Editor’s note: Reader letters on this review follow article below.
The author (Merkley) is an unabashed Christian Zionist, an evangelical who sees the ingathering of the Jewish people, and their miraculous ability to create a state after the massive trauma of the Holocaust, as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy…. Merkley’s own viewpoint is that of “Restorationism,” by which he means the restoring of a Jewish state to the Land of Israel. Christian Zionists (and he claims there are “tens of millions” of them) see Israel as the result of God’s action in history, foretold in the Bible millennia ago.
From a 2002 review of Merkley’s book, Christian Attitudes towards the State of Israel: http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0202/reviews/fisher.html
John W. Farley
“These Pigs on the Face of the Earth”
Israel’s most relentless critic.
by Paul Charles Merkley | christianitytoday.com
A dedicated, manic assassin of the reputation of the Jews and of Israel, Norman Finkelstein is much admired by college student audiences for his lively platform presence and his snarling, late-night comic style. The Finkelstein method (which brings the audiences to his lectures) is to hold up to ridicule individual pro-Israel polemicists by endless nitpicking about references that go wrong or about anomalies and contradictions between and among their many published statements in many different times and places. The entire lifetime record of the published author is picked over for anomalies, contradictions, and food for tu quoque. Finkelstein brings a virtual wheelbarrow of documented errors onto the platform and pours it out, to the delight of the audience, as proof that the general truths from which his adversary draws his scholarly or political commitments have, before your very eyes, been proved to be “myths,” “frauds,” and “hoaxes.”
No serious person can deny the doggedness of Finkelstein’s pursuit down the path from footnote to footnote. The effect can be quite chilling, especially when it comes home to the vulnerable celebrity-polemicists such as Alan Dershowitz and various spokesmen for the Anti-Defamation League or the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dershowitz gets the full Finkelstein treatment in the present book; in fact, the bulk of it is a rehash of the record of Finkelstein’s several assaults on Dershowitz’s uneven polemics. The real scholars, producers of the unanswerable accounts which draw upon documents in all the relevant languages, don’t get noticed—except (for example) in a footnote about the reigning master of Middle East History, Bernard Lewis, where in the tu quoque mode, a reference appears to a remotely relevant matter (Lewis’ judgment on the historicity of the Armenian massacre). There are no references to any of my three published scholarly books on matters very germane to Finkelstein’s apologetics. But then, I am being petty.
Anyone whose familiarity with the historical record is second- or third-hand is almost bound to carry away from these lively performances the impression that he has just seen reduced to ruins the truth upon which the other side (the Jews, Israel, and the friends of both) depends—that all that massive detail about discrepancies in the references, all that gotcha, adds up to demolition of historical truth.
Let me note a few departures from reality (in order of occurrence): The opening line of Finkelstein’s book is about Joan Peters’ 1984 book, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine, which we are immediately told is now universally dismissed as “a gigantic hoax.” In fact, the first reviewers of that book noted the whiff of scissors-and-paste about it but welcomed it rightly as providing for general readers proof of the fallacy of Palestinian nationhood. Meanwhile, although other scholars have fleshed out the same theme with more accurately reported documentation, Peters’ book remains a valuable summary vindication of the observation (sustained by all the travel literature and all the governmental surveys, all the royal commissions and all the scientific demographic and topographic studies) that it was the success of the Zionist experiment in that part of the Ottoman Empire that created the basis for the development of economic life. And it was this success that drew an adequate population base (including tens of thousands of Arabs from nearby regions) to lay the foundations for partition of the region and the eventual erection on the site of two mutually respectful political entities: a Jewish State and another Arab State (Jordan, four times the size of Israel, having already been carved from the mandate).
Finkelstein shows no familiarity with the monumental scientific studies of the region conducted in the 1930s by Walter Lowdermilk, Assistant Chief of the Soil Conservation Division of the Department of Agriculture in the Roosevelt Administration, housed today in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library. These proved irrefutably that centuries of absence of adequate population had led to the degradation of the soil, and that the beginning of its restoration traces to Jewish colonization. Nor does Finkelstein make reference to any of the other scientific studies, including those commissioned by the Mandate Authority in the inter-war years, which document the same conspicuous truth. If he has heard of these studies, Finkelstein is suppressing knowledge of them; if he has not, he stands in contempt of historical record and scientific fact.
