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May 13, 2012 7:27 pm

Norman Finkelstein: The BBC Legitimizes a Crank

avatar by Alan Mendoza

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Norman Finkelstein on the BBC's Hardtalk show. Photo: Screenshot.

The BBC has a strange set of editorial guidelines. According to a leaked memo sent to BBC staff by the network’s senior manager, Abu Qatada – Al-Qaeda affiliate and indefinite London resident – can only be classified as a “radical” because to call him an “extremist” would be a “value judgment”.  Yet apparently, the Beeb has no problem using the darkly suggestive term “Jewish lobby” to frame a debate over whether or not a certain ethnic minority in the United States has got a succession of U.S. presidents “in thrall” to its demands.

In the latest installment of HARDtalk, presenter Sarah Montague interviews Norman Finkelstein on the subject of whether or not young American Jews are becoming less concerned with the fortunes of the Jewish state, and how this might alter the dynamics of U.S. foreign policy.

Finkelstein is an odd choice as barometer of Diaspora opinion. He is best known as the author of The Holocaust Industry, a thin polemic which argued that the Shoah had been systematically exploited by the American Jewish community as a marketing tool for Zionism. The Jewish leadership, he wrote in characteristic style, was a “repellent gang of plutocrats, hoodlums, and hucksters”. Since then, Finkelstein has been a regular visitor to Europe, appearing on university campuses to enumerate the sins of what he calls the “lunatic state”. Back home, his academic career has floundered after he was denied tenure at DePaul University; he now writes primarily for his own website.

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Finkelstein postures simply as a staunch defender of human rights and international law, though he is not above declaring “solidarity” with the Iranian terrorist proxy group Hezbollah, which, when it isn’t busy blowing up former prime ministers or helping Bashar al-Assad kill Syrians, holds rallies in Lebanon where a popular chant is “Death to Jews”.

HARDtalk’s raison d’etre is to create “good telly” by tackling controversial subjects and antagonizing controversial figures. But the entire premise of this latest broadcast was as false as it was revelatory of how extremists have managed to shift the acceptable bounds of mainstream discussion about the Middle East. First, it legitimizes the notion that American Jewish support for Israel is ideologically monolithic and disproportionately influential at the political level, which, as countless historians and intellectuals on the left and right have pointed out, not-so-subtly traffics in the classical tropes of anti-Semitism. Second, as HARDtalk presenter Sara Montague herself indicates, the latest polling data show that there is not a drop in young American Jewish support for Israel; on the contrary, support has remained consistently high. So why bother having a discredited crank on to argue the opposite?

Actually, “argue” might be too high of an estimation for Finkelstein’s performance, which grades into hilarious self-indictment. He claims that there is “anecdotal” evidence to support his view that young Jews are becoming disenchanted with Israel: namely, that whereas he used to cause quite a fuss on American college campuses in the 1960s, nowadays, hardly anyone turns up to hear him speak. When Montague points out that this might just be a sign that no one takes him seriously anymore, he balks.

Why the BBC has chosen to take him seriously is another matter.

Dr. Alan Mendoza is a Founder and the Executive Director of the Henry Jackson Society.

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  • Justin

    I sincerely thank Dr. Finkelstein for standing up and helping the rest of us sift through propaganda campaign and also pick up the argument on behalf of Palestine.
    “…traffics in the classical tropes of anti-Semitism.” This vague grasp of an inappropriate accusation of intent just does not work anymore. I respect the religion just not the sovereignty that abuses it, nothing to confuse.

  • Justin

    Iranian terrorist proxy group Hezbollah? That’s opening the Israeli/ U.S. window to view the world isn’t it? This is a ‘freedom fighter’ group with a Lebanese heritage. Desperation caused by the U.S., Britain and now Israel have necessitated serious defensive measures, by many countries, who have had lines drawn on “their” territories.

  • jiha noor

    How dare you, DOCTOR Mendoza, call a respected scholar Dr. Finkelstein, a crank?!! Your stupid commentary sounds like you have been granted patent for reason. Yeah, you must be – in your mind – the wittiest, wisest, smartest person in the universe. Have you devoted 30 years of your professional life to the Middle East and the Holocaust studies as Dr. Finkelstein did?? NO !! You didn’t. You criticize a person whose area of expertise is completely foreign to you and of which you are informed only superficially. Your doctoral dissertation was on a completely different subject. You are NOBODY in the debate on the Middle East and the Holocaust. I would like to see you in a face to face debate with Dr. Finkelstein. Question is – How would you argue with him?? What could you possibly say to an expert like him? – You would call him a crank. That’s all you could come up with. So, know what? Go and enjoy the life as an arogant, disrepectul DOCTOR. Stick to your field of “expertise” and don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.

  • joseph

    wrong. he never said that nobody turns out for his lectures. listen again.

  • Adelle

    Sharp observation. Brilliant commentary.

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