s cause.
Neither is it Pat Robertson’s. They support it yes, for their own pathological reasons they support it but I don’t think it’s their cause. The cause is the
lobby, not the only cause, there’s also the issue of US strategic interests. I think the idea that beyond the lobby there’s a force within American
society working for that end, apart from strategic interests, I just don’t think that’s true. You see who causes all the trouble, you know, who tries to block
publication, create all sorts of difficulties on college campuses, prevent people from speaking, it’s not the Christian fundamentalists. We know who causes
Questioner:So I think it’s absurd obviously to exploit the Holocaust, but it’s equally absurd to deny the existence of
anti-Semitism, particularly when the Human Rights Campaign released a report that’s saying that two thirds of hate crimes in France this past year were
against Jews and I personally have experienced it. So I know that there, it’s on the rise, one of my best friends from France tells me its on the rise,
tells me that they don’t know the difference between Jews and Israelis, they think Israel is on the leash of America. So I think it’s equally unsafe to
deny the existence of something that is present.
Finkelstein: Ok, let’s look at sevearl of those statements.
Number one, in every country in Europe there is no dispute
among any of the monitoring organizations that the main victims of bigotry and racism, including in France, including in Germany, including in the Netherlands,
there is no dispute among any of the monitoring organizations that the main victims are Arabs and Muslisms. That’s not even a topic of discussion. So to claim
that two thirds of the victims in France are Jewish is just not true [1 person in the audience interrupts]… there’s no evi [1 person in the audience interrupts]
there is no evidence for that claim. I’m sorry, I went through the record, there is not [another audience member interrupts saying: “well, you cheat”]… ok, fine,
i’m not… i’m telling you what i know and you can disagree. i go through all of the reports, there’s no evidence for it.
Number two. There’s a difference between saying “there’s no anti-Semitism”, which ofcourse, ofcourse there is anti-Semitism [interruptions in the background], in every
society there’s anti-Everything [interruptions in the background], you know there’s a lot of anti-Short people, anti-Fat people, anti-Ugly people, anti-Acne people…
it’s… everyone’s society has “Anti.” The question is whether there is a “New anti-Semitism”, a sudden ressurgence, as Abraham Foxman puts it in Never Again, he says
“Jews now face as grave a threat, if not graver a threat, than they did in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.” Is there any evidence to support that claim? Or let’s look at
Gabriel Schoernfeld [spelling?], the editor in cheif of Commentary magazine, he writes in his book The Return Of Anti-Semitism, that there is a new
phenomenon in American life — now he’s talking about America, so we don’t have to worry about far off France — he’s talking about the United States, he says there’s a new
phenomenon in the United States: Jews are targeted for murder in the United States. Now, there are Jewish people in this room. I am Jewish. How many people feel that they’re
targetted for murder? That every time when they walk out of their dorm room or walk down the street, they are targetted to be killed? Is this the real world?
Use your own judgement, reflect on it. I won’t argue right now France. I went through the record. Well look at the US [woman talking in the background]… Do you think that
you’re targetted for murder? Do you walk on Yale University campus worried that any moment you might be shot or lynched? Do you worry about the outbreak of pogroms in New Haven?
Is this the real world? Or is there a sheer fantasy being concocted for political ends? I can’t prove it. Use your judgement.
Questioner:It has been said of you, intended as a compliment, that you are the “Jewish David Irving.” I would agree with that.
Do you, are you proud of that characterisation, do you agree with it, do you take it as a compliment?
Finkelstein:Ahhh… I don’t know really, honestly, how to answer that question. With all due respect, I think that’s a stupid question
so I can’t answer it. [Audience laughs] I can’t. What do you want? [laughing, clapping]… Ok, if you ask me what I think of David Irving… listen, young man, I can give
you the politically correct answer and say “he’s terrible, he’s this and he’s that.” Personally, I don’t like the fellow. I think he is a Nazi. However, I have to be
fair. And I want you to listen. Fairness means: A) I’m not an authority on the topic on which he writes. Mostly on military history, [audience noise, talking] on the
German side, during WW2. Number two, [audience noise, talking] historians who are authorities on him have given mixed ratings. Gordon Craig, one of the leading historians on
Germany in the US who writes regularly for the New York Review of Books, Gordon Craig wrote, “his contributions are indespensible.” I can’t change that. I cannot say
Gordon Craig is wrong. You know why I can’t do it? Because I’m humble enough to say: I-Don’t-Know. John Keagan, one of the leading military historians in the UK, when
he testified in the Irving Lipstad [spelling?] trial, he testified on his side, on Irving’s side, as being a good historian. So I can only report to you what other historians
have said. And so in the book, in the Holocaust Industry, I wrote that Gordon Craig said that his contributions, his meaning Irving’s, are indespensible and that became
“Finkelstein says Irving is an indespensable historian.” Well, I didn’t say it. And I just don’t know. What I do know is that, at this point, I totally here.. in this point…
and I hope you will listen, I totally agree with John Stweart Mill. I teach Mill every quarter of whenever I teach. I love Mill’s On Liberty. One of the things
Mill says in On liberty, he says that the most useful person in society, in trying to uncover ideas, is the devil’s advocate because the devil’s advocate is always
trying to find holes in your argument and trying to find errors in your facts. Now, the devil’s advocate is a devil. That’s why he or she is called a devil’s
advocate but he or she serves the useful purpose of trying to find errors in your reasoning, errors in your facts. That is to say, as Mill puts it, he or she, even if he or she is
a devil, he or she is trying to help you find the truth. Now, may be his or her motives are evil, incidious, malicious or wicked but it makes no difference because by looking for errors
in your arguments he or she is helping you — unwittingly no doubt — but helping you to find truth. And so I think, and I can imagine how it’s gonna be distorted, I think people like
David Irving serve a good function in society. You know, I had… a few months ago for a film I was making .. with a British documentary, I went to visit Raul Hilberg, the leading
authority in the world on the Nazi Holocaust, and I talked to him of this whole issue of the Holocaust deniers because Hilberg says “I think they’re useful, they’re good.” That’s the
world’s leading authority on the topic. And I asked him, “well, how are they useful to you?” And he says “you know why they’re useful?” he says “they ask all the questions that everyone else
takes for granted, that nobody else thinks to ask.” So he says “everybody knows,” he gives me an example, “that in the gas chambers they usef Zyclon B and then along come these Holocaust deniers
and they say: ‘well, we tested this Zyclon B. it can’t kill humans. it can kill vermin but not humans.'” And it was an interesting point, and then Hilberg says: “well, it turns out they
used Zyclon B but they couldn’t use it in its pristine form, they had to mix it.” They asked an interesting question. And he says: “I think they seve a useful purpose.”
And I thought to myself, “if the world’s leading authority bar none on the Nazi Holocaust is not terrified of these Holocaust deniers and isn’t out to supress them, who am I to say
they shouldn’t have the right to speak?” And that’s all I said and I’ll stick absolutely by that. Everyone… you know, Mill says at one point in On Liberty, he says “even if the
world is in the right, dissentions still have… dissentions — those who disagree — still probably have something to contribute to truth, a small piece.” I think that’s true.