Then comes Finkelstein’s blanket denial that any substantial part of the population of the region in pre-Mandate days was other than “indigenous”—a term which he uses exactly as it is used of North American first nations. This assertion stands together with another: that what was indigenous was Arab. The reality (again borne out by all the Ottoman documents, all the Royal Commissions and other scientific studies of the time as well as the memoirs and reports of all the missionaries) is that many races besides the Arabs (Turks, Kurds, Circassians, and many descended from blocs of inhabitants transferred from other parts of the Ottoman Empire, including the Balkan peoples) lived in Palestine when the Jewish settlers arrived in the mid-19th century. In the face of all this, Finkelstein simply posits that Palestine and the Palestinians have always been exclusively Arab.
Throughout the book we find evidence that Finkelstein has bought, kit-and-kaboodle, the PLO’s fantastic anti-history: the Jews did not originate there four thousand years ago, they wandered in somewhere along the line unnoticed by History, but were thrown out by the Romans upon the destruction of the Second Temple two thousand years ago; none were to be found thereafter until after the modern Zionists, abetted by cynical British imperialists, began their usurpation of the land. The record of history and the methods of history count for nothing in this company. Everything about the past that Palestinians believe they cannot live with Finkelstein dismisses as “hoary Zionist myths,” “propaganda,” or “fairy tales.”
Then we have the assertion that “it is today conceded by all serious scholars” that the Arab radio broadcasts of 1947–1948, urging local Arabs to flee, are “a Zionist fabrication.” No, not all serious historians have conceded this point; indeed, even memoirs of Arab statesmen of the time make reference to the broadcasts. Ditto Finkelstein’s assertion of undisputed consensus for the claim “that the Palestinians had been ethnically cleansed in 1948.” All the major details of the story leading to the success of the Jewish struggle to achieve their homeland with the approval of the United Nations are tossed aside as “myths . … Zionist fabrications,” which persist, we are told, only because most people have read the book Exodus by Leon Uris, or have seen the sentimental movie based upon it.
The same “unqualified consensus,” Finkelstein assures us, maintains that “Palestinian detainees have been systematically ill treated and tortured, the total number now reaching probably tens of thousands.” Among many other difficulties with this assertion, there is no reference at all in these pages to the thousands of Palestinian prisoners imprisoned as terrorists, many of them multiple-murderers of Israeli citizens, who have been released and restored to the Palestinian Authority in the misguided hope of winning points with American and world opinion. Most of these have evidently resumed their careers as assassins.
But the epitome of chutzpah is Finkelstein’s breathtaking assertion that there is “on historical questions” an “unqualified consensus” against any part of the story about current events as told by Israel and the Jews—”or at least among those sharing normal human values.”
All of this gets us to the top of page 3. To continue at this pace would take a lifetime, for which I have better uses. What sticks to me as I put aside this noisome book is the odor of loathing for Jews everywhere—for their history, for their habits of thinking, and for their pervasive influence in the world. To achieve this unrelieved contempt for Jews, for Israel, and for the friends of Israel, Finkelstein raises the Palestinians to the unrelieved dignity of victims. There is no hint in all these pages of why Israel has had to resort to violence. There is no hint of moral distinction between violent force exercised by a state in defense of the lives of its citizens and violence exercised by suicide bombers. There is no reference to the history of Arab terrorism and no reference to the present reality of Islamic terrorism—although we are told that “the overarching purpose of the ‘war on terrorism’ [led by the U.S.] has been to deflect criticism of an unprecedented assault on international law.”
No thought at all is given to the circumstance that has forced Israel to arm itself as it has done, to rally its entire population to make the sacrifice of compulsory military service. There is no recognition that from its birth the only option given to Israel has been self-defense or liquidation—something always candidly declared by its Arab foes. Symptomatic of this technique of avoiding matters of behavior on the part of Israel’s enemies is the fact that there is not a single substantial reference to Islam in the entire book. (Present company will want to know what is said about Christians and the Church—but there are no references in the index to either. There is, however, a routine sprinkling of undeveloped asides concerning American fundamentalist tools of the Israeli right.)
