May 27, 2008

Finkelstein round up

I described Finkelstein's ban from Israel as a "turn up", that is, a surprise. What has happened is that Shin Bet banned him, they claim, as a "security risk". They claim that the threat to Israel's security is on the grounds of meetings he has had with Hizbullah, and he claims that they accused him of meeting with al Qaida. It has been pointed out in various quarters that regardless of the rights or wrongs of Finkelstein's ban, the reason Israel has given is a lie. He is not a security risk. Israel could have banned him for consorting with an enemy or they could have withheld the reason behind the ban. They chose to lie.

Perhaps not so surprising to most people is the way the so-called non-zionists of Engage and other Eustonistas have swung into action to smear Finkelstein and the pack has even widened the hunt to include a Guardian reporter on the saga. Actually I was surprised to see Engage supporting the ban on Finkelstein and the clearly dishonest reason given by the State of Israel for doing so.

At Engage Mira Vogel seeks to justify Israel's ban and its explanation by reference to Finkelstein's
explicit and repeatedly expressed hope that Hesbollah will attack Israel in earnest
As I have already said, and Seth in the comments tried to say, the link to a MEMRI film of an interview with Finkelstein is bogus. The dishonest implication being that the film has Finkelstein, actually expressing the aforementioned "hope" when it does no such thing . They also rejected a comment by Ben White, simply linking to and quoting from the Magnes Zionist site. But suppose Finkelstein had expressed the "hope" that Hizbullah would attack Israel, so what? How does that constitute a "security risk"?

What I find not surprising but puzzling is that Engage is lying to support the ban. Now you might think that they could simply say that they understand the ban on one who, like Finkelstein, has consorted with the enemy but they could then, as academics (ie seekers after truth), condemn the dishonest reason given. It would be a bit inconsistent with their opposition to the academic boycott but it would at least be honest hypocrisy.

Mira Vogel doesn't like the fact that the Guardian says that Finkelstein has been banned for "mere criticism" of Israel and it likens the treatment of Finkelstein to that of Pappe. She doesn't openly accuse the writer of dishonesty but she does refer to a conversation between two zionists, Nadine Gordimer and Amoz Oz, to demonstrate how tolerant of "mere" criticism Israel is. I should point out though, that the Guardian didn't describe Finkelstein as a mere critic, but a fierce critic. I don't think Gordimer or Oz could be described as "fierce" critics of Israel.

But Engage's dishonesty and its commitment to Israel isn't my only point here. It's the fact that the attacks on Finkelstein have an air of co-ordination to them. Not in a methodical sense obviously, but it seems to me that these people all know roughly what to say to smear a critic of Israel without reserving any criticism for Israel. I think this issue may have caught them on the hop and they just made themselves look silly (and dishonest) in their rush to attack Finkelstein and defend Israel. If they had been a little less hasty they could have avoided the tosh about the "hope" business, supported the ban, but opposed the lie.

Vogel's finishing touch to the piece was to link to Harry's Place and to a blog I'd never heard of before called Martin in the margins.

So here we have David t (for Toube) of Harry's Place. He claims that Finkelstein, who has visited Palestine many times before, deliberately courted arrest, deportation and ban in spite of the fact that none of these things have happened to him before. This was so stupid I think he must have made it up just to stand out from the crowd himself. But the smear merchant goes one further by accusing the Guardian's reporter, Toni O'Laughlin, of dishonesty or of an error calling for correction. Here's Toube:
If the Guardian was genuinely not aware that Finkelstein had in fact met and then written about his meeting with Hezbollah, and that he had in fact been banned merely for “criticising Israel”, then it looks as if they’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes. If they did know that Finkelstein had met with a top Hezbollah commander, then they’ve pulled the wool over the eyes of their readership.
Here's the Guardian:
Shin Bet interrogated him for around 24 hours about his contact with the Lebanese Islamic militia, Hizbullah, when he travelled to Lebanon earlier this year and expressed solidarity with the group which waged war against Israel in 2006. He was also accused of having contact with al-Qaida. But Finkelstein rejected the accusations, saying he had travelled to Israel to visit an old friend.
And here's Toube again:
Also, see Engage and Martin in the Margins, who thinks that the Guardian’s reporting was “disingenuous, not to say deliberately mischievous”.

The Guardian has a Readers’ Editor to correct such errors. Unfortunately, if the Guardian did make it clear that they’d misreported this affair, it would only prove to some the supernatural powers of the Jewish Lobby.