And that’s my view on the topic. I think among… [audience applause] among rational people that won’t even be considered controversial. To let the devil’s advocate speak… who would even challenge
that? Again, it’s one of the peculiarities of discussion when we come to this topic. The level of mental hysteria it evokes, is really terrifying.
Questioner: Following Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. It’s, you know, Gaza has borders essentials, well technically they’re not borders but.. on the southh
with Egypt, and on the ahh.. [inaudible crosstalk, Finkelstein names the checkpoint] checkpoint…and on the east with Israel, north with Israel and along the southern portion with Egypt. Egypt took… actually took over monitoring
between Egypt and Gaza and there were thousands of people who went back and forth between Egypt and Gaza, there were lots and lots of weapons that were going through to Gaza
[cross talk, Finkelstien: “I don’t know how you know that”].. would go through. And, you know, the rest of it ofcourse, you know, what connects with Israel… every state in the world has
the right to monitor its own borders, so I’m wondering [cross talk, Finkelstien: “I totally agree with that.”] Look, let me finish my question, please. I mean clearly Israel isn’t in control
of the borders of Gaza, doesn’t that create a little bit of a credibility gap with all those human rights organizations that you said all agree that Gaza essentially was remaining a prison
under Israel control, because Israel controlled the borders and it doesn’t control the borders.
Finkelstein: Look, what you’re saying is just factually untrue. You have it out that this is [cross talk, Questioner: “It’s untrue?”] Let me finish
[cross talk, Questioner: “Israel doesn’t control the border..”] I let you finish. [cross talk, Questioner: “with Gaza?”] I let you finish. What’s true [cross talk, Questioner: “But you interrupted me.”]
Ok and you know what? [cross talk, Questioner: ..inaudible..] Listen to this. I apologize. I was wrong. I have no problem saying that. I was wrong. Ok? [cross talk, Questioner: “Yes, you were.”]
Fine. [audience laughter] [cross talk, Questioner: ..inaudible..] Ok. Let’s look at this particular question. Ahh.. You make it out that there’s this constant traffic between Egypt and Gaza.
Now, there is not. There were 2 days — 2 days — where Israel gave Egypt permission to open the border (Editor’s note: 20 October, 2005). They were monitored by the Egypt and the Palestinians but
they’re not controlled. Israel maintains the upper most control along the whole Gaza border. Nothing has changed. Zero. For 2 days they opened the border. Now you add a little fairy tale to it,
“all these weapons were going through.” Where you came up with that.. it’s a, you know, a furtile imagination. It has no basis in records. I followed what was in.. you know, written about it.
Nobody claimed that. That Israel was allowing all these weapons to pass through. But let’s turn to the broder question, the question on which I totally agree. Every country has the right to
control its borders. I think that’s a very uncontroversial proposition. But let’s put the emphasis on its borders. Israel has the right, for sure, to build a wall on its borders but
it doesn’t have the right, in order supposedly to protect itself, to build a wall that takes a sinuous route — as the World Court puts it — around the settlements in the Occupied Territories.
Again, among rational people, not a controversial proposition. Let’s take a simpley analogy. My parents, they didn’t get along with their neighbors. Frankly, they didn’t get along with anyone,
including among themselves [audience laughter]. So at some point they decide to build a wrought iron fence… they decide to build a wrought iron fence… to separate their property
from our neighbors’ property, the Golds. Ok? In New York, at any rate, when you want to build a fence to separate your property from your neighbor’s property, the first thing you have to do
is you have to hire a surveyor. And the surveyor comes to check exactly where the border is between yours and your neighbors’ property and if you build that fence literally one inch over
on your neighbors’ property, legally they have the right to tear down the fence. Now, that proposition is not complicated. But then you begin to ask yourself a question: “what happens if you’re
building a fence — you’re saying you’re building it because you don’t get along with your neighbors — and then you build the fence and the fence starts going around your neighbors’ swimming pool…
well then people begin to wonder…Is this because you don’t get along with your neighbors or is this because you want your neighbors’ swimming pool? Or in this case, the most fertile land
in the West Bank. [audience applause] And then, what happens if you build the fence so it cuts right through your neighbors’ living room? Or as in the case of the fence they’re… the wall they’re
building in the West Bank that cuts right through the West Bank.. then you begin to wonder “are they building this structure to defend themselves or to drive the people living there
to leave? and that raises all together different questions. It has nothing to do with your right to protect your border. It raises an all together different question… your right
to steal another people’s country… And I’m sorry, I don’t think that’s very complicated, at least it hasn’t been for the past century. You don’t have that right.
Questioner: [end of response; pause; several people raise hands, Finkelstein picks one, saying: Yeah. I promised him.] Just a quick one then. Unusually, I don’t know the answer to this question. [audience laughter] If the territories occupied in 1967 are considered illegaly
occupied or occupied territories… [Finkelstein: “No, it’s a belligerent occupation.”] Ok, whatever, right, I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know. What about the territories that were conquered and occupied
in 1948? Wouldn’t they be equally illegal?
Finkelstein: No. You know, ah… The.. position of the United Nations has been that ah… that the law begins from the UN… you know, i don’t wanna to, i can’t now go into
the technicalities of this but the UN position has been that Israel is entitled to the territory it acquired in the 1948 war beyond the borders that were set by the partition resolution and that the territories
that were acquired during the ah.. ahh.. ’67 war violate the UN charter. Ah… you know you can make the argument that when Israel expanded from 56% to 77% of Palestine it was illegal but the UN isn’t taking
that position and frankly I don’t see any point in getting into a quarrel with international law. I think that international law is not bad. It’s not terrific, but it’s not bad and it’s a good place to begin.
If for now other reason than most people are willing to agree with it as a place to begin and once you start to try to change it becomes a much more complicated picture. So I say, stick with what the law
says and work from there. But I agree, you can make arguments like that.
Questioner: Those of us who are involved in the anti-war movement or activists in it, are constantly being asked on issues of unity. Submerge the question of the right of return and/or
divestment in Israel or if not submerge it suspend it entirely. I have a lot of problems with that from a moral point of view. Although I understand their political point of view, which is to build a larger
organization but I just can’t except it personally. Curious to know what your own response to that would be.
Finkelstein: My basic view is: we should build on what everybody agrees on. Because even that.. we’ve not made any progress. The occupation’s been going on for 40 years.
Everyone in the international community agrees, all the human rights organizations agree that Israel has to withdraw from the territories it occupied in ’67. I think we should build on what we agree on and not
argue over what we disagree on. Now, ah.. [audience clapping] I don’t wanna deny because I see it, there are difficulties there on the question of the Palestinian refugees. All I could say on that particular
question is that I think the Palestinians are quite capable of being reasonable. You have to give a reasonable offer and then let’s see what comes of that reasonable offer. I think can resolve the conflict
reasonably. But reasonably can’t mean that you, first expect the Palestinians to renounce their right to the 77% of Palestine that became Israel and after they’ve renounced that right now they have to renounce
their right to more parts of the West Bank, they have to agree that Palestine will be divided into two, they have to agreet o give up Jerusalem, they have to agree to give up their most fertile soil on the
West Bank, they have to agree to give up their water… I can’t see how any reasonable person could possibly accept that. And it’s simply just way out of line with what the international consensus is… which is,
as i say, it’s just not even a topic of dispute. The territories… you’re not entitled to any territory that you acquired during the ’67 war. That’s just not controversial. So let’s try to get agreement and
let’s publicize what’s not controversial rather than argue over what is controversial. There’s plenty of time to get to the controversial part.
