On January 25, 2011, anti-Israel activist Norman Finkelstein spoke in the student union at the University of Pennsylvania. The lecture—sponsored by the Penn Arab Student Society, Penn Race Dialogue Project, and Temple Students for Justice in Palestine—brought the former academic to campus despite DePaul University’s 2007 decision to deny Finkelstein tenure because of his “inflammatory style and personal attacks” on his peers.
The event, which lasted over two hours, attracted an audience of about 200, composed both of members of the local community and Penn students, including a substantial contingent of Penn Israel Coalition members.
The lecture focused on three subjects: the 2006 Lebanon War, the 2008-2009 Gaza War, and the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident. The common thread tying these three events together, Finkelstein asserted, was the Israeli desire to “reestablish its deterrence capacity,” in the aftermath of its unilateral withdrawal, or, as he termed it, “military defeat,” from Southern Lebanon in May 2000. He claimed, without citing any sources or quoting any military officials, that the “Israelis were very upset by this “defeat” and were “determined to undo [it].”
In the first of many conspiratorial allegations against Israel, he declared that:
By 2001, the Israelis began preparing for the next round with the Hezbollah. They patiently waited for a pretext, an excuse, and they found it in the summer of 2006. And in July, Israel launched another assault on Lebanon.
Even if the Israeli military began creating plans in 2001 for a potential conflict with Hezbollah, it would not have indicated a desire for future aggression; indeed, militaries around the world maintain and regularly update battle plans in order to prepare themselves for hypothetical future adversaries. Furthermore, Finkelstein made only oblique reference to the event which touched off the Lebanon War of 2006: a cross-border raid by Hezbollah that left three Israeli soldiers dead, two injured, and two kidnapped.
Finkelstein made the unsubstantiated claim that, as a result of the mixed outcome of the 2006 Lebanon War, “Israel was determined to restore its deterrence capacity” in the region and “turned to Gaza,” which, in typical inflammatory fashion, he called “its favorite shooting gallery.”
In describing a November 4, 2008, Israeli attack on a weapon smuggling tunnel 250 meters into Gazan territory, Finkelsteinmade the absurd charge that Israel,
Waited patiently until election-day in the United States, November 4, when [it] knew the attention of the media and public would be riveted to the results of the historic presidential election.
In his analysis of the 2008-2009 Gaza War, Finkelstein alleged yet another Israeli conspiracy: a plan to invade Gaza “as early as March 2007” with only the lack of a “pretext” or “excuse” holding back a full-scale Israeli “assault.” As he had for Hezbollah, Finkelstein painted the recognized terrorist group Hamas as the victim of an inevitable war born of untamable Israeli aggression. He described Hamas’s firing of 8,700 rockets—aimed indiscriminately at Israeli civilians—between 2001 and 2009 as “mostly symbolic” acts of resistance.
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