By Emad El-Din Aysha
I had originally intended to write a follow-up on last week’s article about Bush’s alleged plans to bomb Al-Jazeera, having accumulated some new information about the proposed attack. In the meantime, however, I had the very good fortune to watch an interview of the controversial critic of Israel and US foreign policy, Norman Finklestein. Moreover, I
watched it on, predictably, Al-Jazeera. Fortunately, he took up the issue of Bush’s hostility to Al-Jazeera, so I haven’t strayed far from that topic either.
Finklestein, if you don’t know already, is the author of the ‘infamous’ (should just be famous and celebrated) book, The Holocaust Industry, where he, a Jew himself, catalogues the systematic politicisation and commercialisation of the Holocaust by the Zionist lobby and American policymakers to the benefit of Israel and the detriment of
the Palestinians. He’s not a Holocaust denier, mind you, having suffered personally
from Nazism – they wiped out his extended family of Polish Jews. But it was his
own horrors that paved the way for his moral defence of the Holocaust experience
against those who would seek to bend it to their will.
In the process, he reveals some things we were blissfully unaware of, namely,
the fallacies of what is often said about the all-powerful Zionist lobby in the US.
This lobby only turned virulently pro-Israeli and began using the Holocaust to
wring concessions out of Germany and terrorise dissenters, after the 1967 War.
That is, after Israel proved its usefulness to US foreign policy, at a time when the
US was hard pressed to police its Third World domains, bogged down as it
was in Vietnam. From that point onwards, the Jewish organisations that had been
steadfastly avoiding the ‘embarrassment’ of the Holocaust – the victim status
of the Jews – suddenly found God and became born-again victims.
From then on the exploitation of this historical tragedy became an industry and took
on a life of its own, with even non-Jews hopping onto the bandwagon and claiming to
have been persecuted Jews.
Now practically everyone’s become a victim of the Holocaust industry, including
the Bush clan itself and the US Government, accused of collaborating with the Nazis
during the Second World War and profiteering from Jewish slave labour. (I think that’s
one instance of Holocaust exploitation we can all wholeheartedly approve of!)
But that’s all beside the point. I’ve read Finklestein before. What really impressed me about seeing him on TV is how different he is in ‘written form’. I had this image of a wise, cynical Central European intellectual, more comfortable with books than people, only to be confronted with a grey-haired teenager with a childlike outlook on life and a very local American accent. As he himself said in the interview, he is ‘old-fashioned enough’ to still believe that truth and justice will win out in the end.
His whole body language gave him away. While healthy-looking and broad-shouldered, he was slouched back in his chair and looked positively ‘demolished’ by all the worries
and injustices in the world. It could just be that the chair was too low for him, but his voice was full of anguish and angst, not to mention having a teenager’s tenor. The fact that he grew up in Israel/Palestine among Arabs no doubt extenuates this, introducing him early on to what was wrong with the world today, not to mention what went wrong in his parents’ generation.
Which brings me to something else in the interview. While criticising the current Palestinian impasse in the peace process, he said what was wrong with the ‘Palestinians’ is their insistence on accepting breadcrumbs instead of fighting for what is rightfully theirs.
This is a bit unfair since there are plenty of Palestinians who make the exact same criticisms of the Palestinian Authority, which is accepting the breadcrumbs on behalf of
the Palestinians, especially those in absentia. But that’s not what struck me about
the way he talked on this controversy.
He was making a conscious or, more likely, unconscious comparison with the Jews, people who did, admittedly, suffer a great deal more, and not just under the Nazis, but never gave up hope and came out on top in the end. Given what he’s suffered personally,
from losing his family to being harangued by the Holocaust industry himself, Finkelstein is quite justified.
And for what it’s worth, he’s right, even if his criticisms are a bit misplaced. Just surviving, against all the odds, is triumph enough itself and the Palestinians should learn
from other people’s experiences. Prominent Egyptian journalist Mohammad Hassanein Heikal noted a conversation he had with Yasser Arafat, reminding him about Nelson Mandela who spent most of his adult life in prison, something that didn’t sit too well with
Edward Said was also quite aware of this comparison, as he was often called the Arab Mandela himself. Said was someone who believed very strongly that Israel should be dissolved, through exclusively peaceful means, from the inside out, as was the case with
Land of the brave
To finish off on a Bush/Jazeera note, something else Finklestein took up was his call for the international press to be brave, like Al-Jazeera, and use their hard-won freedom to
expose their own governments’ evildoing abroad and at home. I think he especially meant America by this, testament to his patriotism as an American Jew. His accent does bring out his belief in integration and what America represents, a haven to the oppressed (reminds me of Andy Cohen).
I mean, it’s kind of rich for one democracy, the US, to threaten the free press with military retribution while claiming to spread democracy in the Middle East. It’s even lamer for another democracy, that claims to have the mother of all parliaments (the UK), to go out of its way in silencing critics on Jazeeragate.
Once again, the Western media should take heed of the stories of the oppressed peoples of the world, whether Jews, Palestinians or South Africans. However, I have a nasty
feeling that Norman Finklestein’s bravado is going to land him in the slammer and make him, literally, the next Mandela!
The writer holds a PhD in International Studies
[Caption: NORMAN Finklestein reminds the Palestinians never to throw their hands up and lose hope.]