No Mr Toube, it would show that in spite of reporting in similar vein to Ha'aretz, the Jerusalem Post and Ynet, the Guardian has buckled to the this-worldly efforts of liars like David t. In this instance the Guardian has simply told it how it is and thrown in a legitimate suspicion that they may well have got from the Jerusalem Post:
Officials said that the decision to deport Finkelstein was connected to his anti-Zionist opinions and fierce public criticism of Israel around the world.
Finally, for the hasbara blogs Martin in the margins. He claims that
All the reports I've read agree that Finkelstein was denied entry because of his well-publicised contacts with Hezbollah, a terrorist organisation that recently launched an aggressive war against Israel.

So the article's headline - 'US academic deported and banned for criticising Israel'- whether written by reporter Toni O'Loughlin or added by a sub-editor - was a blatant lie.
Now this is curious because all the reports I linked to mention the fact that whilst Israel claims that he is being banned as a security risk because of his meeting with Hizbullah people they also mention the fact that the fierce criticism of Israel was what may well have done for him and the Jerusalem Post comes straight out with it. Martin doesn't link to any of the reports he claims to have read except the Guardian which he accuses of a "blatant lie" for using a headline that tallies with the quote the Jerusalem Post attributed to Israeli officialdom. Anyway, I left a comment that led to this update on Martin's blog

Update

There are now links to this post over at Engage and at Harry's Place. I'd refer Levi9909 aka Mark Elf from Jews san Frontieres, who has left a comment below, to David T's post [uh-oh!!] at the latter. I won't get into a debate with Mark about the pros and cons of the Finkelstein ban - as I said above, I instinctively recoil from all such restrictions on freedom of speech and movement. But I stand by what I said about the dishonesty and misinformation of the Guardian report. They may have taken the bare facts of the case from the Israeli media, but the headline was just plain wrong, and the parallel with the completely different case of Ilan Pappe was misleading. Final point: critics of the admittedly questionable Israeli action should be wary of making a human rights cause celebre out of Norman Finkelstein, whose comments praising sectarian Islamist militia Hezbollah were a disgrace.
Leaving aside my difficulty with taking a referral to Harry's Place as a serious response to a comment, the Guardian headline was not plain wrong. Actually, it may be wrong, but one can only honestly describe it confidently, if one is confident, as possibly wrong, without knowing what was going on in the minds of those who banned him. Equally, the headline is possibly right. It is certainly not fair, reasonable or even honest to call it a lie. It is a suspicion held by many and one given credence by the quote above from the Jerusalem Post, which of course went further than the Guardian by attributing the banned-for-criticism quote to Israeli officialdom itself. It's also highly suspect for someone to say that Norman Finkelstein has praised "sectarian Islamist militia Hezbollah" when Finkelstein is on record saying that he knows nothing of their politics but that he respects their courage, their discipline and their resistance. This is a similar abuse of Finkelstein's own words to that of Mira Vogel at Engage.

Anyway, so much for three hasbara brigadiers:

Here's are the Israeli headlines that I have seen:

Jerusalem Post: American Israel critic denied entry to country

Ha'aretz: Israel denies entry to high-profile critic Norman Finkelstein

Ynet: Norman Finkelstein deported from Israel

I suppose that last is the only one that the hasbara brigade would approve of but there is one more little gem and that is today's Ha'aretz editorial which you might think would put even the shameless to shame. Headed Who's afraid of Finkelstein? it repeats the suspicion that David Toube at Harry's Place says is either a lie or mistake calling for an editorial correction, Engage only hints is dishonest and Martin in the margins calls "a blatant lie"
Considering his unusual and extremely critical views, one cannot avoid the suspicion that refusing to allow him to enter Israel was a punishment rather than a precaution.
All of which brings me back to Howard Jacobson's absurd claim that zionists do not "hunt in packs". Ah, I see, three's a crowd, not a pack. Well done Howard, you were right.

I'm sure there are more posts and articles on this by now but one I have just seen is on Comment is free by Richard Silverstein. Comments are closed for the night and whilst Engage has been banning any comment questioning Mira Vogel on her post, they have one (among seven) calling on those who don't have GIYUS software to go to Cif tomorrow to highlight Finkelstein's exhortation to Hizbullah to defeat Israel! But even if he did do that, what was the security risk?

Tony Greenstein now has a post on his blog about this
. He focuses mostly on Engage's sheer hypocrisy in supporting the ban.

UPDATE: I deleted a short paragraph from this where I claimed that none of the hasbara brigade had linked to any Israeli media. Actually HP and Engage both linked to Ha'aretz which makes it all the more puzzling that they can discount the idea that Finkelstein couldn't possibly have been banned for being a critic.

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