Norman Finkelstein ‘Ambushes’ Alan Dershowitz (Part I): An original transcript from theExperiment

Understanding the Israel/Palestine conflict and its history is not so complicated. The problem is that the conflict has been

shrouded in this kind of ideological mist. If we can sort of dispel the ideological clouds that are enveloping the conflict,

I think that we can probably reach most people on the justice of the struggle of the Palestinian people for their human

rights. And I think we probably could win…. One of the very striking things about the book that Alan Dershowitz claims to

have written is that if you go through his footnotes—and a large part of the book is devoted to human rights questions, house

demolitions, torture—he never once cites any mainstream human rights organization as a source. He’s forced to cite Israel

Defense Force websites or things of that sort. But that’s very revealing. They have nothing to draw on anymore. They have no

cover for the crimes.

2003.11.30

[Norman Finkelstein, professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago, is the author of four books: Image

and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, The Rise and Fall of Palestine, A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen

Thesis and Historical Truth, and The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. The

following remarks are from his presentation at a benefit for the International Solidarity Movement at Udi Aloni’s gallery in

New York City, on Saturday, 2003.10.04.]

Well thank you for having me and it’s a humbling occasion. I have the deepest respect, and I’m not just saying that, I have

the deepest respect for the folks from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). I’ve seen them in action and I wish I’d find before I

meet my maker the kind of courage that they display daily when they’re out there putting their lives on the line. Many of

them are quite young and I remember interviewing a few of them just after [ISM activist] Rachel Corrie was killed,

and one fellow in particular who was on his way to Oxford to study in their philosophy, economics, and politics program,

probably 21 years old I think. There was a lot of character there. It was a very impressive display and we all ought I think

to be humbled before those who have gone to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and who find the courage to do the right

thing under fire. So I’m very pleased to be here this evening.

I gave the sponsors as I walked in a choice of several things I could speak on and it was a choice between doing the history

of the Israel/Palestine conflict and talking about that hoodlum from Harvard, Alan Dershowitz [law professor and recent

author of The Case for Israel], and after a discussion with other people we decided to go through the history for those of

you who may be new to the topic.

There’s no dispute at all about what’s going on

I was listening to Adam [Shapiro, founder of the ISM] and he said this was kind of a more mournful than celebratory occasion.

There’s always grounds for mourning and there’s always grounds for sadness and for those of us who’ve been involved in the

conflict for, now in my case more than two decades, one doesn’t see much progress registered and that’s of course grounds for

disappointment and sadness. But I think we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there are also grounds for being

reasonably…I don’t want to use the word optimistic, but let’s say reasonably hopeful about the Israel/Palestine conflict.

One of the things I think we can be reasonably hopeful about, and I’m not trying to be glib, one of the things I think we can

be reasonably hopeful about is that I don’t think the conflict is all that complicated. The history is not so complicated and

actually there is pretty much a consensus among historians on most of the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict. There are

areas where there is dispute but on most of the history I think there is close to a consensus, and on the current situation

there really isn’t that much dispute either among those who monitor what goes on there. So, for example, if you were to look

at the Human Rights Watch reports, the Amnesty International reports, the B’Tselem—that’s the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights

in the Occupied Territories—and they all put out mulitiple reports each year on the Israel/Palestine conflict. If you

look at the reports, they are remarkably similar in their analyses and their conclusions, so even in the current situation

there isn’t that much dispute. In fact I would say in the current situation, say among human rights organizations, there’s no

dispute at all about what’s going on.

The history is not so complicated; understanding the current situation is not so complicated. The problem is that the

conflict has been shrouded in this kind of ideological mist and that’s what makes it complicated. If we can sort of dispel

the clouds, the ideological clouds that are enveloping the Israel/Palestine conflict, I think that we can probably reach most

people on the justice of the struggle of the Palestinian people for their human rights. And I think we probably could win.

So our job is basically to try to get the truth out, and that’s not a trivial fact because we do have on our side the truth.