Questioner: I’ve read several times that Jews were kicked out of Arab countries at the ah.. the establishment of Israel. There’s claims that it was done in huge numbers to try to
equate it to what happened to the Palestinians. Is there any truth to any of that?
Finkelstein: Well look, it’s a mixed picture and frankly there isn’t very good scholarship on the topic. Ah.. if you look at what, for example, Avi Shlaim, the Oxford professor
who happens to be an Iraqi Jew… he did a quite interesting interview a few months ago.. he was an Iraqi Jew and he was among those who left in 1948.. and he’s emphatic that they were not expelled.
There are issues of property and restitution of property but he says in ’48 what happened to the Iraqi Jews was not expulsion. Ah… and you have to look at it on a country by country basis [audience noise]
and see what happened but [audience noise] I wouldn’t make any [audience noise] broad statements about it. I think in some … places the argument for expulsion is strong, in places like probablyi in Yemen and
Iraq it’s weak. But… Ah.. I wouldn’t make any categorical statements but there are places plainly where they were expelled [inaudible]. Though I would have to emphasize that there just isn’t any really solid
scholarship on it and probably people are working on that now.
Questioner: In the beginning of your talk you were talking about, you know, the entire ICJ’s ruling on the barrier.. you were talking about how [inaudible].. every single
Palestinian should be.. um… should receive compensation because their lives are significantly damaged because of this and I agree completely every single Palestinian should get compensation because it’s unfair.
So I’m wondering, given that you think that, why you criticize Stuart Eizenstat under the Clinton administration and people who work for Holocaust reparations for.. people like my grandparents.
I just don’t see how someone who believes so strongly in one case, which I agree with…
Finkelstein: I think that’s a very excellent question. I think that’s a fair question… but I think there’s a misunderstanding on the question. I was emphatically..
I was emphatically for compensation for the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. I would have to have been because I worked for about 20 years trying to get compensation for my late mother. My father was
compensated from the Germans. He had a monthly… ah.. he had a monthly ah… stipend, whatever you wanna call it… from the Germans, my mother did not and I fought very hard throughout her life
to get the compensation. I think in principle .. ah.. compensation is absolutely fair. Ah.. but what happened in this case? Let’s look at some of the issues. I’ve written a quite long book on the topic, I
can’t [inaudible] summarize it right now. Let’s look first at the question of the Swiss banks. The claim was that there was billions of dollars which Jews had sent to Switzerland before.. during the Nazi
rise to power and that after the war the Swiss banks refused to give back the money to the Jews who survived and their heirs. That was the claim. So, let’s first get the record straight. Although
separately from my myself — I was unaware — that the first person to attack folks like Stuart Eizenstat was not me. The first person was Raul Hilberg. In 1999 he was interviewed by several Swiss and
German newspapers and Hilberg said: “for the first time in history, the Jews, the American Jews are using the blackmail weapon.” Why did he say that? Let’s look at the basic facts.
Number 1, the Nazi Holocaust is occuring during the Depression, it’s the 1930s. Number 2, most Jews live in the schtetl, they live in Eastern Europe. They don’t have that much money. Remember, Tevye, in Fiddler On The Roof, “if
I were a rich man”. He didn’t say he was a rich man. He didn’t say he owned a Swiss chalet and a mercedes. No, he dreamt of being a rich man. Most Jews did not have money.
Number 3, as I’m sure you know, when you have money it gets you out of a lot of jams. So those Jews who did have money, they managed to get out. That’s what money does for you. And they then went to their
Swiss banks and got their money withdrawn. So Hilberg said, “if you look at the face of it, this claim” — as he put it (I wish I could immitate his jestures) — “billions of dollars” he says “is ridiculous. It’s a ridiculous claim.”
Number 2, when you look at what the findings showed, there was a very exhaustive audit done of the Swiss banks. It cost at the end $700 billion.. yes… no, excuse me, take that back..
$700 million, excuse me… [audience laughter] it cost $700 million… please I gotta make that correction, $700 million.. and the audit found that the claims that were made by Eizenstat and others,
for example, that the Swiss banks had systematically destroyed the records of Holocaust survivors in order to conceal the fact that they had kept the money, those claims were false. They were not true.
Number 4, on the record of the Swiss.. on the record of the banks, it should occur to most people, if you’re in Nazi Germany or in Eastern Europe.. and if you’re in Eastern Europe or in Central Europe
and you see a war on the horizon the assumption is.. all the countries in Europe are going to sooner or later be occupied by Germany. So where do you send your money? You send your money to the US.
A) It’s across the ocean and B) you have a lot of relatives in the US ’cause many Jews from Russia and elsewhere went to the US. And so there was an interesting question. The question was: why weren’t the
American banks audited? Why the Swiss banks but not the American banks? Now, 5, what happens? It turns out subsequently, the record of the Israeli banks was worse than the record of the Swiss banks and as
we speak now the Israeli banks on whom an audit was finally done, and was found to have kept several hundred million dollars, as we speak now, nearly seven years after the Swiss banks paid out
$1.25 billion for which there was no factual basis, the Israeli banks still refuse to pay up. Now, I don’t see why Stuart Eizenstat were so up in arms abouyt Switzerland but nothing about Israel.. let alone
the United States, it’s your country… Finally, there’s this whole question of the Holocaust survivors, who are they? They started after the Swiss and they went to the Germans and they said:
“there are all these survivors of the slave labor camps, the ghettos, the work camps. all these survivors who weren’t compensated.” Well, factually, it wasn’t true that non of them were compensated.
My late father, got a monthly check from Germany. The estimates are that about one quarter got monthly checks from Germany. But there was another issue. An issue which, frankly, began to irk me. And the issue
was how the numbers of survivors were growing by the year. So now if you check the records, they’re claiming 1.5 million survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. You have to think about what that means, these figures.
If you take someone like Hilberg or Henry Freelander, or Simon Wisenthal, who recently passed away. You ask Wisenthal, as he was asked in Austria, how many survivors of the slave labor camps, the ghettos and the
concentration camps, how many do you think are still alive. He gave a figure I quote in the book of 15,000. Ah… so Henry Freelander, Raul Hilberg, they said, their estimate was that about 100,000 Jews
survived the concentration camps, slave labor camps, and ghettos in May 1945. And that seemed perfectly credible because I, growing up, always believed, having read the scholarship on the topic, that what
the historians said about it was true, namely, it was a systematic, methodical, assembly line, industrialized extermination of the Jews. Well if it was a systematic, methodical, assembly line, industrialized extermination of the Jews,
where are all these survivors coming from? My late mother used to exclaim, “if everyone who claims to be a Holocaust survivor actually is one, who did Hitler kill?” Everyone you meet claims he or she was a
Holocaust survivor and what truly was happening was.. the numbers were being escalated, increased, year by year, because unless you have very high numbers you can’t justify the demand for large amounts of money.
