American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein
Directed by David Ridgen & Nicolas Rossier
Review by Antony Loewenstein
Jewish critics of Israel are as old as the ideology itself. Zionism was regarded by most Jews in Europe as an idealistic delusion before the Second World War, but the Holocaust literally changed everything.
Providing a safe haven for Jews after the cataclysm became an increasingly appealing option. Little thought was given to the indigenous inhabitants of the land, the Palestinians, and their ties to these ancient grounds.
American writer and academic Norman Finkelstein, whose parents survived the Holocaust, is a central, modern critic of the Jewish state — loathed by the Zionist establishment for his scathing condemnation of Israel’s human rights record in the occupied territories.
American Radical documents the source of his passion and anger. Directed by David Ridgen and Nicolas Rossier, it interviews Finkelstein’s friends and foes, painting a character whose determination was forged in the shadow of Israel’s brutal war against Lebanon in 1982.
Finkelstein saw clear parallels with Nazi behaviour; the indiscriminate killing of Arab civilians reminded him of past horrors against his own people.
The allure of Finkelstein’s message isn’t hard to understand. He demands that the same standards should apply to Israel as any other democracy, especially one receiving more than $US3 billion of American aid annually.
All his books, including the latest on the Gaza conflict, This Time We Went Too Far, meticulously highlight the work of respected groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and reveal to a wider public how comprehensive the record against Israeli crimes has become.
“It is not so much that Israel’s behaviour is worse than it was before”, he writes in his new book, “but rather that the record of that behaviour has, finally, caught up with it.”
American Radical portrays a ferocious and hysterical campaign to silence the university professor; the Zionist lobby and its friends in the media almost colluded to bring him down.
Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, arguably America’s most prominent Zionist, wages a personal campaign against Finkelstein, lobbying De Paul University to deny him tenure.
The film shows Dershowitz on a personal crusade to crush Finkelstein’s professional life.
Dershowitz in recent months has taken to defaming South African Zionist judge Richard Goldstone after his devastating enquiry into Israeli and Hamas crimes during the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza conflict. Dershowitz has accused rabbis who backed the report as “rabbis for Hamas”.
He is the Zionist enforcer, part of an older generation who see support for Israel crumbling across the world, not least among liberal, American Jewry. The leading supporters of Israel in years to come will be Orthodox Jews and Christian Zionists. Such an outcome bodes ominously for the prospects of peace in the Middle East.
Finkelstein’s position on the conflict is surprisingly conventional, considering the fury directed towards him. He backs a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, and like his mentor Noam Chomsky, rejects the viability of a one-state equation.
After Chomsky’s recent rejection by Israel as he tried to enter the West Bank to lecture at Birzeit University in Ramallah, Finkelstein, who was barred entry into Israel in 2008 for 10 years, told Israeli paper Yediot that the Jewish state had “lost its grip on reality”.
Nowhere has Finkelstein ever called for the end of the Zionist entity.
American Radical is having two exclusive, Australian screenings. The Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (CJPP) and Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) have organised an event in Sydney on June 8 at 6.30pm at The Auditorium, 37 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills.
After the film there will be a discussion between journalist and academic Peter Manning, IAJV co-founder Peter Slezak and myself. Entry donations (minimum $10) will go towards CJPP’s advocacy work and Union Aid Abroad’s programs in Palestine.
The Melbourne screening on June 11 is presented by Australians for Palestine and Students for Palestine. It will be held at 6:30pm at the State Library Conference Centre, Entry 3, La Trobe Street in the city. Entry is by donation (minimum $5). After the film, academic Jeremy Salt, Palestinian writer Samah Sabawi, Peter Slezak and myself will discuss the issues raised by the film.
[Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney independent journalist, author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution and co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices.]