Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Real Case for Israel

Neve Gordon has written a nice review of Norman Finkelstein's new book for In These Times. The review does more than just weigh in on its strengths and weaknesses, but also contextualizes the general Finkelstein-Dershowitz brouhaha.

Gordon's conclusion:

Two important implications can be drawn from Finkelstein’s study, one political and the other academic. Politically, Beyond Chutzpah reveals how Israel has defied the rule of law in the Occupied Territories by providing a condensed and precise summation of literally thousands of pages of human rights reports. In this way, Finkelstein does a great service for those who long for a better Israel, since one is left with the conclusion that the only way of putting an end to the violations of Palestinian rights is by ending the occupation. There is no other option.

Academically, the section discussing Israel’s human rights record raises serious questions about intellectual honesty and the ideological bias of our cultural institutions, since it reveals how a prominent professor holding an endowed chair at a leading university can publish a book whose major claims are false. The significant point is not simply that the claims cannot be corroborated by the facts on the ground -- anyone can make mistakes -- but that any first-year student who takes the time to read the human rights reports would quickly realize that while The Case for Israel has rhetorical style and structure, it is, for the most part, fiction passing as fact.

All of which leads me back to the question raised at the beginning: What is the controversy about? While it is in part about Dershowitz’s political investments and his intellectual veracity, its intention goes much deeper than that to expose a grave cultural distortion. On the one hand, the controversy surrounding Beyond Chutzpah seems to be a reaction to Finkelstein’s attempt to expose how elements in academia have played an active role in covering up Israel’s abuse, and by extension, the abuse of other rogue regimes, not least the United States itself. Obviously those intellectuals who do participate in this covering tactic prefer to operate in the dark. On the other hand, the heated response to his book is just another example of how the literature discussing the new anti-Semitism delegitimizes those who expose Israel’s egregious violations of international law. The major irony informing this saga is that Finkelstein’s book, not Dershowitz’s, constitutes the real case for Israel -- that is, for a moral Israel.