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Beirut, December 7, 2001 (leftwing nationalist newspaper)
In an interview Norman Finkelstein deals with his reception by the media and the role of the lobbies and New Historians and solving the Palestine problem
Norman Finkelstein: In 1967 America discovered Israel's importance in opposition to the movement of Arab Nationalism
THE visit Norman Finkelstein is paying to Beirut is important. It is important because the Palestine-Israel conflict is now going through one of its critical moments. It is also important because after September 11 there has been an exceptional assault on consciousness in the world and in our Arab region. And it is important, specifically, because the man has made a valuable contribution to the battle with Zionist theses or those in support of them. The importance of his contribution comes from its being uniquely scientific and conveyed with a real humanitarian concern that rejects any form of bigotry or chauvinism and all attempts, from wherever they might come, to exploit human sufferings in order to use them in repressive enterprises.
What Finkelstein has developed in the course of recent years helps the Arabs to get out of the "fractured consciousness" that leads them into a frightful trap: absorbing and internalizing the Zionist version of the Arabs' position on the Zionists. Rather than making the difficult and competent effort to attain a "whole and truthful consciousness" of the reality of the conflict and of everything that springs from it, they slip into an "easy consciousness," but one that is extremely backward and nearly repeats, word for word, the discourse that the Zionists attribute to the Arabs.
At a time when the "majority" inclines, particularly since the retreat of the Arab nationalist movement, to a simplistic vision, and at a time when a minority "breaks off" to adopt Israeli language, Finkelstein knows that providing a store of knowledge reveals that it is possible to combat both these deviations without abandoning truth and justice, but with a welcoming openness to the concerns of all humanity.
As an introduction to Norman Finkelstein as-Safir presents this interview with him and a review of his latest book "The Holocaust Industry." Our thanks are necessary to the Home of Literature for their facilitation.
Does the fact that you come from a family some of whose members went through the Jewish holocaust give you a certain immunity to write a book such as "The Holocaust Industry"?
This book could not have been written by someone who was not Jewish. No doubt the fact that my father was a survivor of the Nazi holocaust has provided me additional immunity. But despite all the "immunity," I have been subjected to a frightful personal and professional assault. Indeed in the end I lost my job at the university where I had worked for ten years, although I always received the highest marks in student evaluations in my department, and I published four books in the last five years. But there is another point in response to your question. It is that much of what I mentioned in my book would only be known to someone "on the inside." Other than Nazi holocaust survivors and their families no one was aware that the "holocaust" industry was stealing compensation money for the massacres of the holocaust. Most people really believed that the funds went to the "needy victims of the holocaust." I also was aware as I was growing up, how a large number of the Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe falsified their past, claiming that they were Nazi holocaust survivors when in fact they were not. This falsification both amused and disgusted my father.
How have the media in the United States and Europe treated your book?
My book was a best seller throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. The British newspaper The Guardian serialized it, and every major British newspaper devoted at least a full page to a discussion of it. The French newspaper Le Monde devoted two full pages to it in addition to its lead editorial. The most enthusiastic response came from Germany where 130,000 copies were sold in three weeks after publication. But in contrast to the clamor that my book aroused in Europe, and it was a deafening clamor, it met only silence in the United States, a deafening silence! And once it became impossible to ignore the enthusiastic response to the book in Europe, America's main newspapers, such as The New York Times began publishing hysterical articles describing the book and its author as "anti-Semitic." These articles actually killed the book in America.
How did the Zionist and Jewish lobby receive it?
The policy of these lobbies was, to put it simply, to ignore the book. There is an old saying among some publishers: "bad publicity is better than no publicity!" So they resolved not to give the book any publicity, even bad. But the contents of my book in the end leaked out via the Internet and word of mouth. I believe I caused great damage to the Holocaust industry in the matter of compensation paid to survivors of the holocaust. Until my book was published, everybody (in the west) believed, including people on the left and those who usually criticized the lobbies, that the payment of compensation to survivors of the holocaust is a just cause. Now it has become very well known that these compensations are an extortion plot: there is a gang of traveling salesmen that make off with billions of billions of dollars for themselves by exploiting the sufferings of the Jews during the Second World War.
When you talk about the Zionist lobbies exploiting the memory of the holocaust in order to support Israel how do you explain their success in that inside the United States when that country does not share with Europe the famous guilt complex regarding the Jews?
The Jewish and Zionist lobbies in the United States have succeeded basically because they served the interest of the American ruling elite. I don't believe that those lobbies could have succeeded if support of Israel conflicted with American interests. It is important here to remember that the holocaust industry burst out after the June War of 1967 when Israel became a "strategic reserve" for the United States. Before June 1967 there was hardly any mention of the holocaust in American Jewish life, not to mention American life in general. As soon as Israel became a "strategic reserve" for the United States the holocaust established that it was an excellent weapon for silencing criticism directed at Israel. Later, American Jews used the holocaust to silence any criticism directed against them, and they became more conservative in the political sense.
Along those lines I would like to ask you, to what extent do the American elites use the Zionist lobbies as an excuse for adopting policies in the Middle East that serve precisely those elites?
When Britain issued the Balfour Declaration the official explanation was that they wanted to support the right of a suffering people to self-determination. But the fact is that British internal records show that the British were hoping to use a Jewish state in Palestine entirely to rely on it to protect British interests in the Middle East, especially the Suez Canal and the land route to India. The great powers seldom move on the basis of unselfish motives. The famous saying, "if you are not a wolf, you will be eaten by wolves," also applies to the nation states. The United States supports Israel because Israel serves American strategic interests. And, just as Great Britain did, it declares that it supports Israel in the name of "Jewish suffering," i.e., the holocaust. So the more things change, the more they stay the same!
