Cheers and ovations greet Finkelstein at Bassily Hall lecture

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
Norman Finkeslstein

Finkelstein called the blockade of Gaza a "flagrant violation of international law"

Norman Finkelstein, acclaimed American political science professor and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, described his excitement - and hope - as Egyptians took to the street earlier this year.

“We kept asking ourselves ‘will they come again [to Tahrir]. Will they come again?’ or would they weary and accept the crumbs from the masters’ table,” Finkelstein said during the Al Quds Club organized lecture at Bassily Hall last week.

“It was a really exhilarating moment when in fact the Egyptian people refused the crumbs and demanded a whole loaf of bread,” he said.

Finkelstein marked the 63rd anniversary of the establishment of Israel, observed annually by Palestinans and Arabs as the Nakba, by going into extensive detail about the 2009 attacks on Gaza.

He described what happened in Gaza as an incorrectly called a “war,” whereas it should in fact be referred to as a “massacre.”

Finkelstein accused Israel of deliberately killing Gazans to cement their control over the occupied territory, and in order to instill fear in the region after their defeat by Hezbollah.

“As Israel targeted schools, mosques, hospitals, ambulances, UN sanctuaries ... and slaughtered and incinerated Gaza’s defenseless civilian population, Israeli commentators gloated that Gaza was to Lebanon as a second sitting for an exam is to the fi rst: a second chance to get it right,” he said.

“Anyone who tells you it was a war is a mouthpiece for Israeli propaganda,” he added, “for every 100 Palestinian combatants who died, one Israeli combatant died. For every 400 Palestinian civilians who died, one Israeli citizen died. 1400 Palestinians were killed. Of those, 350 were children.”

Finkelstein’s position on Israel and the harsh criticism he had of Tel Aviv’s policies in the Middle East earned him cheering and ovations at Bassily Hall.

Known for his bold analysis of Israeli policies from their roots in the late 19th century, Finkelstein has been the target of much vitriol from right-wing professors and pro-Israeli media for years, with some going so far as to describe him as an ‘obsessive anti-Zionist’ due to his consisent defence of Palestinan rights.

In his lecture, Finkelstein also criticized the death of nine people on a humanitarian fl otilla bound for Gaza in May 2010.

“The people of Gaza don’t have an economy because of the blockade, which is a fl agrant violation of international law, they are being deprived of the basic food staples and rebuilding materials,” he said.

Inspired by and drawing on his parents’ experience in the Holocaust and analysing every aspect of the crisis, Finkelstein’s five books, including the upcoming A Farewell to Israel: The coming break-up of American Zionism, have made him a favorite among those calling for an end to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and building of settlements.

He has focused his career on teaching political theory and most signifi cantly the Israel-Palestine crisis, for which he has earned critical acclaim, particularly among Palestinians and Arabs.

Ola Hesham, an economics and political science junior at Cairo University said, “It made me really angry to listen to what Israel did. I know that they are accused of war crimes, but this was the fi rst time I heard the reasons and evidence laid out simply.”

Finkelstein has been the topic of the media several times for his anti-Israel views. While he was received by loud and warm applause by the majority of the crowd, some found his lecture to be a little biased.

“I thought he had some good points but it was mostly propaganda,” said Ramy Hussein, a business freshman.

Born on December 8, 1953, Finkelstein grew up in New York and graduated from Binghamton University. He received his doctorate from the Department of Politics at Princeton University on the theory of Zionism in 1988.

After the Lebanon War of 2006 and his courageous challenge of the Israeli deterence capacity, Finkelstein was held in an Israeli airport cell and was interrogated about contacts with Hezbollah.

He was told that he would not be allowed into the country on ‘security’ grounds, effectively banning him for 10 years from entry into Israel.

In his book “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History,” he documents in detail the human rights violations of the state of Israel.

Consequently, Finkelstein was denied tenure at Chicago’s DePaul University where he had been lecturing for six years, despite support from his department, his students, and the faculty of the university, following pressure from opponents of his views.

“I was actually stunned by the amount of people who came, they fi lled up the hall and even people sat up in the balcony. I guess he has a huge effect on people in AUC and he’s actually famous,” said Dina El-Hifnawi, a senior Mass Communication student.

To read Q&A with Professor Finkelstein, click here.