“American Radical” Norman Finkelstein: Israel losing PR campaign
Norman Finkelstein has never been far from controversy. The American Jew is banned from Israel and pledges full support for the Palestinian people. The author and former professor has lost jobs and faced death threats for his opinions. His views have been documented in the film “The American Radical”. He spoke to RT.
RT: We’d like to start with a question about the documentary “American Radical”. It has been described in many ways one of them being “an intimate portrait of a man behind the controversy”. Tell me about the documentary – why you decided to make this film.
Norman Finkelstein: Actually, I have not seen the documentary. For some reason I didn’t want to see it myself on the screen. And so, I chose not to watch it. My friends – many of my close friends – watched it and for better or for worse they said it was an actual portrayal of me. But I was obviously involved in the making of the documentary, though I asked not to be consulted about the content; I didn’t want anyone in the future to say that I was making a promo for myself. As to why I got involved in it, basically, my feeling was, well, my closest friend over decades was Professor Chomsky and I tried to look at him for moral guidance. He made many films, or he participated in many films about himself and his personal background. So, I thought there was nothing politically incorrect or vain about participating in such a film and so I went ahead and did it.
The one thing that did not turn quite right – I thought there would be much more of my time in Palestine and to meet some of my friends from there, but when we went over to shoot that segment of the documentary, I was barred entry, and so we never really got the full picture from that side.
RT: Well, you brought up Professor Chomsky. We know that recently he was in a same situation. Were you surprised or were you not surprised when you yourself experienced that?
NF: I was a little bit surprised, because Professor Chomsky is in a category all of his own. And however much Jews feel hostility towards him for his political views, they still take pride in the fact that Professor Chomsky is a certified and acknowledged genius. They take pride in the fact that he is Jewish and he is genius. And it was surprising that a person of his stature would also have been turned away. It represents, I think, serious deterioration in Israeli – let’s call it – decision-making. Israelis pride themselves for being very rational against the emotional Arabs. But now they are acting in clearly a very irrational and also counterproductive way in their own view. They’ve got terrible PR for denying an 82-year-old man who is by any reckoning one of the greatest minds in human history – denying him entry. But it used to be that when the Israelis descended, the world praised them: look, how beautiful the Israelis are when they do wrong, they feel anguished, they feel tormented. But now for the first time the world is saying “We don’t care about your anguish and torment.” We’re holding you legally responsible for what you are doing. Don’t give us the anguish and torment, or as it’s called in Israel, the shooting and crying. We don’t want the tears, we want accountability.
And now Israelis feel very threatened because for the first time, and especially after the Goldstone report and the threats of holding Israel before the international criminal court, they don’t want to hear from dissent anymore because they are being asked to pay a price.
RT: Last time we sat down it was shortly after the war in Gaza had ended and it was right before Barack Obama became president. You were very open in your opinion on what took place and who was wrong in that military conflict. It has been over a year since the Israeli assault on Gaza. What’s your assessment of how the Obama administration has done so far in bringing permanent peace to the Middle East?
NF: At the time when I made those comments they appeared to be very controversial. Indeed you might even say they were extreme. But when the Goldstone report came out – and bear in mind Richard Goldstone is not only a respected jurist but he is also Jewish, and by his own reckoning he is a Zionist. Goldstone in his report concluded that – and I’m quoting it – that Israel launched a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population. Well, those are pretty strong words – “punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.”
As to the record of the Obama administration – my recollection is that I didn’t have great expectations from what would come from the Obama administration, and in fact it’s quite clear that nothing much came. There are occasional spats – you might call them – between Israel and the US, but there has been no American initiative to try to resolve the conflict in terms of international law, the resolution of the conflict which the rest of the world embraces.
If you move for a moment away from Israel and Palestine, you take the case of Iran, since that’s very topical now. Barack Obama kept promising that “there is going to be a change, there is going to be a change.” But in fact, as several commentators wrote, the Barack Obama administration is carrying on like all other administrations. There was an offer made in October 2009 by the US administration to Iran on how to resolve the nuclear issue. Iran at that time rejected the offer for several reasons, mostly because it didn’t trust the named powers who were involved – France, the US, even Russia. But now it accepted that offer and as the leading academic specialist on the – an American academic specialist, [***], wrote in The Washington Post, Barack Obama is refusing to take “yes” for an answer. So there is no real difference between the so-called “diplomatic approach” of Barack Obama and the militaristic approach, as it’s sometimes claimed, of the Bush administration. At the end of the day, what they want is for Iran to cry “uncle”, for Iran to give in to US power. Maybe Barack Obama does it with softer words and presents it with a more appealing image but the policy is basically the same.
RT: Do you think that there was a message also sent possibly to Turkey and Brazil with a draft resolution being introduced so quickly after the fuel swap deal was agreed upon with Turkey, Brazil and Iran?
NF: Yes. What’s quite clear is that the United States feels like power shifting. It’s becoming more diffuse, and the US does not call all the shots in every place in the world. And Turkey has carved out a more independent path in recent years most notably when it refused to participate in the US attack on Iraq. And Brazil is an emerging power. And this was an attempt to cut them down to size.
RT: Let’s state the topic of the UN and diplomacy? Because from what is understood you want to speak at the UN. Why? And what do you want to say?
NF: I have been involved in a conflict now in a public way for the past 30 years. I first got involved in June 1992 when Israel invaded Lebanon. And I do feel that in the massacre in Gaza, the Goldstone Report, public opinion has dramatically changed. It’s dramatically changed not only internationally, but in the United States. And that’s a real opportunity now to put forth a reasonable settlement to end the conflict. Not only to put it forth, but for there to be a receptive audience for such a reasonable settlement. And I feel that, given my personal background: the fact that my parents were both survivors at the Nazi Holocaust. My father was a survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp, my mother of Majdanek concentration camp. Every member of their families on both sides were exterminated during the war. We never had any aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. Nothing! We were, just as my late mother used to say, five people in the world: my mother, my father, my two brothers and myself. My family background, my professional background – I have written my books on the topic, and I think it’s fair to say without sounding immodest, I am a recognized authority on the conflict – and the fact that I have been personally involved, I have made a substantial commitment, and I even say that in my own little way I’ve paid some price for the commitment I’ve made. Most importantly I’ve tried very desperately, very hard to be reasonable, to figure out a reasonable proposal based on international law to end the conflict.
But we should be clear. I have no wish in being the victor over a vanquished Israel. I have no desire and no interest to humiliate it, embarrass it, degrade it or, as I say, push it against the wall so it feels like it has no choice except to strike out. We want a reasonable settlement. We want a settlement which allows everyone to live proud, productive and peaceful lives. We want a settlement that allows everyone to live in dignity. And we want a settlement, obviously, which is in accordance with the law, with what the world should look like. You are right, in the real world the law is often disregarded and replaced by the use of a big club with which you crack people’s skulls. But we’re talking about how we feel the conflict should end. And I think most people understand, maybe not people in power, but regular people, they understand the rule of law, and that we should respect the law. And I think you can reach a large audience with that principle. And I think that the audience is now ready to listen. And that’s why I want to go to the UN and hopefully achieve a reasonable settlement of the conflict.