Norman Finkelstein spoke at a Students for Justice in Palestine event.
Tensions were high on April 7 as students gathered in the Walk Auditorium in Ritter Hall to hear world-renowned political scientist Dr. Norman Finkelstein provided insight on the Middle East struggle.
As police surrounded the premises due to the potential for violence, Finkelstein’s late arrival provoked an equal outburst of cheers and jeers from the audience.
“I would have been disappointed if there was not at least one boo,” Finkelstein said.
World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined still pale in comparison to the length of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1947, the United Nations partitioned Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. However, the Arabs rebelled against the Jews, and war has brewed ever since.
“Americans should care about the conflict because their tax money funds the Israeli military,” said La Salle graduate and Palestine supporter Lena Ibrahim. “Tax money is funding the murder of innocent children. Anyone who disagrees with Finkelstein is living in a fantasy where Israel is just,” Ibrahim said.
Criticizing the media for labeling 22 days of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip as the “Gaza War,” Finkelstein claims that Gaza’s governing political party, Hamas, was a defenseless victim of Israel’s merciless attack.
President Barack Obama was also condemned by many for saying Israel committed no war crimes, despite reports of dropping white phosphorus on hospitals.
“Every time the media says ‘Gaza War,’ they have, intentionally or not, become instruments of Israeli propaganda,” Finkelstein said.
Protesting at previous events sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, the Rosen Hillel Center for Jewish Life made its presence known by setting up a table outside the auditorium to give out flyers promoting Jewish students’ response.
“We want people to open their eyes and see what exactly is going on over there,” said Hillel director Phil Nordlinger. “We have a responsibility to present Israel in a positive light. Remember that there are always two sides to every story.”
Finkelstein proclaimed Israel’s mission was to restore fear in the Arab world.
Reading from a Wikileaks document, Finkelstein revealed that Israeli officials privately announced to an American representative that Israel planned to bring Gaza’s economy to the brink of collapse.
“There never has been, is not, and never will be a peace process,” Finkelstein said. “Rational people don’t judge by words, they judge by outcomes and results. Truthfully, it is an annexation process that uses peace as a facade.”
“We invited Dr. Finkelstein because we appreciate his original research and want people to learn from him,” said event organizer and Students for Justice in Palestine member Razi Fareed.
“I think that we are certainly aware of his right to appear here and the students’ right to bring him here, but Israel certainly has the right to remain a Jewish homeland,” Nordlinger said.
“Students need to do their own research on some of the facts that exist. This campus needs people who will speak to students about the conflict in hopes of achieving a peaceful resolution,” he added. “Temple doesn’t need anyone who will stir the pot.”
“Israel is filled with dread about the democratizing movement affecting Arab nations,” Finkelstein said. “Israel fears that Egypt might become a world power to be reckoned with. Losing the war option would result in Israel having to treat Arab nations as equals in negotiations.”
The Jewish fraternity at Temple, Alpha Epsilon Pi, was on hand to voice its disapproval of Finkelstein’s beliefs.
“I think that he definitely has his own views about what is going on, and that is good because the campus is diverse,” said fraternity brother and freshman theater major Troy Taroff.
“But I don’t agree with any of his issues,” he added. “He is a disgrace to our religion. His parents are Jews who endured the Holocaust, yet he disrespects our faith.”
“I have spent 30 years researching something that is a tiny print on the world’s map,” Finkelstein said. “However, I remain hopeful for peace, and I am staying alive for the resolution of this conflict.”
Responding to catcalls from pro-Israel supporters, Finkelstein offered his advice for reaching a resolution.
“Be principled and be reasonable,” Finkelstein said. “Being principled means upholding Palestinian rights under international law. Being reasonable does not have to verge on something terminable.”
Finkelstein concluded the evening by quoting the Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire: “There is room for everybody at the rendezvous of victory.”
John Corrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.