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.