If it’s only 15,000 who are alive, then your demands for money they have a finite.. they have a limit. So the numbers kept increasing and increasing and increasing… and they had no relationship to reality.
And my point was — this, this is Holocaust denial. Because if you keep increasing the number of survivors, you decrease the number of victims. And that’s exatly what the Holocaust deniers said: “it wasn’t
that bad.” But you know what? I’m pretty old fashioned about this. I think it was that bad. I think it was horrible. I think it was a collossal crime and that’s why I think very few people survived.
And 60 years later very few people can be alive because the average age cohort of a survivor was about 18 to 22. If you were younger or you were older, the Nazis wiped you out. They kept alive those who were young
enough and physically able enough to work. So if you were 18 to 22 in 1939, you’d have to be an age cohort of the mid 80s now. The average life expectancy is 73, here it’s about 74, in the Soviet Union.. it’s much
lower now, but you know, it was around the 60s.. How can so many people be alive? And the worst part of it was — and the part I found personally most distasteful was — the money was not going to the survivors.
It was going into the coffers of the Jewish organizations who turned it into a racket. And I think — I thought then and I think now — it’s wrong to turn the collossal suffering Jews endured during WW2..
I think it’s wrong to turn it into a shakedown racket, blackmail and ah… I opposed it. And frankly, on most of the points I just stated, nobody disputes it anymore. Read what the Jewish survivor organizations
have to say. I attended all of the court hearing in Brookly, NY with Judge Carmen and Burt Newborn and Stuart Eizenstat. And at all the hearings, it was all the survivors, the NAHOS organization
(The National Association of Jewish child Holocaust Survivors), the real survivors, who kept saying, “this isn’t fair, we’re not getting the money. that’s not right. you used us.” And I think it’s true.
And that’s why I call it a double shakedown: they shookdown the Swiss banks, they shookdown German industry, and then they shookdown the survivors. I think that’s wrong.
Questioner: On the anniversary of your parents’ demise, who were heroic Holocaust survivors, do you say Yahrzeit? [Finkelstein: “Excuse me?”] do you observe Yahrzeit?
Finkelstein: I don’t observe any… out of respect, actually, for my parents who were devout atheists, I don’t observe the holidays. What can I tell you? You know… you want me to invent something? Again, I can give you the politically correct answer and tell you about my deep religious devotion — I won’t. I know my late mother and actually, my father, at the very end… actually it was 10 years ago yesterday that my late mother passed away, October 19, 1995. A friend of mine, a Persian friend, a friend of the family, she went to my mother and in the last minutes she started to talk about G-d — the friend — and my mother said: “Get away from me with G-d!” [shrugs] Look, my mother’s father was very devout… close to a Rabbi, and ah.. they became disabused of religious ideas during the war, and that’s how I was… I didn’t come out differently, in the end. [audience noises]… I’m not gonna fake it. I don’t see what that proves. What does it prove? Do you think it proves I’m not faithful to their memory? Do you think it proves I’m dishonoring them? That I don’t say Yahrzeit or whatever it is? Does that prove that? What is it supposed to prove? It’s like this guy’s who said “do you consider yourself the Jewish David Irving?” …what kills.. what really surprises me — i won’t use the street language “kills me” — is like the low level of the questions. the level of sheer ignorance and imbecility and the insulting nature of the questions. I gave a talk. I tried to dignify Yale University. As best as I could. I think, you know… every student that’s here — it’s an honor, and I deeply respect it. And I try to respect that. I gave facts. I refer to scholarship. I try to be serious. And what kinds of questions you get? That’s not serious. And that’s the whole point of my lecture this evening. I’m trying to talk about the facts. But people contrive things, invent things, everything to steer you away from the facts, drag you away from the facts. “Let’s NOT look at what Amnesty says! G-d forbid what B’Tselem says! G-d forbid what … says! G-d forbid what Human Rights Watch says! Let’s talk about “do you say Yahrzeit when your parents died.” I think that’s pitiful.
Transcript: Part 1, October 20, 2005
Good evening, I’m Stanley Heller, chairperson of the Middle
East Crisis Committee and host of the Struggle-TV news, and
I’d like to welcome you to this event. The event is
co-sponsored by Yale Council on Middle East Studies; the
Arab Student Association; Al Aouda, Connecticut; and the
Connecticut Chapter of the Palestine American Congress.
Norman Finkelstein pulls no punches. He’s direct, unsparing
and challenging. He categorized Joan Peters’ very highly
praised book, From Time Immemorial, as a hoax. He called
the demands some Jewish organizations put on Swiss banks, as
a shake-down. And he describes a recent book by the most
senior member of the Harvard Law School faculty as a fraud.
But he backs up his provocative charges with evidence. He
reads the footnotes. Meticulously and then goes back and
reads the sources. And then he produces solid works of
critical scholarship in books like “A Nation on Trial: The
Goldhagen thesis”, “The Holocaust Industry”, and his most
recent book “Chutzpah”, ah, excuse me “Beyond Chutzpah:
The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History”.
Finkelstein specializes in debunking mythology, fabrications
that glorify decades of colonialization, occupation and
Norman Finkelstein has taught political science at New York
University, Hunter College and currently teaches political
theory, at De Paul University. Please welcome, Norman
Lets just get the sound right. Can you hear me at the back?
Are you okay? Good.
Well, thank you very much for inviting me. And that was a
short introduction, which I, I’m grateful for. Ah, because
I’m going to be speaking for a fairly long period of time, I
want to try to cover as much ground as I can this evening
and also allow for the questions and answers and for us to
have an exchange of opinions.
I want to begin, before I get to the heart of my discussion,
I want to begin by discussing two recent events, most of
which, both of which, most of you will be familiar with.
And use those events as a point of departure for looking at
the heart or the core of my this evening… my talk this
In July 2004, the International Court of Justice, delivered
a milestone verdict on the wall that Israel is building in
the occupied territories. As it happened, the verdict
didn’t, or the opinion, the advisory opinion, didn’t deal
with only with the question of the legality of the wall but
it touched on a large number of kindred topics, which in
many respects, cut to the core of the Israel-Palestine
For example, the high court decision explicitly reported or
recalled that the territory Israel occupied after June 1967,
for our purposes, the West Bank and Gaza, that those
territories are occupied territories. That is to say, under
International Law, it’s inadmissible to acquire territory by
war. The International Court of Justice pointed both to the
UN Resolution 242 as well as the General Assembly Resolution
of 1970, as well as Article 2 of the United Nations Charter
and said, under International Law, acquisition of Territory
by war is inadmissible, Israel has no title to a square inch
of the West Bank, of Gaza, and they keep repeating, of east
Number two, well that means, just to put it in plain terms,
that West Bank and Gaza are not disputed territories, as
we’re often told nowadays, they are Occupied Territories.
Number two, the World Court decision at several junctures,
recalled that all the settlements that Israel has built in
the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, all those
settlements are illegal under International Law. They
recalled Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention which
prohibits an occupying country from transferring its
population to occupied territory. As well as recalling
several — I think it’s 3 or 4 — security council
resolutions, stating that Israel has no right under
International Law to build the settlements in the occupied
territories. That means, simply, all 400,000 settlers have
to leave, and all the settlements have to be dismantled.
