Tonight I saw Norman Finkelstein give a lecture at York University to myself and 499 others in a sold out crowd. I expected the atmosphere to be tense. To be honest, I expected a protest outside, many police and security guards, and for the lecture to be interrupted numerous times by angry Israel supporters (this would only be par for the course for such events at York University). However, while there was a significant police presence, the atmosphere was much milder than I expected, and there was no protest or angry interruptions of the talk.
The talk itself consisted 95% of things he’s already said many times – so anyone familiar with watching videos on the internet can easily access the material, and thus I have little reason to give a comprehensive summery. Perhaps it can be summed up with a point he made during the question period: that according to Defending the Holy Land by Israeli historian Zeev Maov, every war Israel has engaged in, with the possible exception of 1948, has been a war of choice. According to Finkelstein the Israeli foreign policy doctrine is: “the arabs only understand force”, and Israel (and since the 70s its partner the United States) has done everything in its power to keep its neighbors weak, stupid and corrupt. What it fears most of all is the spectre of Arab leaders who instill in their populations self respect, because this would restrict Israel’s constant ability to resort to the war option.
According to Finkelstein, the actual reason why Israel is afraid of a revolution in Egypt has nothing to do with the possibility of Egypt attacking Israel, but rather the fact that the revolt is likely to produce a leader who is sensitive to the arab street – whether by will, or by sheer fear of the street. The Arab street is problematic for Israel because it rejects the quarantine of Gaza, and does not wish Egyptian complicity with an Israeli military strike on Iran.
The talk ended on a positive note: Finkelstein’s final point was something like: the Egyptian revolt is a sign that the Arab people are not dead souls, that they do have the capacity to rise up and demand their dignity. If they do this, at some point Israel will have no other option than to give into the Peace offensive and withdraw from the territories. Perhaps I’m not conveying the point exactly as he made it – but perhaps what was more important was the rush of emotion that came over himself, and over the room, when he started to talk about the amount of his life he’s put into this conflict, and the possibility he now sees for it to be resolved. He said defiantly that, to quote Palestinian professor Edward Said, “there is room for all at the rendezvous of victory, so long as you are willing to be reasonable”. “is it reasonable”, he said, “that the children of Gaza go hungry at night”? Israel’s position is there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza because the people are hungry, but not starving (the human rights organizations disagree). But even if you are a Zionist, and you believe everything Israel’s PR office tells you – is it actually reasonable that the children of Gaza go hungry to bed, tonight?