No honest friend of Israel denies that Israeli soldiers and Israeli citizens have often—too often—resorted to foul means. Israel has in place legal mechanisms for detecting and punishing these aberrant acts; many Israelis languish in prison today for their unlicensed assaults against Arab civilians. There exists in the Israeli press, among Israeli scholars, and in the fray of Israeli politics a lively debate on such matters (including voices as critical of Israeli government policy as Finkelstein is).
But in the world according to Finkelstein, Israelis are sadistic oppressors—partly by conditioning, but ultimately by nature. “Of course,” he says, “with marginal exceptions, no one contests Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism; the criticism springs from its gross violation of human rights in the name of fighting terrorism.” But the “exceptions” are not “marginal”: they include the entire Muslim world, a working majority of the member-states in the General Assembly of the United Nations, and at least the left end of the political spectrum throughout the Western world.
Those of us who imagine that our loyalty to Israel follows from sincere calculation of historical rights and wrongs are mindless dupes of the Jews’ mighty propaganda machine. The Jews exploit the world’s fear of appearing anti-Semitic to command silence while they perpetrate unremitting sadistic violence upon an entirely innocent population. No one will be surprised to learn that their partner in this cosmic crime is the United States: “The brutal U.S. aggression against Vietnam and the Bush administration’s aggression against Iraq engendered a generalized anti-Americanism, just as the genocidal Nazi aggression during World War II engendered a generalized anti-Teutonism. Should it really surprise us if the cruel occupation by a self-declared Jewish state engenders a generalized antipathy to Jews? … The real wonder is that the spillover hasn’t been greater.”
Leave aside, for our purposes here, the equation of the United States with Nazi Germany. Finkelstein’s words encourage his readers and listeners to treat Israel and all Jews as outlaws. What does this lack to distinguish it from the Jew-hatred which spills out daily from the imams of Palestine as of the other Arab polities? Theological referents aside, how do these words differ from the recent message of the official imam of the Palestinian authority, Sheikh Mudeiris: “Why is there this malice [as Muhammad taught, on the part of the rocks and the trees towards the Jews]? Because there are none who love the Jews on the face of the earth: not man, not rock, and not tree, everything hates them. They destroy everything, they destroy the trees and destroy the houses. Everything wants vengeance on the Jews, on these pigs on the face of the earth, and the day of our victory, Allah willing, will come.”
This is a book that has to be read very slowly and carefully, neglecting none of the footnotes, none of the charts and graphs and none of the appendices—or not read at all. Having done the former, I recommend the latter.
Paul Charles Merkley, a retired professor of history at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, is a consultant on foreign policy. He is the author most recently of American Presidents, Religion and Israel (Praeger).
From: Jane & Jim demowell[at]optonline.net
Subject: Paul Charles Merkley
Date: Sun, 05 Feb 2006 16:16:33 -0500
Dear Mr. Merkley,
Yesterday afternoon I read your essay about Dr. Finkelstein
and felt compelled to respond. After reading three of Dr.
Finkelstein’s books (including the latest) I believe him to be not
only scholarly but courageous to broach subjects others fear. Where
you see anti-semitism, I see honesty.
When I read essays such as yours, I imagine taking a
teacher’s red pencil to it and writing comments such as: “did you
actually read this book”, ” not enough references”, “sounds like you
are just repeating something you heard”. etc., etc.
This is not just the carelessly-written paper of a sophomore.
It seems to be nothing more than a raging character assassination
published in a major evangelical Christian magazine, by someone who
presents himself as an authority on Israel.