Number three, as I mentioned a moment ago, the International
court of Justice, repeatedly included East Jerusalem as
occupied territory. Its status is exactly the same as the
West Bank and Gaza. And finally, as most of you know, the
World Court ruled, that the — or gave its advisory opinion
— that the wall Israel is building in the occupied
territories is illegal under International Law. It has to
dismantle it, provide compensation and so forth.
What’s striking about decision… the decision — the
opinion — is not, how far, not only how far-reaching it
was, what’s really striking about the decision, is the
unanimity with which it was reached. The vote was 14-to-1.
Of the 15 judges, 14 went along with everything I just
described and even the one dissenting judge, Thomas
Bergenthal, from the United States, even his dissent from
the decision was a half-hearted dissent. Because he begins
by saying, in his declaration that “In fact, I agree with a
lot of what the World Court has decided.” I won’t go
through everything he agreed on, there’s one point however
which deserves, which merits recalling, or underlining, and
that is, he says at the end of his declaration, “If the
wall that’s being built in the West Bank, if its purpose is
to protect the settlements, then it’s illegal under
International Law.” Case closed.
What’s striking about that fact, and I won’t have time to go
into it right now, what’s striking about that fact is in the
last High Court of Justice ruling, the Israeli High Court of
Justice ruling, the ruling that dealt with the Israeli
settlement at Alfai Menash, the chief justice of the Israeli
court, Mr. Barach, he is very emphatic in his second ruling,
it was the second judgment of the High Court. He’s very
emphatic that “We”, meaning the state of Israel, “are
operating withing the framework of International Law”, and
he argues as well that “Everything we’re doing is
consistent with the World Court opinion. He says, “The
only difference is, we disagree on the facts, but we agree
on the law.” Now, that’s a flat out lie, because every
member of the World Court, including the one dissent,
Mr. Bergenthal, they all agreed that, under International
Law, protecting the settlements is illegal and Barach, Chief
Justice Barach, is very straightforward in the second
judgment, the Alfei-Menashe judgement that they’re building
the wall to protect the settlements. And therefore,
everyone on the world court agrees, notwithstanding what
Barach has stated, everyone agrees, that wall is illegal.
Incidentally, for those of you who are troubled by my usage,
linguistic usage, the Court, the International Court of
Justice, even ruled on that question. It begins its
advisory opinion by stating that “Some people call this
structure a fence, some people call it a barrier, and some
people call it a wall. We have examined all three terms,
each of them has its… each of which has its shortcomings,
but in the end we agree it’s a wall.” On everything the
opinion of the World Court is diametrically opposed to what
Israel is doing and has been doing for the past 40 years.
In fact, what’s most striking is, and this will be, I’ll
return to it in a moment, on all of these issues:
inadmissibility of acquiring territory by war, the
illegality of the settlements, the fact that East Jerusalem
is occupied territory. On all of these issues, they are
virtually unmentionable in the United States. In public
life, you cannot say East Jerusalem is occupied territory,
you cannot say the settlements are illegal. You cannot say
the territories are occupied. If you look at the by-lines
in the newspaper, it used to say, at one time: “West Bank,
comma, Occupied Territory.” It no longer does. Now it’s
officially, “disputed territory.” But not according to
the World Court. It’s Occupied Territory.
Let me turn to a second example. One that is fresher
perhaps in the minds of most of you, namely the events in
Gaza. However you want to characterize them, I think
everybody here would agree, that the depiction in public
life in the United States was, that prime Minister Sharon
had made a major gesture towards peace, that he ended the
occupation of Gaza, and now, as we are repeatedly told, the
ball is in the court of the Palestinians to match the
gesture of Prime Minister Sharon. That I think, we can
agree, is a fair description of how events in Gaza were
depicted here. It’s very striking, however, when you
compare that depiction — the depiction of public life, in
public life, in the US — with what human rights
organizations, other authoritative bodies, have to say about
the Gaza withdrawal.
Let’s begin with B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center
for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which is the
main Israeli human rights organization, monitoring the West
Bank and Gaza. In March of this year, B’Tselem issued a
report on Gaza, it was a hefty report, about a hundred and
fifty pages, and it was entitled, “One Big Prison.” And
went on to describe, in some detail, what life is like in
Gaza. At the end of the report, they looked into the
question of the disengagement plan, which had just been
ratified. And they said that under the disengagement plan,
Israel still controls all the land borders, still controls
all the water … points of entry in the water, still
controls the air space, still controls all the movement of
goods and people between Gaza and the rest of the world,
still maintains the right to enter Gaza militarily at will.
And they concluded at the end of their lengthy report that
Israel’s claim, that the occupation of Gaza has ended, they
used the word, “That’s questionable.”
Human Rights Watch, the main US based international human
rights organization, on August 19th, it issued a statement
on the events in Gaza. And they stated, categorically,
that, repeating again what B’Tselem had written, “So long
as these methods of control remain in Israel’s hands,
Israel’s claim of an end of the occupation, is
questionable,” oh, no, no, that was, excuse me, that was
B’Tselem. The Human Rights Watch concluded “Whether the
Israeli army is inside Gaza or distributed around its
periphery and restricting entrance and exit, it remains in
control. That is to say, notwithstanding the extravaganza
of news coverage about the so called Gaza disengagement,
under International Law exactly zero, precisely zero, has
changed. Gaza was, and still is, occupied territory and
Israel controls all movement. It’s not a complicated idea,
it’s a fairly straightforward one. If jailers throw the
keys to the prisoners, allowing the prisoners to free
themselves from their cells but then the jailers redeploy on
the periphery of the prison, and shut tight the gates, the
prisoners are still in prison. Nothing has changed. And
that’s exactly what, under International Law, happened in
Gaza. The prisoners were freed from their cells but the
prison itself is still shut tight.
Okay, that’s at the legal level. How about at the practical
level? The level of daily life. The world’s leading
authority on Gaza is, I think, unquestionably, Sara Roy, of
Harvard University. She’s written the most substantial
study on the Gaza strip and shortly after the so called
Israeli disengagement, she wrote an article and she says
that “Gaza remains an imprisoned enclave.” So far as its
economy is concerned, she wrote that, “most likely, the
already catastrophic conditions at Gaza almost certainly are
going to deteriorate.” That was also the opinion of
another very mainstream authoritative body, the World Bank,
which wrote that if Israel seals Gaza’s borders, the
disengagement plan will, quote, “create more hardship than
is seen today.” So at the legal level, nothing has
changed; at the practical level the greatest likelyhood is,
things are going to get a lot worse.
That’s Gaza. What about the West Bank? The case of the
West Bank, Israel is currently absorbing, according to the
best figures we have, about 10% of the West Bank including
the most fertile land and the crucial water resources. The
most authoritative report now on the West Bank, or on what
I’ll get to right now, Jerusalem, was put out by another
very mainstream organization, the International Crisis
Group. And the Crisis Group put out a report entitled “The
Jerusalem Powder Keg.” What did it find? Before I turn to
that, just a couple of basic figures. There are now more
settlers who have entered the West Bank, during this year,
approximately 14,000, who have entered this year, there are
now more settlers who have entered the West Bank, than the
settlers who were taken out of Gaza, approximately 8500. In
addition, Israel has now confiscated more land, just in
July, just in July, it confiscated about 25 miles of land
around Male Abi Neen. It confiscated more land than it
withdrew from in Gaza which was about 19 sq. miles.
