Beyond Chutz­pah: On the Mis­use of Anti-semi­tism and the Abuse of History

Nor­man G. Finkelstein
  • Review
By – July 16, 2012

The incen­di­ary cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing pub­li­ca­tion of Nor­man G. Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutz­pah: On the Mis­use of Anti-Semi­tism and the Abuse of His­to­ry comes close to over­shad­ow­ing its con­tent. Eaves­drop­ping on a pri­vate spat between two indi­vid­u­als is rarely pleas­ant, but when the bat­tle is pub­licly waged in print, the medi­um can over­whelm the mes­sage. Thus, Prof. Finkelstein’s harsh assess­ment of Alan M. Dershowitz’s schol­ar­ship and intel­lec­tu­al hon­esty in his defense of Israel over­pow­ers Beyond Chutzpah’s exhaus­tive com­pi­la­tion of Israel’s human rights record and places the enmi­ty between these antag­o­nists at cen­ter stage. 

Finkel­stein argues that anti-Semi­tism is sum­moned as a con­ve­nient shield when­ev­er Israel faces crit­i­cism. He avers that the Arab-Israel con­flict should be viewed sole­ly in polit­i­cal terms, not as a socioe­co­nom­ic or reli­gious issue. The under­ly­ing cause of the con­flict, he says, lies not in racial antipa­thy toward Jews but in the desire of the Arabs for nation­al inde­pen­dence” and their antag­o­nism to the estab­lish­ment of the Jew­ish Nation­al Home in Pales­tine, quick­ened by their fear of Jew­ish dom­i­na­tion” (cita­tion from a Pales­tine Roy­al Com­mis­sion Report, 1937). Finkel­stein states his belief that a fair-mind­ed review of the injus­tices that the Pales­tini­ans have suf­fered will accom­plish three things: lift the pro­tec­tive cov­er from Israel, repu­di­ate blind­ly pro-Israel guardians such as Der­showitz and oth­ers, and enable a last­ing peace for both Israel and Pales­tine to be forged. 

In recit­ing a litany of offens­es per­pe­trat­ed by Israel, the vic­tim is clear and the aggres­sor obvi­ous. When faced with a pos­si­ble alter­na­tive inter­pre­ta­tion of facts, Finkel­stein plain­ly reveals his bias: In some quar­ters anger at Israel’s bru­tal occu­pa­tion has undoubt­ed­ly spilled over to an ani­mus toward Jews gen­er­al­ly. But how­ev­er lam­en­ta­ble, it’s hard­ly cause for won­der.” By excus­ing any wrongs done to Israel while lament­ing all wrongs done by Israel, he weak­ens his stand­ing as an objec­tive ana­lyst and thus, the per­sua­sive­ness of his argument. 

Nor does Amer­i­can Jew­ry fare any bet­ter than Israel in his eyes: “…from this lethal brew of for­mi­da­ble pow­er, chau­vin­is­tic arro­gance, feigned (or imag­ined) vic­tim-hood, and Holo­caust-immu­ni­ty to crit­i­cism has sprung a ter­ri­fy­ing reck­less­ness and ruth­less­ness on the part of Amer­i­can Jew­ish elites. Along­side Israel, they are the main fomenters of anti-Semi­tism in the world today.” Evi­dent­ly, we have met the ene­my and he is us! 

Once one reviews the facts” sur­round­ing Israel’s actions and con­sid­ers Finkelstein’s rebut­tal to Der­showitz and oth­ers, one is left with an anti-Israel, anti-Amer­i­can Jew­ry, pro-Pales­tin­ian polemic, which makes this a most dif­fi­cult book to read dis­pas­sion­ate­ly. Pro­fes­sor Finkel­stein chal­lenges con­ven­tion­al views of the Mid­dle East but he is so intem­per­ate in the ani­mus he dis­plays toward his var­i­ous bêtes noires, that unbi­ased exam­i­na­tion becomes vir­tu­al­ly unattainable.

Noel Kriftch­er was a pro­fes­sor and admin­is­tra­tor at Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly served as Super­in­ten­dent of New York City’s Brook­lyn & Stat­en Island High Schools district.

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