Over the weekend, I reported for The Jewish Daily Forward on a forum at New York’s New School in which the iconoclastic anti-Israel writer Norman Finkelstein was the relative moderate. I’m certainly not against the former professor and prolific author speaking at such venues, but I discovered in my reporting that the New School gave Finkelstein’s publisher the lead in organizing this event, including in the creation of a panel that was totally one-sided in its composition and scheduled from 4 to 6 PM last Saturday, still during the Sabbath. In other words, a public forum at a major university was designed as a promotion by an outside company for one of its (non-university) authors.
As I reported in my piece, I was referred by a New School press officer to address my questions to the publicity manager for Finkelstein’s publisher. The spokesperson for OR Books told me that they scheduled the event to accommodate Noam Chomsky, who wanted to participate to help “his longtime friend,” Finkelstein; so a program entitled “The Jewish-American Relationship with Israel at the Crossroads” effectively excluded religious Jews and the panel showcased only strikingly anti-Israel views.
I would not have wanted a tedious slugfest between anti-Israel activists and Israel-right-or-wrong apologists. But this was a program that allowed no room even for liberal critics of Israel who are not explicitly anti-Israel, such as CUNY’s Peter Beinart or The Forward’s JJ Goldberg and, in being scheduled during the Sabbath, ensured that they wouldn’t attend anyway.
I noted in my article that Finkelstein proved himself to be relatively moderate compared to Anna Baltzer, showing how far out this other speaker is (notwithstanding her charm). For example, she condemns J Street as “racist” for advocating a Palestinian state alongside Israel out of Jewish self-interest, rather than primarily regarding the interests of Palestinians. She channels the logic of the most extreme elements on the left (going back to the days of the Weather underground) that insists on slavishly identifying with “the oppressed” (generally from the Third World or “people of color”) and the duty of “white” or in this case Jewish “progressives” to accept, without question, the leadership of these oppressed groups. So, in the world according to Baltzer, whether there should be one state or two is basically for the Palestinians — the people “in struggle” — to decide.
Finkelstein is still stridently one-sided in his view of Israel and the conflict. For example, he denounces J Street because it has occasionally praised Tzipi Livni when she was the leader of Kadima; he wrongly jumps to the conclusion that J Street’s kudos for Livni meant total support of her party (mostly a concoction of the center-right), rather than because she headed the largest opposition party in the Knesset, which is more supportive of a negotiated two-state solution than Netanyahu. But to his credit, he attempts to accommodate the real world by arguing in favor of a two-state solution, with Israel continuing to exist alongside an independent Palestine, within its pre-1967 borders and with such minor adjustments as the parties determine in the course of negotiations.