What does the Crisis Group report? It says the following:
Number one, the wall that Israel is building is now on the
verge of bisecting the West Bank into two.
Number two, it’s imprisoning about 200,000 Palestinians on
one side of the wall, separating them from the West Bank.
And it’s separating about another 100,000 Arab-Jerusalemites
from their schools, their hospitals and so forth inside
Number three, it’s absorbing East Jerusalem, which means its
making impossible a Palestinian state, because, they say, to
quote, use their metaphor, they say “A Palestine without
Jerusalem is like a chassis without an engine. It’s
inconceivable,” they write, “that you can have a
Palestinian state without East Jerusalem as its capital,”
and yet that’s exactly what’s happening now. How do they
conclude? They say as follows, let me just get their
concluding remarks, they say that “Although Prime Minister
Sharon has been giving lip-service to a two-state
settlement, the actions of the Israeli government are at war
with any viable two-state solution and will not bolster
Israel’s security, in fact they will undermine it, weakening
Palestine pragmatists and sowing the seeds of growing
I begin with those two examples with a purpose in mind and
they’re to illustrate the huge chasm, the unbridgeable
chasm, that exists among mainstream scholars, authoritative
bodies — legal bodies. An unbridgeable chasm that exists
between those who are knowledgeable on the topic, those who
are respected in the topic and those who have authority on
the topic, where among them there exists a consensus. There
is no controversy. That’s what’s so striking. The World
Court decision, 14 to 1 with even barely that one, a
dissent. On Gaza, every human rights organization wrote the
same thing. Every responsible authoritative economic body
wrote the same thing. And so you have this very peculiar
phenomenon. You have a consensus among all respected bodies
on what’s going on in the Occupied Territories, and that
consensus is totally at odds with what we’re told and what
we see in public life in the United States. It’s an
unbridgeable chasm. And that’s what I want to look at
today. How do you explain this huge chasm? This abyss,
that separates what all the documentation shows, what all
the scholarly literature shows and what we’re told on the
one hand as against and what we’re told in the United States
and what’s even permissible to say in the United States.
Or to put it somewhat differently, why is there so much
controversy about a topic which, if you examine the
scholarly literature, the legal literature, the human rights
literature, why is there so much controversy about a topic
which, if you look at the actual scholarship and
documentation, there’s no controversy at all? In a word,
the Israel-Palestine conflict is a remarkably,
uncontroversial topic. And, that’s a peculiarity. How do
you explain the passionate, the vehement disagreement that
rages over a topic which, if you look at the actual
scholarship and human rights documentation, it’s not
controversial at all? That’s what I want to discuss this
evening, and I’m going to begin, with a personal note, not
because my autobiography ought to be of any interest to
anyone here, but for reasons which I think will become clear
at the end of my talk.
I first became involved with the Israel-Palestine conflict
in June 1982 at the time of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon,
myself and several other Jews formed a little called “Jews
Against the Israeli Massacre in Lebanon.” The group was a
disaster, I used to say it was the second biggest
catastrophe after @ and @. Nonetheless, many of us, as
members of the group, we began to argue and debate all sorts
of topics. And one of the topics we argued and debated was
Zionism. The question was are you now or… are you now or
have you ever been, a Zionist? I myself had no particular
commitment either way, I hadn’t studied the topic, and I
don’t usually make a commitment on intellectual or
theoretical topics unless I’ve studied them fairly closely.
And so for the next couple of years, since that was a common
item of discussion and debate, I studied the history of
Zionism and the history of the Israel Palestine conflict.
Roughly midway along, along I decided this was as
interesting a topic as any and I turned it into my doctoral
dissertation and in April 1984 I had just completed the
research phase of my doctoral dissertation. And I was about
out embark on the organizing and writing phase. For those
of you who have gone through that process you know that’s
one of the phases you do everything you can to avoid and you
look around for any excuse. And actually I found a pretext
to avoid that stage, but it wasn’t an artificial one, it was
a real one.
In April 1984 I entered a bookstore called, it was Harper
and Row back then, now it’s called Harper-Collins, and they
had their — the publisher — they had their own
bookstore. I entered Harper and Row bookstore and featured
on the main table was this very… this mammoth volume
titled “From Time Immemorial”, the origins of the Arab
Jewish conflict over Palestine. I, needless to say, it was
my area of study so I picked it up turned to the back and
there was a very impressive roster of blurbs for the book.
It read like a Who’s Who of American Arts and Letters. Saul
Bellow, the Nobel laureate in literature; Elie Wiesel, the
Nobel laureate for what nobody knows but Elie Wiesel; then
there was Barbara Tuchman, the famed historian her main book
being the “Guns of August”; there was Lucy Dawidowicz the
holocaust historian. It was a very impressive list. And
soon enough, the book garnered approximately 250 reviews in
the United States ranging from ecstasy to awe. So for
example, Martin Peretz the editor and publisher of “The New
Republic” then as now, Martin Peretz wrote a review, a
breathless review, in which he said, “This book, if read
will change the history of the future.” Whatever that
means but it sounded portentous enough. And the truth be
told, were the book accurate, it would have, as they
claimed, revolutionized our understanding of the
Israel-Palestine conflict. The core thesis of the book was,
that Palestine had been empty on the eve of Zionist
colonization, Zionist settlers came, made the desert bloom
and then Arabs from neighboring countries, surreptitiously
entered Palestine, they sneaked in to take advantage of the
new economic opportunities and then they pretended to be
indigenous to the land. And so, you were now being told,
that those 4.5 million Palestinians — that was the figure
back then — had individually and collectively fabricated
Now, a lot of people in my camp, the left, dismissed the
book as nonsense, as it was called then, Zionist
propaganda. and just laughed it off. I however was not
willing to do that, because as a young man, I had, and a
student, I had very deeply held convictions about the world,
where it was headed. I was absolutely certain in those
convictions, and it wasn’t a certainty borne of faith, I
thought and I still do think, I did an awful lot of study
and research before I reached those convictions. And
whenever I had doubts about my convictions — and
occasionally I entertained one or two doubts — there were
always people in authority, who I deeply respected, Harvard
professors, @ professors, who, whenever I had those doubts,
managed to dispel those doubts by saying my convictions were
right. Now, as it happened, they were wrong. And the world
has a way of sometimes just crashing in on your castles in
the air and that’s what happened to me. And it was pretty
devastating for me when it happened. Fortunately it was a
young enough age and I was able to bounce back. However, I
wad determined, after that episode in my life, that I would
never again make a mistake like that. Not only because I
was wrong but because it was extremely humiliating that you
had these deep convictions which you dismissed anyone else’s
beliefs with in some way as being deficient, and it turns
out that you ought not to have dismissed them. So,
peremptorily, I was wrong. How wrong I was, I don’t know.
