Whenever the media takes note of the antics of Norman Finkelstein, the former DePaul University professor and anti-Israel activist, a flood of disinformation seems bound to follow. Finkelstein's arrest in Israel last week was no exception.
The facts of the case are clear. Finkelstein had attempted to enter Israel last Thursday to travel into the West Bank. There he would likely have lent support to Palestinian extremists. Unquestionably, he would have caused trouble. And while Israel generally does not prevent foreign trouble makers from entering the country (a highly naive and short-sighted policy), it made an exception this time: Finkelstein was detained at the Tel Aviv airport upon landing, kept under watch for a few hours, and eventually deported to Amsterdam.
The deportation served as a siren call for all Israel's critics, both foreign and domestic, to protest this alleged "suppression of academic freedom of an academic critic of Israel." The leftist web sites and the liberal media were immediately filled with reports of how "Professor Finkelstein" was kicked out of Israel for, supposedly, having anti-Israel opinions.
Finkelstein's supporters, like Peter Kirstein of St. Xavier University, cried "outrage" at Finkelstein's eviction. Israel's far-Left also got into the fray. Finkelstein's own web site broadcast his martyrdom in lurid terms.
As usual when Finkelstein is involved, the facts all got lost along the way.
First, Finkelstein is no "professor." In fact, he never was an academic in any meaningful sense of the word. Finkelstein is a crackpot and an open admirer of Holocaust denier David Irving. Finkelstein claims that all Holocaust survivors are liars, hoaxsters, and thieves, extorting Germany. Finkelstein was fired last year from DePaul University in Chicago because he had no academic publications or achievements at all; he has yet to publish his first academic paper. He is regarded to be a Holocaust denier by the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and others. For all the whining of his supporters that in DePaul he fell victim to "outside interference" when he was denied tenure, the fact is that most of the outside interference there was actually in Finkelstein's favor.
Second, Finkelstein was not denied entry into Israel because he holds anti-Israel opinions. Anti-Israel leftists come in and out of Israel all the time. For instance, the Jewish state has long put up with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), whose members enter Israel to engage in violent hooliganism and to assist Palestinian terrorism, sometimes assaulting Israeli police and soldiers in the process.
Some of Israel's own tenured professors, moreover, are even more extreme and anti-Israel than Finkelstein himself. As is clear from any fair-minded reading of Israeli media reports, Finkelstein was denied entry into Israel because he has spent the past few years serving as an all-but-official spokesperson for the Hezbollah terror group and was suspected of wanting to enter Israel for purposes of espionage and activities on its behalf.
Third, entry into Israel is not a universal entitlement. According to the official Israeli statement as reported in Haaretz, Israeli intelligence said Finkelstein "is not permitted to enter Israel because of suspicions involving hostile elements in Lebanon," and because he "did not give a full accounting to interrogators with regard to these suspicions." The last point is especially critical. While still in Israeli captivity, Finkelstein adamantly refused to answer questions about what he was planning to be doing while in the country, as well as who was paying for his trip. Given his refusal to cooperate, it's difficult to see that Israeli authorities had any alternative but to deport him.
That's not how Finkelstein sees it, of course. Moments after arriving in Amsterdam, Finkelstein sent out the following message to his fans (spelling and grammar uncorrected):
"Before rumors report my premature death, I was kept in a holding cell for 24 hours and then deported to Amsterdam. It wasn't a Belgian bed and breakfast but it wasn't Auschwitz either (although after six hours of abusive treatement (sic) I did call them "f**king Jewish Nazis," not taken well). It seems that to see Musa and his family again, I'll have to wait until the end of the occupation. I have been been (sic) banned for "at least 10 years." Another incentive to work towards ending the occupation."
Facts notwithstanding, some on the hard-Left were prepared to see Finkelstein as the victim. The so-called "Association for Civil Rights in Israel" or ACRI took the lead in this regard. The ACRI quickly dispatched once of its leaders, a lawyer named Michael Sfard, to serve as attorney for Finkelstein while he was being held at the airport. Sfard was then cited in the media as saying, "A country that starts to fear what its harshest critics write about it is a country that is already behaving in a manner reminiscent of the darkest days of the communist regime."
But Finkelstein is not a substantive "critic" of Israel. By his own admission, he is a supporter of a terrorist group – Hezbollah – that explicitly seeks Israel's destruction. Contrary to the amen corner loudly commiserating with this disgraced academic, Finkelstein is not a victim of Israeli censorship, but of his own extremism.
Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.