Dr. Finkelstein, you affirm that the holocaust industry began after the June 1967 War. Why and how? Did this happen in coordination with the Jewish state or as an independent initiative from this state?
In June 1967 Israel directed a decisive blow to Arab nationalism by the humiliating defeat it inflicted on President Gamal Abdel Nasser. This victory served both American and Israeli strategic interests. The United States discovered a surprising regional power that defended its interests, oil in particular, in its confrontation with what was called "radical Arab nationalism." This Arab nationalism constituted a great threat to Israel too. This state, since its beginnings in the Zionist movement, always considered itself, and in every sphere -- culture, politics, economics -- an advanced base for the west in the Middle East. The Zionist movement earned its first foothold in the Middle East with the support of a European power (Britain). After its establishment in 1948, Israel always sought a western patron. Israel never for one day thought about becoming a part of the Arab world. The June 1967 War gave to the United States a military state to protect its interests as it gave to Israel an imperial patron for attaining its regional goals. This war was an exchange agreement, similar to the Balfour declaration.
How do you compare your book to the book by Peter Novick The Holocaust in American Life? What are the differences between the two books?
Novick's book contains very important insights. I learned a lot from it. Despite that, his book wants to be provocative, but not more than it should be. Any book in the United States must, if it is on the edge of the predominant traditional boundaries, provoke what is called "controversy." That is, people must discuss it enthusiastically because it does not really encroach upon basic issues.
If the basic issues are really dealt with, the book falls outside the predominant boundaries and is buried alive. The fact is that Novick uses analytical expressions like "memory" that have no political content and he denies that the holocaust industry serves any political or economic interests.
How do you regard the anti-Semitic current? Did the perpetrators of the holocaust participate in creating it or is it a cultural-political reality rooted in western societies?
It is impossible to discuss concisely a complex problem like this. What we can say now is that the holocaust industry adopts an explanation of the anti-Semitic current from which explanation it benefits ideologically. It says basically,
But the truth is that none of the three above claims can be supported by any serious research. It is an ideology concocted to serve political interests.
I would like to ask you a question specifically about the State of Israel. How do legend and madness coexist with rationality to weave a modern state and society?
The ruling ideologies of most states, and possibly of all of them, combine rationality with legend. If a state does not act rationally it will not be able to survive long in a world of competing states that are always on the look out to exploit the weak points and mistakes of others. From another angle, states must conceal their crimes. Most normal people will not probably accept "raison d'etat" if that means bringing down frightful suffering on others. For this reason, states lie. Then they veil the most atrocious of their crimes behind lofty rhetoric about "freedom" and "democracy" and "self defense," and so on and so forth. In this context, the Nazis were no different with respect to this practice. Hitler always would claim that he wanted "peace" and that he acted "in self defense." The English writer Samuel Johnson joked once that "patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels," and we could add, "self defense is the last refuge of scoundrel countries."
How do you evaluate the "Movement of New Historians" in Israel?
The New Historians (the "revisionists") perform a splendid service because they have clarified the historical record. To be sure, their discoveries were not all new. For example it has been known since the beginning of the sixties that the Zionist claim that there were Arab radio stations that urged the Palestinians to leave their homes in 1948 was a pure lie. Despite that, historians like Benny Morris presented important documentation for that from within the Israeli archives.
Here I would like to bring up two points of criticism.
What is your opinion of the statement issued by French Jewish intellectuals at the beginning of the current intifada in which they rejected the right of the Israeli Prime Minister to appropriate the right to speak in the name of the Jews and their suffering and pains?
There is not much to it, and it comes very late. Did it not occur to those "intellectuals" until now that the crimes of Israel deserve condemnation? Unfortunately this sort of thing represents truly the French political culture. The first popular demonstrations in Paris against French atrocities in Algeria did not occur until the beginning of the sixties at the tail end of the war. French cultural commitments often change with the change of the seasons, like French fashion.
By the way, I am now being prosecuted in France for "denying the holocaust." Whoever makes such charges must be unusually crazy. My companions throughout my life always used to plead with me to stop talking about the holocaust, and now here I am charged with denying that it took place! In general I do not have much faith in intellectuals, Jewish or non-Jewish. They bend with the wind!
Finally, how do you think the Palestine problem should be solved, and then the Arab-Israeli conflict?
There is no one-time solution for the conflict. The real question is: what means will put us on a path likely to reach the desired end? It appears to me that the basic available options are: a settlement based on "two states," in accordance with which Israel would withdraw completely from the territories it occupied in the June War of 1967, or a settlement along the lines of South Africa in which Israelis and Palestinians would live in one state on the whole of historic Palestine. It appears that the answer is that a temporary solution must combine both settlement options. It is not at all clear whether a settlement based on two states, that is on a total and complete Israeli withdrawal, is still possible. It is also not clear at all whether it is possible for Palestinians and Israelis now or in the near future to coexist within one state. There must be a solution that allows for a mixture of the two approaches.
But the first step must be a complete Israeli admission of the enormous injustice that was done to the Palestinians in 1948. Without that admission a just and lasting peace will be impossibility.
Our resident Arabist Eric Mueller has translated this for you
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