Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Statesman Interview with Norman Finkelstein

By John Bernstein
New Statesman
July 14, 2011

Norman Finkelstein  (Credit: Mark Mahaney)

In your view, Israel has appropriated the Holocaust. Could a non-Jew have said that?
There is no way a non-Jew could say what I did in The Holocaust Industry without being labelled a Holocaust denier. I am labelled a Holocaust denier, too. Nobody disputes that my parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto from 1939 to 1943. If I were denying the Holocaust, I would have to be certifiably insane.

Your parents went to the US after the war. Did they consider going to Israel?

My mother used to joke sometimes because the Judenräte, the Jewish councils, played such a filthy role during the Nazi Holocaust that, when asked "Why didn't you go to Israel?", she said: "I'd had enough with Jewish leaders."

Is there anything you'd like to forget?
I did a lot of wrong things, morally wrong, personally wrong. I made major political errors in my life. But I don't want to forget them, because they put me on notice.

Is there a plan?
It's too late to speak of a plan - I'm 57 years old.

Do you vote?
I don't. I understand the rational argument for voting, but . . . I can't stand these people. I could never vote for Barack Obama.

Why not?
Because I think it's all hollow clichés and platitudes. I can't bear it. He's a complete fraud.

He's brought health care to millions.
I'm unemployed and one of those 40 million Americans who has no health insurance, so I know all about insurance that I can't afford.

Are we all doomed?
I don't think in such big terms.

Do you believe in God?
No. When I was a young man, my mother said to me, "You can't be a communist without being a militant atheist." So I had to be a militant atheist because I wanted to be a communist.

Defining Moments
1953 Born in New York City
1988 Receives doctorate from Princeton University's department of politics
2000 Publishes The Holocaust Industry
2003 Accuses Professor Alan Dershowitz of plagiarism in writing The Case for Israel
2007 A vote by DePaul University's faculty board denies Finkelstein tenure
2008 Is denied entry to Israel
2010 Publishes This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion

Read the entire interview here.  And see his personal website here.

Comment: A formidable intellectual and an academic who once described himself as the oldest and most prolific assistant professor in the American academy.

It does not take much to see why American universities would want to rid themselves of thinkers like Finkelstein.  He threatens their very make-up.

He contests the very mainstream notion of what they consider legitimate discourse and knowledge production.  He is not in the business of kissing the ass of the establishment and the systems that reproduce it in a Gramscian sense (making oppression and its delegitimizing effects "commonsense" or normal).

I like that he does not vote and thinks that Obama is a fraud.  I was thinking about fraud and politics and ass kissers this morning when I read the front page of a local newspaper that was decked with birthday wishes for Mandela.

People who have arrived in the post-era and want to be seen as confirming Mandela as their personal savior.  One white man even went as far as to say that for the first three decades of his life he was ashamed of being white!

And now?  I guess Mandela and Obama have opened spaces for white people not to be ashamed of being white and part of a structured system that still keeps the too many oppressed and devalued.

And why is that so few of those who were "ashamed" in the old era were nowhere near the liberation struggle?  Why is it now fashionable to ride motorcycles across the country and get all teary eyed about Mandela?

This is bullsh*t posturing.  Prankster politics at most.  These aren't thinking folks.  And they vote too.  If the old system was still in place they would abhor the terrorist Mandela and ride across country to raise funds for this or that safe cause.  Perhaps something radical like finding a cure for myopia and not the political kind for sure.

Finkelstein is honest enough to admit mistakes.  Personal and political ones too.  Admirable.

To speak these truths is to contest the very legitimacy of the systems that prop up the liberatory myths like those of Obama and Mandela.

Those who stand and contest the very essence of any political system, inclusive of its manufactured "commonsense", cannot expect to be celebrated and made credible by the same system.

That is why such opposition is so revolutionary.  And I expect that Finkelstein knows this very well.


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