An Interview with Dr. Norman Finkelstein

Alex Kane Feb 12, 2010

Norman Finkelstein gives a talk at Suffolk University in 2005.  PHOTO:

These days, Dr. Norman Finkelstein is a busy man.  The outspoken scholar on Israel/Palestine has a new book about the Israeli assault on Gaza that is scheduled to come out in March.  Finkelstein is the author of five books, with his latest being the sixth.

And tonight, a new documentary movie about him titled American Radical:  The Trials of Norman Finkelstein was premiered in New York at the Anthology Film Archives at 32 2nd Ave. in Manhattan.

Finkelstein will be there for question and answer sessions after the movie showings tonight, tomorrow night, and Saturday night, alongside filmmakers David Ridgen and Nicholas Rossier.  Here’s the trailer:

Recently, I got a chance to briefly interview Finkelstein.  We talked about his latest book, Israel’s war on Gaza, the blockade, and more.

Alex Kane:  What is the book you recently completed about?

Norman Finkelstein:  It’s called “’This Time We Went Too Far’,” which is a quote from the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy.  And the subtitle is “Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion.”

AK:  What are the consequences of the Gaza invasion that you talk about in your book?

NF:  The main consequences I focus on in the book are since the Gaza invasion climax, a shift has occurred in public opinion regarding Israel’s conduct and policies, and that there’s now a real opportunity, I think, to mobilize public opinion and try to affect a reasonable resolution to the conflict.  I think public opinion now is ready to be reached.  There’s a recognition that there’s something seriously awry in Israel.

AK:  It’s now a little over a year after the Israeli assault on Gaza.  What is your assessment of the situation in Gaza?

NF:  The situation is fairly clear.  There were about a dozen human rights organizations that issued a report weeks ago, in which they characterized the situation in Gaza as still dire, because compounding all the destruction that Israel wrought, there’s no possibility for Gaza to rebuild itself, because of the blockade Israel has imposed.  And so people continue to live without shelter, deprived of water, electricity, concrete, glass, schoolbooks, all the sorts of things that Israel’s blockade has prevented from entering Gaza.

AK:  In the coming months, especially with Egypt building that wall that’s mean to curb the smuggling tunnels, which is the economic lifeline for Gazans, what do you see happening in Gaza?

NF:  It’s a continuation of the massacre by other means.  They want to force Hamas into submission, or you could say they want to create enough discontent in Gaza so that either Hamas will be forced to resign, or Hamas will resort to more repression to maintain power, or the United States and Israel will attempt another coup, as they did in June 2007.

AK:  And do you think the attempt to weaken Hamas will work?

NF:  It has worked.  When I was in Gaza in June, and I spoke to officials, they acknowledged that if there were elections, they’d probably lose in Gaza.  Between the deprivations the people are suffering because of the blockade, which won’t be lifted unless Hamas succumbs, and the repression that’s ensued in large part because of the blockade, it’s just the nature of politics.  When situations get dire, the most repressive elements come to power, and that’s the same in Gaza, where there has been, there’s no point in denying it, systematic human rights violations, and there’s an large element of repression.  I don’t think there was anything inevitable about it.  There were possibilities right after the election that Hamas would have proved itself to be responsive.  But once you start turning the screws, it’s inevitable that turning the screws is going to cause more discontent, and as you cause more discontent, the most repressive or rigid elements in Hamas will gradually acquire power.

AK:  What’s the logic behind the continuation of the siege?

NF:  Well, you have to teach Third World people what democracy means.  That means you elect people who we like, or you pay a price.  And so the Gazans have to pay the price for having elected the ‘wrong people’ into power.  That’s a misuse of democracy.  So, they have to be taught a lesson.  Not different then Central America, where the Nicaraguan people had to be taught a lesson, in Haiti, all over, that’s how democracy works.  That’s what’s called democracy promotion.  Right now, the siege is “promoting democracy.”

AK:  There’s been some talk of another assault on Gaza, specifically from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who told Hamas to “rein in the militants or else.”  What are your thoughts on the possibility of that?

NF:  I don’t believe there will be another Israeli assault.  This is just Israel’s tactics because they want to get Gilad Shalit back.  But Israel is still having to deal with the fallout of the Goldstone report.  I don’t think they’re in a position now to engage in a full assault.

AK:  But that hasn’t stopped them from routinely bombing inside Gaza.

NF:  Yeah, because nobody cares.  If they were to wage another assault, there would be a reaction.

AK:  Speaking of the Goldstone report, while Israel is dealing with the diplomatic fallout, it seems that there’s not going to be accountability because of the U.S.

NF:  God helps those who help themselves.  We can’t count on anything from the United States.  We have to invest in our own power, and our own organization, and try to affect change.  Anybody who expected anything from Obama has shown themselves to be rather naïve.

AK:  Overall, what’s your assessment of the Obama administration’s approach to Israel and Palestine?

NF:  The same as everybody else, completely predictable.  Same as all the presidents that preceded him.  That was completely predictable.  It’s the same people—all of his foreign policy people were in the Clinton or Bush administrations.  Why would you expect any difference?  Obama’s a complete opportunist.

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