Sometimes I think 40%, sometimes I think 50%, sometimes I
think 80%. I’m still not sure. But I’m certain, I’m
certain of the fact that there were a lot of errors in my
And so when the Peters’ book came out I was determined I was
not going to be made a fool off a second time. And so
although everybody else said, it was just propaganda, I
honestly wasn’t so sure. The book had 1853 footnotes. It
had a demographic study which had been ratified by the Chair
of Population Studies at the University of Chicago. A
fellow named Philip Howzer, who wrote in an appendix that he
checked the study, it’s accurate. So, that was pretty
imposing, and in particular since I knew nothing about
demography. But I sat down because I knew authorities were
wrong before, authorities could be wrong again.
And I went through the book. The first thing I did was try
to tackle that demographic study. And it was very dense.
The prose was nearly impenetrable. And … it was, it was
three chapters and at the end there were these charts, these
appendices where all the calculations were done. And I sat
down with a paper, pencil and every night I would just work
at it, after I came home from my job. And maybe around 4 or
5 days into it, it’s around 130 AM, I’m looking, I’m
looking, I get that chill down my spine, my eyes begin to
water, I realize the key number in those charts is a fake.
It wasn’t a mistake, it wasn’t an error, it was quite clear
from how the material was organized, that the number was a
fake. And it was a kind of exhilarating feeling and as my
good friend, the late economist, Paul @ later said to me,
discovering a fraud is every scholars eureka. And this was
my eureka moment. I got up from my bed and I started to
pace my little studio apartment. @ type setting for those
of you who’ve been a graduate student and I said, “I did
it, I did it, I did it.” And of course, to use that
new-age language, I wanted to find somebody to share the
news with, it was 130 in the morning and I’m Jewish so I
called my mother. And, I said, “Ma, you wont believe it, I
did it, I did it, I did it,” and she said, “I’m very happy
for you, I’m very proud of you. What did you do?” And
obviously there was no way I could explain what I did,
except to say say I figured out a fraud. And after that I
started to go through every footnote in the book, one by one
I went to the New York Public Library research branch, one
of the great libraries in the world. And it turned out that
every single footnote, relevant to her main thesis, had been
in some way, doctored, mangled or falsified. The whole book
was a fake, from start to finish. It didn’t fit in the
category of scholarship, good or bad scholarship. It didn’t
fit in the category of propaganda. Because propaganda
that’s good propaganda, has a kernel or truth. It fell into
an all together separate category, a category we call fakes,
hoaxes, frauds. That’s the category we’d put “The
Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and actually the first
version of the article I wrote for… on Joan Peters’ book
was called “The Protocols of Joan Peters”. And I went
through, as I said, the 1800 footnotes, documented the book
was a fraud, and the truth of the matter is, ah, I was
introduced as somebody who debunks, at the risk of sounding
like false modesty, it’s not really difficult at all. What
I did with the Peters book was actually not very
challenging. The book was totally preposterous. It was a
ridiculous book. And it took only a matter of months for me
to demonstrate that. I started in April, I had completed
the manuscript by December.
The challenge was not, and I want to underline it for what
I’ll say later, the challenge was not exposing the Peters
fraud, the challenge was publicizing it. Because so many
institutions and individuals were now invested in that book,
those 250 reviews ranging from ecstasy to awe. But how
would it look, if a graduate student, who had only studied
the topic for two years, was able to demonstrate, that this,
as Barbara Tuchman put it, a historical event in itself —
that’s what she called the book — that it was a complete
collection of nonsense. So it took a very long time to
publicize my findings, they were finally acknowledged
roughly in 1986, when the former columnist for the New York
Times, a fellow named Anthony Lewis, wrote a column entitled
“There Were No Indians.” And that was the end of Joan
Peters. She presumably went into the sunset with about a
Her book by the way was a national best seller, went into
7… 8 hardback printings and I’ll return to it later, it
resurfaced again in February 2001 — a topic I’ll return
to. Well, since the expose of the Peters’ hoax, I’ve
devoted most of my public life to the Israel-Palestine
conflict. It’s not a topic I teach, but it’s my political
vocation and its now been about 20 years since the Peters’
episode, and 20 years periods, are obviously, small
milestones in one’s life and moments of reflection. And so
when I reached that 20 year period, I had to ask myself,
Okay, what did you learn from all this? You’ve done a lot
of reading on the topic, at the expense of many other things
I wish I had read, So what’s your conclusion? And I reached
the underwhelming conclusion that in fact the
Israel-Palestine conflict is not very complicated at all.
It doesn’t raise any particularly complicated historical
questions, political questions, moral questions, legal
questions. It just doesn’t. Let me just give you
illustrations from the main areas which concern us.
If you take the question of the history of the
Israel-Palestine conflict, it’s true that for a period of
time, there was among those studying the topic, quite
vehement disagreement. There was a main body of
scholarship, basically the Israeli view of what happened, I
won’t use the word narrative, I refuse. Basically the
Israeli view of what happened and for those of you who have
read, for example Leon Uris’s novel Exodus, it’s basically
the Exodus view of history. And that was the dominant one,
and then there were a few people, on the fringes, who
challenged the dominant view put forth by Israel and its
Lets take one typical example. Lets take the question of
the Palestinian refugees. When I was growing up and studying
the topic, there was the dominant view, that in 1948 the
Palestinians were told by the neighboring Arab states, what
were called the Arab radio broadcasts, they were told to
leave and that once the Arab … invading Arab armies had
swept the Jews into the sea that the Palestinians could
return to their homes. That was pretty standard, the famous
Arab broadcasts. As it happens, already in early 1960s it
was known that that was factually not true. There were a
couple of historians, one an Irishman Erskine Childers and
the other a Palestinian, Walid Khalidi. Who went back and
checked the Arab radio broadcast recordings. Because in
1948 during the war, the British, the Americans were closely
monitoring the region and preserved the recordings of the
Arab radio broadcasts. They checked them, there was no
evidence of these radio broadcasts. Even though it was
already well known in the 1960s among those who wanted to
know, the Arab radio broadcast claim endured until roughly
the late 1980s. In the late 1980s several Israeli
historians examining the Israeli archives most notably Benny
Morris of Ben-Guiron University. He looked into the
archives and he said, look there’s no evidence of these Arab
Now, at this point, I was talking back in the 70s and 80s,
at this point in time, there’s pretty much a consensus, you
can call a broad consensus, among historians that in the
nineteen, in 1948, the Palestinians were victims of — the
term they use — of an ethnic cleansing. Even Benny Morris
will acknowledge, even though he’s now quite on the right
end of the spectrum, he’ll acknowledge it was an ethic
cleansing. It’s not true that they agree on everything. So
for example, Benny Morris famously argued that the
Palestinian refugee problem was borne of war not by design,
that is to say, there was a war, and as we all know, wars
generate refugees. So Morris says it was an ethnic
cleansing, but it wasn’t premeditated, it was on account of
the war. Then there are other historians who say, untrue,
the Zionists intended at least from the early 1930s to
expel, or as they called it, transfer the Arabs out of
Palestine, the opportunity came in 1948 and they exploited
the opportunity to systematically expel the indigenous
population from the area that became Israel.
