Review Essay: Norman Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.
by Matthew Abraham
Matthew Abraham is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where he teaches courses in Rhetoric and Writing. He was named the 2005 Rachel Corrie Courage in Teaching Award Winner by the progressive special interest groups of the Conference on College Composition and Communication.
* Below are excerpts from the review essay/book review of Dr. Matthew Abraham. To read the rest of the review go to http://www.logosjournal.com/issue_4.4/abraham.htm
The publication of Norman Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah: The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History—the much-awaited sequel to his controversial The Holocaust Industry: The Exploitation of Jewish Suffering—represents a curious moment in U.S. intellectual history. The main title of the book, “Beyond Chutzpah,” is a play on the title of Alan Dershowitz’s bestselling book, Chutzpah—a reference to the Yiddish term which means to be pushy or assertive (“assertive insistence on first-class status among our peers” (Chutzpah 9) . To go “beyond chutzpah,” then, is to enter a realm of absolutism, intolerance, and fanatical devotion where criticism lodged against someone who has gone beyond chutzpah, even when it is well-warranted, can not be heard because of blind faith in something or someone and a belief in one’s own goodness—a clear reference to philosemitic doctrine in its protection and promotion of Jews and Jewish interests (footnote 1). Beyond Chutzpah is a curious book because of the remarkable circumstances preceding its publication, with Alan Dershowitz, the author of The Case for Israel (a focal point of sharp criticism in Beyond Chutzpah), a self-professed civil libertarian who teaches at Harvard Law School, waging an unprecedented campaign against the University of California Press to block the printing and distribution of the book.
Beyond Chutzpah is basically divided into three main parts. The first part examines the rise of the “new anti-Semitism” as a political weapon employed by U.S. supporters of Israel that accomplishes three basic goals: a) detracts from the historical and diplomatic record, which confirms that Israel has never been interested in having peace with its Arab neighbors (particularly the PLO), and in fact has been fearful of a cessation of conflict and hostilities which would put in a place a comprehensive settlement that has been supported by an international consensus for thirty-eight years but its implementation has been blocked by the U.S and Israel; b) creates controversy where no real controversy exists to confuse and obfuscate the conflict’s roots, i.e. Israel’s systematic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza from the beginning of Zionism’s entry into Palestine; and c) employs holocaust imagery and rhetoric which casts Jews, not Palestinian Arabs, as the victims at the present historical moment—suggesting that Israel, as a haven for all Jews in the event of another holocaust, must be defended at all costs no matter how indefensible its behavior.
The second part of the book, and perhaps the most important, focuses on the Israeli government’s thirty-eight year commitment to implementing ethnic cleansing policies and apartheid practices against Palestinian Arabs in the form of torture, targeted assassination, the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields, administrative detention, home demolition, illegal seizures of land and water aquifers, and the unequal application of the law. As Ze’ev Schiff, a celebrated Israeli military correspondent, has confirmed, Israel as a matter of policy has long targeted the Palestinian civilian population—in fact, the IDF has drawn no distinction between Palestinian combatants and Palestinian civilians. Much of the evidence for this claim can be found in the writings and diaries of Moshe Sharett, Moshe Dayan, and Ben-Gurion. Using the findings of mainstream human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, B’tselem (an Israeli organization), Human Rights Watch, as well as Palestinian human rights organizations, Finkelstein in six tightly-argued chapters provides a near point-by-point demolition of Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel; revealing that there truly is very little quality control regulating the production of “scholarship” about the U.S.-Israel-Palestine conflict in the United States. Otherwise, how could The Case for Israel have been showered with so much praise by U.S. cultural elites when it is so at odds with what is found in the writings of Israeli prime ministers, military historians, and scholars? (footnote 2).
The third part of Beyond Chutzpah contains the appendixes documenting that Dershowitz lifts material from Peters’ From Time Immemorial without proper attribution in his The Case for Israel (see: http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/art...p?pg=11&ar=1); misrepresents the history of the conflict and recent “diplomatic efforts” such as Sadat’s offer of peace in 1971 and the Camp David meeting between Clinton, Barak, and Arafat in 2000; and badly distorts the positions of his key nemesis, Noam Chomsky, who has favored a resolution of the conflict according to the international consensus. Now, Dershowitz claims Chomsky’s thirty-eight year position as his own, while portraying Chomsky as an “extremist” for rejecting what Dershowitz says he has supported all along—a two-state solution. Twenty-two of the fifty-five footnotes in the first two chapters of The Case for Israel come from Time Immemorial, although Dershowitz cites the primary sources and the page numbers that Peters lists, as if Dershowitz actually checked the original documents. Anyone who checks the original sources can see that Dershowitz simply reproduces Peters’ research as his own—often with comical results. In advanced page proofs of The Case for Israel it is clear for all to see that Deshowitz directed his research assistant, Holly Beth Billington, to cite various obscure nineteenth century sources back to the primary sources instead of to From Time Immemorial where he originally found them. It’s clear that Dershowitz did not check the primary sources when, for example, he cites the 1996 edition of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad. Here is the citation as provided in The Case for Israel: “Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 485, 508, 520, 607-608.” These pages, which Dershowitz lists as coming from this edition, correspond to the pages of the 1881 edition that Peters relied upon. This discrepancy is corrected, along with all the other twenty-one other misattributions Finkelstein highlights, in the paperback edition (footnote 3).
Despite all the contrived controversy, Finkelstein claims that the Israel-Palestine conflict—at least within serious scholarly treatments—is fairly straight forward from the standpoint of the historical record (footnote 4). Unsurprisingly, as those who are familiar with Finkelstein’s previous books surely know, Beyond Chutzpah, in describing the sad state of affairs governing discussion of the U.S.-Israel-Palestine conflict is very, very funny—relentless in its documentation of how morally and intellectually bankrupt what Finkelstein calls the Holocaust Industry has become in shielding Israel against critical discussion, while also unsparing in noting the cruel irony that pro-Zionist Jews are no longer perceived as the world’s greatest victims, but because of their privileged status as an ethnic group and Israel’s ruthless assault on international law, the world’s most coddled apologists for state violence. Indeed, as Finkelstein has spent much of his adult life demonstrating, the Holocaust Industry actively fears that the Holocaust, Israel, and the conflict will become objects of a rational discussion. As Finkelstein’s rigorous and tightly argued polemic proves, Israel’s apologists, in an attempt to obfuscate the roots and real grievances within the conflict, employ the charge of anti-Semitism to remove from the playing field anyone who questions the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist as an apartheid state with no declared borders and which seeks to impose unheard of measures upon its Arab neighbors under the mantra of “security needs”; the U.S.-Israel special relationship; and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Unfortunately, these very important points often got lost in the midst of Finkelstein’s public feuds with Dershowitz.