Monday 26 May 2008

Guardian report of Finkelstein ban misleading and mischievous

You may not agree with Israel's decision to refuse entry to controversial US academic Norman Finkelstein - and I tend to think such bans should only be applied to those whose speech or writing inflame violence. But the Guardian's reporting of the event was disingenuous, not to say deliberately mischievous.

All the reports I've read agree that Finkelstein was denied entry because of his well-publicised contacts with Hezbollah, a terrorist organisation that recently launched an aggressive war against Israel. So the article's headline - 'US academic deported and banned for criticising Israel'- whether written by reporter Toni O'Loughlin or added by a sub-editor - was a blatant lie. It's the kind of headline you expect from a partisan blog post, not from a serious national newspaper with a reputation (?) for objective reporting.

Almost as misleading was O'Loughlin's sly suggestion of a parallel between Finkelstein's expulsion and the case of Ilan Pappe, who resigned last year from his post at Haifa University after endorsing an international campaign for an academic boycott of Israel. Pappe left his post voluntarily and the only threat to free speech in that case came from Pappe himself, when he supported the boycott.


There are now links to this post over at Engage and at Harry's Place. I'd refer Levi9909 aka Mark Elf from Jews san Frontieres, who has left a comment below, to David T's post at the latter. I won't get into a debate with Mark about the pros and cons of the Finkelstein ban - as I said above, I instinctively recoil from all such restrictions on freedom of speech and movement. But I stand by what I said about the dishonesty and misinformation of the Guardian report. They may have taken the bare facts of the case from the Israeli media, but the headline was just plain wrong, and the parallel with the completely different case of Ilan Pappe was misleading. Final point: critics of the admittedly questionable Israeli action should be wary of making a human rights cause celebre out of Norman Finkelstein, whose comments praising sectarian Islamist militia Hezbollah were a disgrace.

Further update

More on all of this and another link at Flesh is Grass.


levi9909 said...

"Officials said that the decision to deport Finkelstein was connected to his anti-Zionist opinions and fierce public criticism of Israel around the world."

href="">Jerusalem Post

Is the Jerusalem Post misleading its readers? Was that a blatant lie in the JP? They claim it is what "officials said". And it's funny but most people who enjoy Finkelstein's work suspected that before the Jerusalem Post or Ha'aretz had even reported on it since the first reports came out hours before the Israeli media reports. Sure Finkelstein met Hizbullah people and the Guardian article mentions that, as does the Jerusalem Post. But the Jerusalem Post reports that Israeli officials said that it was Finkelstein's views that got him banned. (Forgive me being repetitive but you seem not to have read that at the same time as implying that you read lots of reports)

But what if it was contact with Hizbullah? What then? How then does Finkelstein threaten Israel's security or warrant a ban?

The zionist campaign against Finkelstein was started way before he had any contact with Hizbullah and way before he had even written about them.

The Guardian article was surprisingly insightful linking to another case of a harassed anti-zionist academic. It could have mentioned more harassed academics I'm sure.

I had thought that this treatment of ideological, as opposed to armed, opponents would have put the likes of Engage and others who defend Israel from meaningful criticism in a bit of a cleft stick. Support an anti-zionist academic? Support a serious opponent of the occupation who supports the two state solution as they claim they do? Nope. Support the ban and make out it's for something other than his opinions.

The issue here is that Israel has banned Finkelstein, it says, on security grounds and clearly Finkelstein is simply an academic critic of Israel, as is Pappe, as are a great many others who are routinely smeared and harrased by those who want Israel to stand as an effront to humanism (Israel is segregationist) and to secularism (Israel's a theocracy).

Another thing I have just noticed about your post is that the Guardian repeated all that was said in Ynet, the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz. None of them say that he was deported "because of his well-publicised contacts with Hezbollah". They say that that is what Shin Bet said and so does the Guardian. They all, also bring up the fact that Finkelstein is believed in many quarters (and for the Jerusalem Post, "officials") to have been banned because of his views. Not such an outlandish thing to believe.

So there are two issues here. Is he a security risk? Is he being banned for his views including the fact that he thinks its ok to talk to Hizbullah? A related issue is why on earth anyone would go so far to call someone a liar for reporting what had been reported in three Israeli media and has been said by Israeli officialdom.

For a secular humanist you are very defensive on behalf of a segregationist state based on on-going colonial settlement and ethnic cleansing.

I think we can take it that even if you disagree with the Guardian, they weren't lying any more than the Israeli media were. And the linkage with other harassed academics followed naturally from the report.

You might want to update your post or change your self-description.


levi9909 said...

Ok Martin, don't get into a debate about the rights or wrongs of the ban on Finkelstein but he does not support sectarianism or islamism and he said in the MEMRI interview that Hizbullah's politics mean nothing to him and that he knows little or nothing of them. He praised their courage, their discipline and their resistance to a sectarian zionist state whose existence is predicated on colonial settlement, ethnic cleansing, segregationist laws, relentless aggression and disproportionate "retaliation".

Incidentally, Hizbullah did not exist until Israel's onslaught against Palestinians and Lebanese civilians in 1982.

You may stand by what you said about the Guardian article but there is no reason to suppose that the suspicion that Israel has acted to silence a critic is a lie, it is a legitimate suspicion and one held by many. And one, that if the Jerusalem Post (who you don't accuse of lying) is to be believed, attributes to Israeli officialdom itself.

There is also no reason to suppose that Finkelstein is a "security risk", it is Israel that has told a deliberate lie and yet you, Engage and HP seem to be uncritically supporting both Israel's act and the lie whilst throwing in some of your own.

And David "t" at Harry's Place seems not to have read the article he is implying omits to mention Finkelstein's contact with Hizbullah. It does mention it. Typically, this courageous champion of academic freedom, is calling on his readers to harass the Guardian with a view to undermining Toni O'Laughlin.

You might read the Magnes Zionist on this.

Anonymous said...

"Incidentally, Hizbullah did not exist until Israel's onslaught against Palestinians and Lebanese civilians in 1982."

Yes, and the nazi party did not exist till the after the "world zionist conspiracy started WW1." which is what the Nazis said at the time.

Your Mark Elf's comments are about as insightful as the above.

Martin said...

I agree. For a certain kind of leftist (not my kind), the actions of opponents of Israel, the US and western democracies are always a 'reaction' against those countries - so indirectly their fault. As I've noted many times in this blog, this denial of agency to the Arab/non-western 'other' is patronising and naive. As you say, it's akin to viewing the rise of Nazism as a direct result of the failures of others, rather than as an autonomous political movement motivated by a coherent ideology. Similarly, the reactionary Islamism of Hezbollah, Hamas et al has deep theological and political roots that can be traced back even before the founding of Israel.

George said...

There's no such thing as "an autonomous political movement". All political movements have their roots in the surrounding environment. The Nazis, like the Italian fascists were funded by various business interests who wanted to crush the organised labour movement.