It’s true that there’s some disagreement still but it’s with
a quite narrow range. The whole Israeli claim has dropped
off the spectrum. Everyone agrees, it was an ethnic
cleansing. There are differences on what caused it, so
there are still differences. But the truth is, it seems to
me, the range of difference is quite narrow.
When you turn to the human rights dimension of the conflict,
not the historical dimension, the human rights dimension of
the conflict what’s most striking is, there’s not just a
broad consensus, there’s a consensus, full-stop.
Israel-Palestine is among the most heavily, my guess is, the
most heavily, monitored area by human-rights organizations.
You have the international organizations, Human Rights
Watch; Amnesty International; you have the local
organizations, B’Tselem, Israeli Information Center for
Human Rights in the Occupied Territories; and then you have
the local affiliates of international organizations,
Physicials for Human Rights in Israel, Public Committee
Against Torture in Israel, and so on and so forth.
Each of these organizations has its own legal staff,
research staff and field staff. Each is fiercely
independent. And each turns out, or churns out, the
luminous reports on the Israel-Palestine conflict. In
preparation for the book I just completed, I would say I
went through at minimum several thousand pages of human
rights documentation over a 20 year period. What… what I
found most striking, and I will say I was genuinely
surprised, what I found most striking was, there was no
disagreement, about what’s happening there. Now, that’s
unusual. First of all, for those of you who study law, you
know how easy it is to turn and twist a word or a phrase to
try to get it to mean what it doesn’t mean. And many people
make a profession of doing that. They’re called lawyers.
Number two, Human Rights Law, is a relatively new branch of
law, of International Law. Which means it has a lot of gray
And number three, much of human rights documentation
consists of observation. There’s a demonstration, here are
the Palestinians, there is the Israeli army. Who started
the melee? Did the Palestinians throw rocks? Were there
any armed people among them? Were the armed people standing
in front of unarmed people? Among the Israelis, did they
give warning shots? Were they aiming at the feet? Or were
they aiming at the torso and the head? All of that is
observation. And, just by virtue of, as most of you know,
the Roshomon Phenomenon — the great Kurosawa film, about
several people seeing the same incident but remembering it
differently. Just by virtue of Roshomon Phenomenon, you
would expect that there would be differences in what’s
reported. But what was most striking, as I went through the
reports is that for a 20 year period, I found exactly one
incident, ONE. One demonstration, where two human-rights
organizations disagreed. Otherwise, everyone agreed on
everything. It wasn’t controversial. And that brings me
now to the core of my remarks, this evening, namely, if what
I’m saying is true: there’s a broad consensus on the
history, and there’s a consensus full-stop on the human
rights, then why is there so much contention and
disagreement on the Israel-Palestine conflict?
And I want to suggest that there are two kinds of
disagreement on the Israel-Palestine conflict. One of which
I would call, legitimate disagreement, that is where honest
people can agree to disagree, and illegitimate disagreement,
that is to say, fabricated disagreement.
[End of Tape 1]
Subject: Your Presentation at Yale
Hello, Professor. I just watched your presentation at Yale on the
Internet, and it was truly impressive. As your website points out, the
contrast between your presentation and the account of it sent in to the
student newspaper by the three Zionist students is incredible. Such
fanaticism and/or dishonesty from those at an elite “Ivy League”
university is very sad. Anyway, I was so impressed by your presentation, I
went to our university bookstore and bought a copy of Beyond Chutzpah.
Keep up the fine work, and please come back to Vancouver some time. I
didn’t get a chance to see you here last year.
Date: Wed, February 15, 2006 8:40 am
Subject: your 2.15.2006 op ed: factually incorrect
Dear Todd Rosenbaum,
There’s a factual error in your recent Op Ed piece in the Cavalier Daily where you state: “Finkelstein is … has alleged that Holocaust survivors misuse and exploit their experiences for financial gain.” The Cavalier Daily
Finkelstein’s printed and recorded record has been to
a) to echo Raul Hilberg, the leading historian on the Nazi holocaust, in accusing the orchestrators of the reparations campaign of a double shakedown: one of the Swiss banks and the other of the survivors of the Nazi holocaust
b) accuse Jewish elites, not survivors or “Jews” in general, of exploiting the Nazi holocaust
See his books Beyond Chutzpah and The Holocaust Industry.
For a recent illustration, you can view the Q&A section of a Yale talk Finkelstein gave on 10.20.2005 (video & mp3 of Yale talk here).
This question is asked at 29 min 56 sec of the Q&A portion of the Yale talk:
Questioner: In the beginning of your talk you were talking about, you know, the entire ICJ’s ruling on the barrier.. you were talking about how [inaudible].. every single Palestinian should be.. um… should receive compensation because their lives are significantly damaged because of this and I agree completely every single Palestinian should get compensation because it’s unfair. So I’m wondering, given that you think that, why you criticize Stuart Eizenstat under the Clinton administration and people who work for Holocaust reparations for.. people like my grandparents. I just don’t see how someone who believes so strongly in one case, which I agree with…
Finkelstein: I think that’s a very excellent question. I think that’s a fair question… but I think there’s a misunderstanding on the question. I was emphatically.. I was emphatically for compensation for the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust…
I think in principle .. ah.. compensation is absolutely fair. Ah.. but what happened in this case? Let’s look at some of the issues. I’ve written a quite long book on the topic, I can’t [inaudible] summarize it right now. Let’s look first at the question of the Swiss banks…
Finally, there’s this whole question of the Holocaust survivors, who are they? They started after the Swiss and they went to the Germans and they said: “there are all these survivors of the slave labor camps, the ghettos, the work camps. all these survivors who weren’t compensated.” Well, factually, it wasn’t true that non of them were compensated. My late father, got a monthly check from Germany. The estimates are that about one quarter got monthly checks from Germany. But there was another issue. An issue which, frankly, began to irk me. And the issue was how the numbers of survivors were growing by the year. So now if you check the records, they’re claiming 1.5 million survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. You have to think about what that means, these figures. If you take someone like Hilberg or Henry Freelander, or Simon Wisenthal, who recently passed away. You ask Wisenthal, as he was asked in Austria, how many survivors of the slave labor camps, the ghettos and the concentration camps, how many do you think are still alive. He gave a figure I quote in the book of 15,000. Ah… so Henry Freelander, Raul Hilberg, they said, their estimate was that about 100,000 Jews survived the concentration camps, slave labor camps, and ghettos in May 1945. And that seemed perfectly credible because I, growing up, always believed, having read the scholarship on the topic, that what the historians said about it was true, namely, it was a systematic, methodical, assembly line, industrialized extermination of the Jews. Well if it was a systematic, methodical, assembly line, industrialized extermination of the Jews, where are all these survivors coming from? My late mother used to exclaim, “if everyone who claims to be a Holocaust survivor actually is one, who did Hitler kill?” Everyone you meet claims he or she was a Holocaust survivor and what truly was happening was.. the numbers were being escalated, increased, year by year, because unless you have very high numbers you can’t justify the demand for large amounts of money. If it’s only 15,000 who are alive, then your demands for money they have a finite.. they have a limit. So the numbers kept increasing and increasing and increasing… and they had no relationship to reality.”
Thanks very much,