Thursday, April 25, 2013

Norman Finkelstein at Cerritos College

Gary Fouse

Refers to Obama as a "Murderer"

On April 23, I attended an event at Cerritos College in Norwalk, California in which ex-professor Norman Finkelstein was interviewed by Cerritos professor John Haas of the Global Consortium for a Sustainable Peace, which acted as host. The event was also sponsored by LA Jews for Peace and the Levantine Center of Los Angeles, both pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel organizations.

The event began about 20 minutes late as Dr Haas explained he had picked Finkelstein up at the train station, that he was wearing shorts, and he was changing clothes. Once Finkelstein had changed (into jeans), he entered the room and the event began with both gentlemen sitting at a table on the stage. I would guess the crowd was 150-200, though many left for class before the event ended.

I am posting the complete video, which I took. Finkelstein, as is his wont, talked of many things and rambled on in answer to Dr Haas questions. He talked of his parents, what they had taught him as Holocaust survivors, and his commitment to justice over his life. Not surprisingly, the event ran over the allotted time. To me, the most notable things he said were that President Obama was a "cynical narcissist" over his public statements of support for Israel and was a "murderer" over his use of drones to kill terrorists. He repeated the word, "murderer" a couple of times for emphasis and refused to back down from it during the Q and A when an African-American audience member asked him on what basis he called the president those names.

His main thesis was that increasing numbers of American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel because of that nation's practices. He quoted the Jewish membership in the International Solidarity Movement, Jewish Voice for Peace, and many Jewish youths who went to the West Bank to work with Palestinians. He gave as reasons the fact that Jews are overwhelmingly liberal and have heavily supported Obama in both elections.

During the Q and A (after the 4-minute mark in video two), I asked him about his appearance at UC Irvine on January 31, 2009 at an event called "Whither the Levant", in which he was part of a panel diuscussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the wake of the Gaza fighting. At that time, I had sent up a written question to the panel, which was given to him to answer. The question was this (I am paraphrasing):

"During recent protests against Israel in places like Ft Lauderdale, LA, San Francisco and Toronto, some people were shouting things, like 'Jews go back to the ovens', 'Long Live Hitler', 'Go Nazi Germany', etc." Do you condemn those statements and don't you think they discredit your cause?"

I continued.

"In your response, you said that it wasn't your cause, you didn't know about these incidents, you thought they were greatly exaggerated or manufactured by Zionists masquerading as Arabs. Yet these videos are all over YouTube, and I assume you have had time to check them out in the last 4 years. Do you stand by your statement then or would you like to revise that statement? "

To this, Finkelsein said that he still had not seen those videos,  heard those things, nor had he ever heard things said like that at protests that he had attended or participated in. He then objected to my use of the word "fighting" to refer to the Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza during that time frame. He stated that it was not fighting, but a massacre and compared it to a boy setting ants on fire by placing a magnifying glass over them in the sun (supposedly quoting an Israeli soldier). He quoted the 4,000+ number of Palestinians who were killed as compared to 13 Israelis.

This was the same question I posed to George Galloway at UC Irvine in 2009.

As for the rest, I will let the reader watch the  video of Finkelstein's talk (if you are a glutton for punishment).

After the talk, a student reporter for the campus paper asked to interview me, and I gave him my (negative) assessment of Finkelstein and the forces that he has aligned himself with. While I was being interviewed, a man who identified himself as a professor at California State University at Los Angeles and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace ( I am omitting his name.) came up and took exception to my use of the phrases, "Pro-Palestinian" and "anti-Israel', which he called "intellectual skulduggery". After that auspicious start, things got a little more spirited when I told him what I thought of Jewish Voice for Peace, their disruption of Bibi Netanyahu's speech in New Orleans a couple of years back, as well as the offensive statements about free speech made by two of their representatives, Rachel Roberts and Matan Cohen at UC Irvine.

I have one comment I want to make about Finkelstein's remarks. I found his comments about President Obama to be unprofessional and offensive. God knows I am no admirer of President Obama. I believe he is cynical and narcissistic and have said so on this site. I do not think that he is a murderer, however, because of his use of drone attacks even if, as Finkelstein pointed out, he has chosen targets personally. I think for someone who calls himself a professor to make these statements about the President in front of a college audience is irresponsible. As a teacher,  I wouldn't even call Obama cynical and narcissistic in front of that particular venue. But that is Finkelstein's style. I hope it left the appropriate impression on the student audience.

Of course, not mentioned during the day was the fact that "Professor" Finkelstein has no university employment having been canned by DePaul University. Thus, he is as the UC Irvine Muslim Student Union advertises him, an "independent scholar with a PhD from Princeton".

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