Referring to the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the “Gaza massacre,” Professor Norman Finkelstein delivered a lecture on Palestinian-Israeli relations to a standing room-only crowd in the Rackham Amphitheatre last night.
At the event, which was sponsored by the pro-Palestinian campus group, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, Finkelstein strayed from his planned lecture, “The Israel-Palestine Conflict: What We Can Learn From Gandhi,” opting instead to deliver a talk he titled “What happened in Gaza?”
Finkelstein justified his departure from the planned lecture by saying that the Gaza conflict is more relevant.
Finkelstein has been the subject of much debate over the past decade. In 2000 he published a book, “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering,” that has been widely discussed as it claims that the Jewish Americans have exploited the history of Holocaust. DePaul University also denied Finkelstein’s bid for tenure in 2007 citing his inability to show respect for his colleagues’ opinions, among other reasons.
The mood in the lecture hall grew increasingly tense during the question-and-answer session following Finkelstein’s lecture. The debate grew heated, with audience members arguing with one another and Finkelstein.
Finkelstein said the most recent conflict in Gaza was a continuation of Israeli military policy that has been in place since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. He added that the policy is centered on Israel’s ability to prevent Hamas, Hezbollah and its Arab neighbors from perpetrating attacks on Israel and its settlements.
“The Arabs and Arab states are supposed to be terrified by Israel,” Finkelstein said.
Arguing that the overwhelming majority of the world supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Finkelstein said that the United States is partly culpable for the continuation of diplomatic gridlock between the two sides.
“It’s clear that Israel can’t do anything without the United States — that’s transparent,” he said.
Finkelstein also compared the Palestinians in Gaza with prisoners in the Warsaw Ghetto of Nazi-occupied Poland, saying that both are “captive populations,” that have been “deprived of food, water, medicine and other necessities.”
In addition, Finkelstein argued that the two sides have yet to reach a peace agreement because the Israelis have a vested interest in keeping moderate Palestinians out of the government, and do not want to negotiate with the Palestinians.
“Israel had a problem with Hamas, it was getting too moderate,” he said, adding that it was a goal of Israel to “keep hounding Palestinians until moderate positions are untenable.”
Theorizing that the Israeli government is more opposed to a two-state solution than Palestinian leaders in Hamas, Finkelstein said that Israel hopes to subdue Hamas to the point where it no longer holds enough political clout to be a negotiating partner.
School of Education senior David Metler said the event would have been more interesting with a counterpoint to Finkelstein’s views on the region.
“It would have been nice to have an opposing view presented,” he said. “I liked how the heated debate during the Q&A presented some different opinions.”
Nick Stery, a graduate student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, said that he enjoyed the lecture but didn’t learn anything new from it.
“He needs to reach out to a broader audience with his information. The people who attended his speech tonight already know the truth and agree with him,” Stery said.