It's Wednesday April 23rd and this morning I cannot sleep. Yesterday night, I sat through Norman Finkelstein bashing Israel for an hour and half, omitting any mention of wrongdoings by anyone else involved — historically the Israel-Palestinian conflict deals with more than just Jews and Arabs or Zionists and their neighbors.
The event was packed and people were excited to hear what he had to say, though by the end many members of the audience had left. I don't know if they left because they were bored, or had places to go, or just couldn't take what he had to say anymore. I'd like to think that a fraction of those people that left realized that it wasn't worth their time to listen to someone just go on, and on, and on about everything Israel does wrong, especially when he starts out his speech with "I'm not here to bash Israel." Of course, that is just my hope though it is probably not true. I'm sure to many, he was engaging.
Finkelstein considers himself an activist and surely hoped that yesterday he moved a lot of people to take action. His purpose was not to foster anti-Semitism, it was just to foster anti-Zionism, but understand, Mr. Finkelstein, that the two will always be related.
No, I do not believe the majority of Anti-Zionists are indeed anti-Semitic, but I do know that at many pro-Palestinian demonstrations and marches, there are incidents of anti-Semitism — whether it be through the defacing of synagogues, in the rhetoric mentioned or simply direct physical attacks on Jews.
After the Israeli offense on Gaza, incidents of anti-Semitic acts increased in Europe and cops were needed in front of Jewish schools and Jewish neighborhoods. I remember, for example, in Antwerp at the time when people wrecked the famous Hassidic neighborhood of the city, directly attacking shops, schools and temples. I remember a few years later, Central Park South, next to the Apple Store when I proudly attended the Israeli-Day parade on 5th Ave. and there were a dozen counter protesters across the street. Again, I'm sure this was meant to be just a protest against what the Israeli government is doing and a call to end the occupation, but there was a banner denying the holocaust.
Yesterday, Finkelstein only mentioned what Israel does wrong; he was not even willing to add an "although...." as if all their acts are inexcusable by anyone's standard. I asked him how his speech can lead to progress (by progress I thought it was explicit that I meant peace but I guess not.) How does mentioning all the weapons used by the Israeli army in Lebanon and Gaza effective without ever mentioning one rocket launched by Hamas? How is talking about the terrible acquisitions from the Six-Day war helpful in a goal of educating when you fail to even mention that Israel was the one ATTACKED? That is not justification but mere explanation as to what happened.
It is always hard to answer to questions under emotion and on the spot when we don't have time to fully think our questions through so, yesterday I just asked why he needed to be SO one-sided, of course he never answered my question. While I am proud of myself for standing up and voicing my opinion (hey, I even got some applause), I wish I could have said something more along these following lines to Mr. Finkelstein:
Sir, why do you feel the need to bash a country and talk about a conflict in such one-sided manner? How can that lead to peace?
Yes, I am against the occupation and I think Israel needs to give up its occupied territories and religious settlers need to stop doing what they do. Others in Israel share my point of view. Their opinion is voiced on the streets through demonstrations, in the Knesset (Israel's congress) by official elected representatives and by soldiers who refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza because they feel those are occupied territories.
Yes, there might be more tension between Egypt and Israel now that Mubarak has fallen but you know what, Israeli and Egyptian soldiers have had a peaceful relationship for many years and continue to even after the revolution. This relationship is not just peaceful, they actually get along, Mr. Finkelstein.
Yes, Israel's offensive in Gaza had terrible consequences and the IDF did some pretty horrible things but at the same time there were Israeli doctors that put their lives on the line to go into Gaza and rescue victims of war to give them adequate healthcare.
Yes, there is a blockade right now and it should not happen because no one should have food access blocked to them. But, this blockade is not in place out of hate, it's happening out of fear. Weapons pass through these rations of food and soldiers who fight back this kind of trafficking get attacked.
Yes, Israel must take responsibility for its share in the problem and it responds to the conflict in a less than adequate manner and should be criticized for some of its actions but you know what, it should also be praised for some of its actions. In January of 2010, Mr. Finkelstein, do you know what Israel did? It sent aid over to Haiti to help out in the earthquake, just a day after the earthquake happened. I am not going to name a bunch of countries where Israel has gone, but I can bet you that any natural disaster that has occurred no matter where in the world, Israel has gone there to help out. They even stay in some places longer than other countries. There are places where no one dares to go-helping women in South Sudan and giving aid to victims of the Darfur genocide, granting those refugees citizenship. How many other nations can say they've done that? How many white-nations can say they've granted citizenship en masse to refugees from African countries like Sudan and Ethiopia? Because, clearly those actions are worthy of comparing Israel to N. Korea, Pakistan and noting "when was the last time you ever heard anything nice said about those countries?"
Yes, I agree we need to get rid of the settlements, the occupied territories need to be given back, the treatment of Palestinian refugees is unacceptable and the Palestinian people today are victims whose cry for help needs to be heard.
That's not a reason, however, to go to college campuses and universities and give extremely one-sided accounts of the conflict and bash a country that, though just like any other place, has done many wrong things, has also done many great things and continues to do so today and so many would like to see destroyed. Understanding and stating the multiple pieces of the puzzle—that leads to progress and peace Mr. Finkelstein. You, on the other hand will only promote hate!
William Van den Broeck
Class of 2015