Members of the Emory community gathered yesterday to hear Norman Finkelstein — an independent scholar of the Israeli-Palestine conflict — share his views on Israel's ulterior motives behind the Gaza attack and the current political climate.
Finkelstein outlined confrontational events between Israelis and Palestinians from Dec. 27, 2008, through Jan. 18, 2009. Finkelstein said that he believes the fundamental motives behind the Israeli attack on Gaza lie in the need to restore Israel's deterrence capacity and in the threat posed by a new Palestinian peace offensive.
"Israel felt that in fact they would transmit the message: 'Don't mess with Israel,' and that it would restore the deterrence capacity that they had lost through various attacks," he said.
Finkelstein explained the concept of deterrence capacity as an extension of the Israelis' way of "showing the Arabs who were in charge in this part of the world by saying, 'We won the war in Gaza.'"
On Dec. 27, the Gaza invasion began, which lasted 22 days.
"Israel had planned the invasion of Gaza," Finkelstein said. "They waited until all the pieces were in place, for the right pretense, the right excuse to inflict massive death and destruction and attack."
Finkelstein also asserted his strong belief that the Israelis were in favor of the rocket attacks in southern Israel because the attacks would act as a gateway move for the Israelies to invade Gaza. So far, the most recent reports state that Israel has released satellite photography of bunkers in civilian areas in south Lebanon, according to Finkelstein. He said that he believes the purpose of this photographic release is "to prepare the world for attacks on civilian sites under the claim that Hamas has placed command and control centers in civilian territory."
In his speech, Finkelstein drew parallels between Israel and the South.
"Israel is a dirtier place than the South was during the Jim Crow era," Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein's commentary was not restricted to Israel. He explained he does not support Iranian rebels on grounds that "it was built on the lie that Ahmadinejad stole the election."
He concluded his lecture on a more amicable note by explaining that he hopes the idea of nonviolent civil resistance will catch on.
"So far, it has not succeeded, but hopefully the Palestinians will realize this is the best weapon to move forward," he said. "There is reason for hope that we may get to that rendezvous of victory. There is room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory, Jewish and non-Jewish."
The Emory Advocates for Justice in Palestine (EAJP) explained that Finkelstein was brought to campus not to create dialogue but to spread awareness about the plight of the Palestinian people.
Yesterday's lecture marks Finkelstein's second visit to the University in two years.
This year, he was brought through collaboration with the University of Georgia, which led to EAJP's enthusiasm in having him speak on campus as a figure of authority, according to College senior and member of EAJP Mohammad Zaidi.
Goizueta Business School junior and Co-president of Hillel Dorothy Abrams is one of many students who organized a petition as an active response to a previous EAJP-sponsored lecture given by Hajo Meyer — an Auschwitz survivor, speaker and controversial political activist — who also expressed anti-Israel statements by accusing Israel of abusing the emotional charge of the Holocaust to justify its crimes against the Palestinians.
"The petition is trying to eliminate this hateful and alienating factor of speech on our campus, which is attempting to promote education and controversial academic inquiry," Abrams said.
She explained that a petition is currently circulating mainly because many members of the community felt isolated after Meyer's speech and are once more feeling tension due to Finkelstein's lecture.
"Together we realized that our speakers are only vetted by monetary policy and that there is not hate speech or a respect clause in our current bylaws," she said.
College senior and Copresident of Emory Students for Israel (ESI) Sarah Green is also actively involved in the petition to disband hateful speech and said she would like to see groups such as EAJP bring in speakers who would discuss controversial topics more sensitively.
"I would love to see them bring a speaker who discusses legitimate solutions for the undeniably terrible situation the Palestinians are dealing with, rather than just promoting the hatred of Israel and Zionists," she said. "I also do not feel it is acceptable for any student group to bring a speaker to campus who openly demeans any other group, which [can] potentially alienat[e] Emory students. I am very interested in the bringing of controversial speakers, especially since this conflict is so complex and multisided. I would just like to stress there is a difference between controversial and hateful."
College senior and member of EAJP Ilma Zejnelovic is among the group of students responsible for bringing Finkelstein to campus.
She said that EAJP believes that dialogue channels and open communication have always existed between EAJP, ESI and Emory Hillel.
"The purpose of our group is to provide awareness to students," Ilma said. "We offer a voice that hasn't been offered, presenting another opinion, and our presence on campus is necessary."
Speakers are not fully representative of the views members of EAJP hold, Zejnelovic added, noting that even within her student group there is never unanimous agreement on every topic.
"The point of bringing lecturers like Mr. Finkelstein is to bring forth dialogue and get our voice out there," she said.