How ironic it is that the concept “tu quoque” is used
twice in a work of circular reasoning. We both know that ” begging
the question” ( yes, English is sufficient ) and opponents tarring
each other with similar charges are both powerful tools of
What troubles me is that much of your readership will not
know that in the very first paragraph you unjustly call Finkelstein
a “manic assassin of the reputation of the Jews and of Israel” and
misrepresent the controversy between Finkelstein and Dershowitz as
mere pedantry, thereby avoiding the substance of the book. That
first paragraph was a perfect set-up for what amounts to nothing
more than a mocking recitation of Zionist talking points. The real
issues involved are much too important for you to be writing a
Zionist tract in the guise of book review.
Judging by your tone, you are obviously concerned enough
about these issues to set the record straight. I am eager to hear
your critique of what Dr. Finkelstein actually wrote and the many
source materials to which you allude.
From: “Michael Hula” mhula[at]austromail.at
Subject: “These Pigs on the Face of Earth” by Paul Charles Merkley, Jan/Feb 2006
Date: Thu, 2 Feb 2006 02:14:34 +0100
Dear Mr Merkley,
I recently read your article “These Pigs on the Face of Earth”,
having happened upon it when visiting the homepage of Norman
Finkelstein. [I did read the original article on your website, to
make sure it was accurately represented.]
I am sorry to say that, judged by my reading of another book by Mr
Finkelstein “Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict”,
your article is not corroborated by the facts.
Doing the same thing as Mr Finkelstein allegedly does (picking over
“the entire lifetime record of the published author [...] for
anomalies, cntradictions and food for tu quoque”), let us look at
“Image and Reality” (referring to 2nd German edition,
Kreuzlingen/Munich 2002) deals with Joan Peters’ book “From Time
Immemorial” in its second chapter. In your article, you accuse Mr
Finkelstein of wrongly dismissing the book as “a gigantic hoax”.
In your article, you state that:
- Mr Finkelstein has no or suppresses knowledge of scientific
studies relevant to the book’s subject, such as the ones by the
That is plain wrong, as Mr Finkelstein looks very closely on all
relevant texts from about 1890 to about 1950, including among many
others the Peel-Commission report, the Hope-Simpson-report and ALL
relevant Mandate Authority reports. He also refers to every source
that Peters cites to establish her key arguments.
- Mr Finkelstein believes no immigrants lived in Palestine in
I found no statement by Mr Finkelstein stating that there were no
immigrants in pre-mandate days. In fact, the issue of immigrants is
being discussed – regarding many different aspects of the topic – in
“Image and Reality”, the best example probably being the critical
examination of Peters’ demographic studay.
Ironically, Noam Chomsky’s book “Fateful Triangle” extensively
illustrates the demographics of early palestine, corroborating your
assertion in the article that several ethnic groups, among them Jews
(mostly anti-zionist. by the way), lived in Palestine by the end of
the 19th century. [Noam Chomsky encouraged Mr Finkelstein to publish
his findings about "From Time Immemorial" in the first place.]
Also, it is interesting to note that you accuse Mr Finkelstein of
denying or suppressing the fact that several “races” (your term) and
religious groups livedin Palestine, together with Arabs, prior to
the British mandate. But it is Peters herself who in her book
dismisses the existence of Arab Christians as “Arab propaganda”.
[Let alone Arab/oriental Jews - what an abomination upon the Jewish
race to even think about the existence such twisted creatures!] The
reproach regarding this issue clearly should go to Mrs Peters.
-Mr Finkelstein believes the entire population of Palestine in pre-mandate days was Arab.
-Mr Finkelstein “bought” the PLO’s “anti-history” that no Jews lived
in Palestine from after the destruction of the Second Temple until
they started to re-immigrate, encouraged and supported by the
British during the mandayte years.
In the preface of “Image and Reality” (p7), it is stated that the
main obstacle to building a Jewish state was that the majority of
“the population” was “not Jewish, but Muslim- or Christian-Arab”.
Nothing is said about the “indigenious population”. Also,
Finkelstein obviously knows that there WAS a Jewish minority in
Palestine, among a majority of Muslim and Christian Arabs.
