Letter Published in the Yale Daily News
I won't much answer the specific charges the three "Friends of Israel" made against Professor Norman Finkelstein. I'm sure the YDN will give him that opportunity in a letter or interview since it didn't cover his talk. I want to address comments made about the organization I chair towards which they were so derisive. First, for some reasons the young scholars couldn't figure out the name of our organization, the Middle East Crisis Committee, even though it was mentioned prominently on all the event literature. MECC was founded in 1982 in New Haven. TheStruggle.org is merely the website we created a few years ago.
MECC is a human rights organization first formed to protest a bloody Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In its 23 year history MECC has protested abuses as varied as the Syrian-Lebanese 1986 war against Palestinian refugees, US support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, the genocidal sanctions against the Iraq, terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, and the current invasion and occupation of Iraq. In 2004 we received an award from the American Friends Service Committee which itself is a former Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
It is true that we are sharply critical of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians, but this is hardly an extremist position. As Finkelstein noted in his talk Israeli practices are routinely condemned by the UN General Assembly in overwhelming votes, including virtually all European countries. In its blind support for a government that is taking more and more Palestinian land and walling in Palestinians into every more divided communities, that defies a score of U.N. Security Council resolutions and that bars Palestinian citizens of Israel from land ownership on 90% of Israeli land, it is the Yale Friends of Israel and not MECC that is staking out an extremist position.
The three Friends criticizeed MECC for saying that the Iraq war was motivated by "anti-Arab racism" and "Israel's desire to dominate its Arab neighbors". This is a distortion. In our leaflet "Israel and War", available online, we said that there were several key causes for the war, principally greed for oil and US dependence on weapons sales. We also listed "anti-Arab racism". We stand by it. In the media and in films there are constant slurs of Arabs that are not tolerated for any other ethnic group. That racism certainly has a role in provoking attacks on Arab countries. We also made the point that the Israeli government wanted the governments of Iraq and Iran overthrown and that pressure from Israel's many U.S. enthusiasts (Christian as well as Jewish) was another important reason for the invasion. If one reads the Israeli press and the sites and publications of the various US groups like the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs it is scarcely news that the Israeli government strongly pressed for the invasion.
Professor Finkelstein was completely respectful of his audience, never shouted at anyone and answered every question put to him. He did say that the "question" asking him how it felt to be considered a Jewish neo-Nazi was "stupid", as indeed it was. Finkelstein is a brilliant scholar and a representative of a growing segment of American Jews who detest the chauvanists and militarists who at this moment predominate in Israel. Yale students were lucky to have a chance to hear him.