A friend of mine asked for my opinion of this piece. I see it as an excellent opportunity of how not to do activism.
• His first protest at the Israeli consulate in 1982 invoked his parents’ suffering, meaning that Finkelstein is as guilty of his “Holocaust Industry” as the Jewish community. His scholarship would be unremarkable if he wasn’t the descendant of Warsaw Jews.
• He rightfully exposed the statistical fraud by Joan Peters, which put him on the “map” of prominent activists.
• He’s a brilliant, neurotic, pacifist. — Professional psychiatrists don’t diagnose people over television, but he describes his mother’s pacifism during the Vietnam War as “hysterical”, so this is obviously “where he gets it from”. She was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and produced a deranged son. Families transmit these kinds of quirks all the time.
Marginalization of the Holocaust
• But there’s a difference between an overzealous activist, and someone who tells a descendant of Holocaust survivors ,”Shut up” and “I don’t respect that anymore”. Atrociously, he goes to Europe and claims the lessons of the Holocaust for human progress are over. This is akin to the right-wing argument that the lessons of the civil rights movement or slavery are “over”. This is a classic fascist axiom: the weak have a time limit on sympathy (the shorter the better), and injustice is papered over by history like flyers on a billboard. Au contraire: Genocide haunts humanity into perpetuity, the lessons of human rights violations are never “over”.
A crime against humanity is never passé, and while pacifist human rights activism is always an ideal (Gandhi, Thoreau, MLK), your mother’s hysterical views do not make a just policy position.
Norman Finkelstein is not an American radical, as much as he is an angry, nuerotic individual who had managed to achieve the heights of academia, culminating in his book that targets the Holocaust’s public perception in our culture. I favor of vociferous criticism of Israel, but not anyone saying “Racial extermination is not such a big deal anymore.”
If humanity is composed of different societies, those societies reflect God’s creativity (Qur’an 49:13, “And We made you into different races and tribes, so that you may know one another.”). Racial discrimination, then, is a completely irreligious concept. While all cultures are rooted in tradition, only a vile Caligula can decide one of those cultures should no longer exist. If to kill a single person is to wipe out a galaxy of experience, to exterminate a people is the annihilation of a cultural universe.
The genocidal instinct is almost present in the human race. Our species probably succeeded to the top of the food chain by exterminating other hominid species (Cro-Magnon, homo erectus), we are the descendants of the most murderous species in evolutionary history. At some point, we decided murder and rape weren’t acceptable anymore, but this pattern of behavior is still present in us (as is the inclination to disbar violence from our behavior).
In opposing Israeli violence, Finkelstein makes the association that Nazi violence against world Jewry should be marginalized. Not only is this not pacifist, intolerant, and nonsensical, it is anti-Semitic and has nothing to do with the Palestinian cause.