These facts are just a superficial examination of your article and
the record of Mr Finkelstein’s writings. One could go on to examine
Benny Morris’ comments on the Arab radio broadcasts (Morris was
among the first to call them fiction, along with documenting the
ethnic cleansing of Arabs in 1948). One could also go on to look at
your comments on Un support of Israel’s policies, the human rights
But looking at “Image and Reality” and looking at your article, I
regret to say that I do not feel it to be necessary, as Mr
Finkelstein’s thesis has shown far more credibility than have your
This is not just due to the fact that you did not back your claims
with examples and/or sources that one could check on . You also keep
referring to “the record of history”, “reality”, “monumental
scientific studies” that “irrefutably prove” your argumentation, and
doing so makes the lack of sources/examples become much more
I find controversy important. I also find consistency in standards
important. Mr Finkelstein has not, to my knowledge aplied a
double-standard when writing about Israel.
One may disagree on moral values, moral judgements, choice of
available options to solve a problem, evaluation of costs and
benefits etc. That is legitimate But I cannot agree on the thesis
that Mr Finkelstein writes to defame Israel. The reason is that I
see no evidence for tht claim in his writings, or for that matter,
Subject: Christianty Today review
Date: Wed, 1 Feb 2006 08:37:04 -0800 (PST)
I’ve only read your book once and even I can already tell how full of shit this Christian idiot is and that a) he didn’t actually read your book or
b) he’s a propagandist on a mission.
“There is no reference to the history of Arab terrorism and no reference to the
present reality of Islamic terrorism”
St. Augustine’s famous quote about the pirate and the emperor comes to mind: “In his City of God, Saint Augustine tells a story about an encounter between
Alexander the Great (the last ruler successfully to garrison Afghanistan) and a pirate captain he had caught on the high seas. Ordering the pirate to heave
to, Alexander demands: “How dare you molest the seas as a pirate?” “How dare you molest the whole world?” retorts the plucky pirate. “I have a small boat,
so I am called a thief and a pirate. You have a great navy, so you are called an emperor, and can call other men pirates.” Substitute terrorist or rogue
state for pirate and the episode neatly encapsulates the morality of the new world order.” (http://www.globalpolicy.org//wtc/terrorism/1025injustice.htm)
There is no hint of moral distinction between violent force exercised by a state in defense of the lives of its citizens and violence exercised by suicide bombers.”
State violence is moral? Seems Mr. Merkley’s other profession — Foreign Policy Consultant (end of article) — guides his judgement as a historian and reviewer. I bet this one’s been trying to send his resume to Henry Kissinger, whom even the marxist-turned-uber-Conservative Chris Hitchens has condemned, quite rightfully.
Besides Thomas Aquinas’ story about the Pirate & the Emperor, we might recall American Conservatives on Soviet State violence, the numeours uses live and “non-leathal” ammunition by the National Guard or various policing agencies against unarmed Labor demonstrators and picketers throughout US history as described by Labor historians, American & international criticisms of Russian State violence in Chechnya, international condemnation of Chinese Communist gov’t’s brutal suppression of protests, the wholesale massacres of civilians in Central America in the 1980s with military & logistical US suport by what the New Republic called “Latin style fascists” (while offering appologetics for the crimes & signing praises to the triumph of Democracy), or Colin Powel on the Sudanese State violence against Christian civilians in Darfur. Need I go on about State violence?
We hear daily about the immorality of THE terrorists, no need to waste anymore space on it.
“Ditto Finkelstein’s assertion of undisputed consensus for the claim “that the Palestinians had been ethnically cleansed in 1948.”
All the major details of the story leading to the success of the Jewish struggle … persist, we are told, only because most people have read the book Exodus by Leon
Uris, or have seen the sentimental movie based upon it.”
Once again, this character either didn’t read the book or is a propagandist on a mission. On p. 8 Finkelstein’s source is the Israeli historian
Benny Morris whose hatred of Palestinians can be observed in his writings for the Jerusalem Post, as mentioned by Finkelstein. I mean really, Merkley, at least read
the first chapter beyond page 3 (Uris reference) so that you can look as if you’ve read the book before you publish your latest PR piece.
“myths . … Zionist fabrications,” which persist… because most people have read the book Exodus by Leon
Uris, or have seen the sentimental movie based upon it.”
