Norman Finkelstein interview

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Dec 13 13:01:36 MST 2001

Counterpunch, December 13, 2001

A Conversation with Professor Norman Finkelstein

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
By Don Atapattu

Q: It is generally considered that growing up Jewish and growing up Zionist
are mutually inextricable. What made you break this link?

A: First of all, I don't agree that Zionism and growing up in a Jewish
household are inextricably linked. It is fair to say that growing up Jewish
and having a consciousness about Israel are inextricably linked. As a Jew I
felt that I bore a certain amount of responsibility for the policies of
Israel because Israel claimed to speak in the name of the Jewish people,
and therefore they were using the history and suffering of the Jewish
people as a means to justify its policies. However, my family were not
Zionists, and therefore I see no special connection between the two.

Q: You stated in a BBC interview that your radical politics have exacted 'a
substantial personal cost' to yourself. Have you found yourself alienated
from mainstream Jewish life?

A: I wouldn't say that alienation has been the price because I have managed
to find a crowd of people who share my values in my life, which has been
quite satisfying to me. I'd say that without wanting to pose a martyr, that
I've paid a professional price for my views. Most recently I taught at
Hunter College, New York University, and every semester I was the highest
rated professor in my department on student evaluations, I had also
published in the last five years, four books and I would say that in every
reckoning I had proven myself to be worthy as a professor. Nonetheless, I
was always the lowest paid by far, I had the heaviest teaching load, and
this past May after 10 years faithful service at slave wages, I was let go
and forced--at the ripe old age of 49--to relocate to Chicago to find
temporary work.

Q: How have Jewish academics and Middle East specialists reacted to the
arguments that you have expanded upon in your books?

A: The reviews of my first book (Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine
Conflict), were given the content of the book remarkably favorable. I was
quite surprised by the positive reception of the first book. Generally
speaking, I don't have much contact with the mainstream. I don't publish in
mainstream journals, and have never been asked to publish in them. It is
also true that my name comes up quite a lot in articles in mainstream
publications; my writings on a variety of subjects are quite frequently cited.

Q: While researching your second book (The Rise and Fall of Palestine: The
Intifadah Years), you lived with Palestinian families in the Occupied
Territories. How do you regard this time in retrospect?

A: First of all, it's not looking back, I still go fairly frequently, I was
there in June and I stay in close touch with the families of whom I write
in the book. When I first went it was a moral test of the values that are
meaningful to me, and I wanted to see if I could bridge the chasm between a
Jew and a Palestinian based upon our common humanity and our shared
commitment to justice and decency. To that extent I would say that it was a
satisfying experience, because I think that we developed close and
meaningful relationships.


Louis Proyect
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