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Home » Local and State, World

GIVE SLEEP A CHANCE: Following Heated Controversy, Dr. Norman Finkelstein Delivers a Snoozer at Rice University

Submitted by SuperbHerb on March 30, 2024 – 12:03 pm2 Comments

A mix of about 70 students, academics, and activists braved stormy weather yesterday to attend Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s talk entitled “How to Solve the Israeli Palestinian Conflict,” organized by the Rice Progressives at Rice University. Before the talk even started, my friend David turned to me and whispered (in reference to a handful of apparently Muslim–or possibly dark-skinned Amish– young men), “I’ve never seen so many chin-strap beards in one place in my life.”

Photo by Jo Fax

Not to fear–there was a sprinkling of yarmulkes and hijabs, too.  (Speaking of which, WHY DO MUSLIMS AND AMISH HATE MOUSTACHES???)

The talk was not without its controversy, but most of it went down before the fact in cyberspace–in back-and-forth bickering on the Rice Progressives’ Facebook page, in particular.  Organizers claim that their posts promoting the talk were repeatedly removed from local progressive radio station KPFT’s FB page within one hour of posting them, and posters promoting the event were repeatedly torn down on the Rice Campus–which is allegedly rare for Rice.  One Rice Alumnus forwarded a Huffington Post article by Finkelstein’s nemesis, Alan Dershowitz, comparing  Finkelstein to Holocaust deniers such as David Duke and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, to the Rice Public Relations Department.

So, based on all this, attendees might have expected some degree of tension or drama.  Nobody was surprised to see a Rice police officer on hand to keep a handle on the protestors and counter-protestors that organizers expected.  Nothing even close to that went down.  Instead, Finkelstein’s strategy seemed to be to lull both supporters and critics alike into slumber by repeatedly stating the obvious in his monotonous delivery.  His answer to Israeli bulldozers knocking down Palestinian homes was to create a roomful of dozing people.

He opened his talk by stating that, “In 200 years–if human civilization survives that long–people will look back in befuddlement on how this conflict involving a handful of people in a veritable pinprick on the map went on for so long.”

He’s right.  What a stupid conflict–yet its effects reverberate across the globe.

“It can be solved, easily,” he continued, “by presenting a reasonable and just solution that the public can get behind.”

Thanks, Captain Obvious–nothing gets past you, does it?

Due to changes in four areas, Finkelstein believes, that solution may be imminent:  1) Changes in the region (i.e. Turkey’s shift from unequivocal support of Israeli policy to a more nuanced approach, as well as the Arab Spring which has brought regime change to another of Israel’s neighbors and most fervent allies, Egypt); 2) changes in world opinion, such as the recent vote at the United Nations expressing support for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations; 3) shifts in US public opinion, despite the news media’s clear uncritical support for Israeli policy and clear bias against Palestinian viewpoints; and 4) shifts even in the Jewish subset of US public.

This last observation was probably the most interesting rhetorical strategy employed by Finkelstein.  By presenting as a given that American Jews–being among the most “liberal and idealistic”–no longer want to defend Israel’s most aggressive actions, he completely deflates his critics.

“You’re young, you’re idealistic, you’re Jewish…you don’t want to defend that.”

While allies such as Turkey and Egypt and American Jews may not attack or criticize Israel for aggressive actions such as the 2024 assault on Gaza dubbed “Operation Cast Lead,” they are increasingly falling silent.  In the absence of their vocal support, Israeli aggression will begin to look more like what it is–something comparable to the current political repression in Syria.

So what is the solution?  Though prominent Israeli politician and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni says, “I am a lawyer but I do not support the law,” international law is clear.  On the issues of borders, East Jerusalem, and the illegality of Jewish settlements beyond the 1967 borders, the International Court of Justice’s 15 judges are unanimous–Israel in violation of international law.  Though the ICOJ has not ruled on the remaining “Final Status” issue–that of 1947 refugees’ “Right to Return”–Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are unequivocal:  refugees have a right to return or to just compensation for lost property.

The question of refugees’ “Right to Return” came up again during the Q&A session, and Finkelstein dealt with it deftly.  He said he believes that we do not yet have the formula for that solution–that will emerge from negotiations–but there are two necessary preconditions before even entering negotiations.  First, Israel must recognize the terrorist atrocities–dubbed the Nakba by Palestinians–committed to expel the native Arab population in 1947, and after recognizing and admitting that the Nakba did indeed occur, Israel must apologize for official and unofficial terrorism committed in its name.  Only then can both sides meet as equals to conduct negotiations addressing repatriation or reparations.

So, Finkelstein says, the solution is simple–we must enforce international law, which seems both reasonable and just–something the public can get behind, but that’s easier said than done.  When presented with this JUST and REASONABLE solution, amended to include a land-swap that would allow 62% of the Jewish settlers to remain where they are (100% are illegal according to international law), Livni said, “It makes sense, but no Israeli prime minister can support this and survive, politically.”

Quoting Gandhi, he says that the problem is not the public’s ignorance–the majority of people in Israel, Palestine, the US, and even the US Jewish population agree with the findings under international law.  The challenge is not to change people’s minds, but to move people to ACT on what they KNOW is correct.  So it’s up to us, Finkelstein says, to apply the pressure that forces the Israeli leadership’s hand to enforce what we all agree is right.  How we should apply that pressure, he never really said.  (He is not a supporter of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions campaign.)

Of course,  Gandhi had his own “problematic” attitudes toward Christian, Muslim, and Sikh minorities in India, not to mention blacks in South Africa, but that’s a different story…or is it?


  • James Akhiezer says:

    hate make people blind and it is true in your case. Israel violate prohibitions contained in international law and should be shamed of it. The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

  • jadams says:

    Israel is the target of at least 65 UN Resolutions and the Palestinians are the target of none.

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