And at the risk of sounding like, you know, a cliché—but clichés are clichés because they are mostly true, so we shouldn’t be

afraid of clichés—at the risk of sounding like a cliché, we do have on our side two very formidable weapons and we should

never, I think, trivialize the significance of that fact. We have truth on our side and we have justice on our side, and if

we could learn to use those weapons effectively I think we have grounds for being hopeful that we can win.

The other side to its account has power for sure and it has wealth for sure, and those are formidable weapons also. But in

the great scheme of things I do believe that, again I know it sounds cliché-ish, but I think that truth and justice could

trump power and wealth if we learn how to do things the right way. And not wanting to anticipate my last remarks but just as

an anticipation of what I’ll say at he end: many people have been asking me, “How could Alan Dershowitz do something so

stupid? He is a Harvard law professor and you would think he wouldn’t do something so clumsy.” And somebody actually e-mailed

me this morning and asked, “Why do you think he didn’t use fact-checkers? He has the money and he could have checked the

facts before he put them in the book.” And I thought the obvious answer, which I sent to the correspondent, is that if he

actually used facts he wouldn’t have a case. That’s his problem. There are no facts to support their side. And that’s why

they have to fabricate facts and fabricate claims, because when you come down to the evidence there simply is no evidence for

the other side, or for the kinds of claims that the other side makes. That should, I think, give us some heart. We have the

facts on our side.

They have no cover for the crimes

We have the truth on our side, and we also have something else very important on our side and that’s a relatively recent

development. For those who go back, who have been involved in this since 1970s and 1980s, most of the human rights

organizations—Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International—they were very careful about offending Israeli sensibilities during

those years. And when we read their human rights reports they didn’t want to talk about the issue of torture in Israel, even

though Israel had been using torture against Palestinian detainees from the 1970s on. They didn’t want to touch the issue of

torture and most of it—I know this sounds like a vulgar Marxist explanation, but sometimes vulgar explanations are also

accurate—and the explanation basically was they were afraid. The organizations like Amnesty International were afraid of

losing money from liberal Jewish donors.

By 1990 things began to significantly change mostly for two reasons. First of all, because an Israeli Human Rights

organization was formed—B’Tselem—which was a mainstream organization. And they were the first ones, for example, to document

Israel’s use of torture and ill treatment against Palestinian detainees. So once B’Tselem went on record, then the other

human rights organizations had their cover and they were able to more freely say what they wanted. The other thing was, by

1990 Israel’s human rights violations—you have to keep in mind this was two years after the first Intifada—by 1990 it was no

longer possible to conceal what Israel was doing. The first human rights reports on torture, for example by B’Tselem, Human

Rights Watch and Amnesty International, pointed out that virtually every Palestinian detainee either suffered torture or ill

treatment. Well, once it became so pervasive and so massive, it became impossible any longer for the human rights

organizations to turn a blind eye to or conceal.

The reason that’s important for us is there was a time when it was very difficult to find any kind of mainstream

corroboration of the claims being made about Israeli violations of human rights against the Palestinians. You had to rely on

people like Felicia Langer—believe me I have the highest regard for her but she was a member of the Communist Party—there was

Lea Tsemel but she was a Trotskyist, there was Israel Shahak but they said he was a nut. There was really only a handful that

you could rely on. But nowadays there’s a vast number of resources out there. We don’t even have to do that work any more. We

just go to the website and type in Human Rights Watch, type in Amnesty International, type in B’Tselem, and all the evidence

is there already.

One of the very striking things about the book that Alan Dershowitz claims to have written is he’s a lawyer, he’s from

Harvard, if you go through his footnotes—and a large part of the book is devoted to human rights questions, house

demolitions, torture, and so forth—if you go through his footnotes, it’s very striking: he never once cites as a source—for

the human rights situation—he never once cites any mainstream human rights organization. He’s forced to cite Israel Defense

Force (IDF) websites or things of that sort. But that’s very revealing. They have nothing to draw on anymore. They have no

cover for the crimes.

Author: Norman Finkelstein

News Service: theExperiment

URL: http://theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1990