Finkelstein quotes Jewish American elites from the editor of Commentary Magazine to the heads of the ADL among the many purveyors of Hasbara, or public relations
Israeli-gov’t-style which more honest folks would call propaganda Israeli-gov’t-style (Chomsky, Pirates & Emperors)
“Finkelstein’s words encourage his readers and listeners to treat Israel and all Jews as outlaws.”
Finkelstein specifically refers to “Jewish elites”, NOT “all Jews”. See pp. 26-27, 84-85.
“To achieve this unrelieved contempt for Jews, for Israel, and for the friends of Israel, Finkelstein raises the Palestinians to the unrelieved dignity of victims.”
Finkelstien’s contempt is for what his mother called “the thick layer of the ruthless, greedy element” in the Jewish community (WNYC interview), not “Jews” in
general as the reviewer’s warped mind would have us believe.
“Leave aside, for our purposes here, the equation of the United States with Nazi Germany.”
One might recall the infamous incidents with the small pox blankets. Perhaps, the Jesuit priest Bartolome De Las Casas’ description of the extermination of the Arawak
by Christopher Columbus, as mentioned by Howard Zinn (A People’s History of the US), could be reviewed here. I would direct one to a De Toqueville quote mentioned by Chomsky in numerous articles about the genocide of the indigenous population of the Unitd States: “The prospective leader of “humanitarian intervention” is also notorious for its ability to maintain
a self-image of benevolence whatever it does, a trait that impressed de Tocqueville 150 years ago. Observing one of the great atrocities, he was struck that Americans
could deprive Indians of their rights and exterminate them ‘with singular felicity, tranquilly, legally, philanthropically, without shedding blood, and without violating
a single great principle of morality in the eyes of the world.’ It was impossible to destroy people with ‘more respect for the laws of humanity,’ he wrote. So it has
always been, to this day. … Several qualifications must be added. The United States is not significantly different from others in its history of violence and
lawlessness. Rather, it is more powerful, therefore more dangerous, a danger magnified by the capacity of the elite culture to deny and evade the obvious.”
“But in the world according to Finkelstein, Israelis are sadistic oppressors—partly by conditioning, but ultimately by nature.
“Of course,” he says, “with marginal exceptions, no one contests Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism; the criticism springs from its gross violation of human rights in the name of fighting terrorism.” But the “exceptions” are not “marginal”: they include the entire Muslim world, a working majority of the member-states in the General Assembly of the United Nations, and at least the left end of the political spectrum throughout the Western world. “
Michael Desch, writing in The American Conservative, is clearly on the left end of the political spectrum. I heard he’s also training to be a Muslim cleric, you know the chic thing to do for leftists these days. On frequency of Israeli human rights violations see the numerous reports by B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and
Amnestey International available on their websites.
“What sticks to me as I put aside this noisome book is the odor of loathing for Jews everywhere—for their history, for their habits of thinking, and for their pervasive influence in the world.”
A statement on par with the BBC being accused of “the stench of anti-Semitism” and “Jews are being targeted for murder in the United States” by scandalists like the editor of Commentary magazine or the current and recent leadership of the ADL. All of this is described in Part 1 of Beyond Chutzpah. Seems like the reviewer’s adopting the right wing Israeli view of what “real” Jewish habits of thinking are. It’s kind of like when Spanish right wing supporters of Partido Popular refer to anyone who doesn’t support their “El Jefe” as “not a real Spaniard.”
“What sticks to me as I put aside this noisome book is the odor of loathing for Jews everywhere…”
Using the reviewer’s own logic, I wonder if perhaps, the reviewer’s a closeted anti-Semite himself. after all, why would a “true friend” of Israel assail an attempt by a
diligent Jewish American public intellectual to expose and harshly condemn State-sanctioned practices of torture, political killings, disposession, collective punishment
(and civilian apologetics for them) carried out by people who claim (as discussed in Beyond Chutzpah) to represent all Jews everywhere?
Let’s conclude by quoting the reviewer: “To continue at this pace would take a lifetime, for which I have better uses.”