Staying the course of an apologist, Finkelstein pronounced that:
It’s easy enough to condemn the Hamas rocket and mortar attacks on Israel . . . but it seems to me if you want to condemn them, you still have an obligation to show what other options they had; if you don’t show what other options they had, you’re, in effect, saying that the people of Gaza had a legal and moral responsibility, an obligation, to lie still and die.
Finkelstein’s double standard is glaring. Israeli counterstrikes to stop rocket attacks into its territory are acts of self-defense, not of aggression. Moreover, the Israeli military takes great pains to avoid civilian casualties in its strikes, even to the point of avoiding some targets cynically placed in civilian areas by Hamas. Yet he was more than ready to accept casualties among Israelis on the receiving end of those rocket attacks.
When discussing the Gaza flotilla incident in May 2010, Finkelstein asserted that the Israeli navy had many options short of the one they chose–boarding the ship:
They could have disabled the propeller on the flagship boat the Mavi Marmara; they could have disabled the rudder, the engine, and towed the boat to Ashdod, the Israeli boat; they could have blocked the vessel.
Yet he brought up no potential options for Hamas to have avoided a blockade in the first place, such as halting rocket fire and abiding by the 2008 Egypt-brokered cease fire with Israel.
In describing the finding of the Turkel Commission—Israel’s government-commissioned committee that investigated the maritime incident—that certain “activists” on the ship prevented others from harming Israeli soldiers, Finkelstein remarked sarcastically:
That’s perfectly reasonable. You know, on the boat there were some grandmas, ‘Grannies for Peace’ with their Birkenstock sandals, and they prevented the heavy, muscular, crazed ‘Allah Akbar’ sounding Turks . . . from killing the Israeli soldiers. That’s perfectly reasonable.
During the question and answer session, an audience member pointed out the inconsistency between Israel’s effort to avoid civilian casualties in the 2008-2009 Gaza war by dropping leaflets and other means, and Finkelstein’s claim that Israel had the sole intention of harming civilians to restore its “deterrence capacity” in the Arab and Muslim world. Finkelstein retorted, “It’s true Israel dropped lots of leaflets saying flee for your life. Not only that . . . according to Israel, they made 250,000 phone calls” imploring civilians to flee from upcoming attacks. If such Israeli claims were true, he continued, “[they] called every single home in Gaza because there are only 250,000 households in Gaza and it told them all to flee . . . except flee where?”
The contention that Gazans could not avoid Israeli bombardment by fleeing from areas where leaflets had been dropped or phone calls made warning of imminent attack ignores the fact that not all bombardments occurred at exactly the same time; to the contrary, the Gaza War lasted 22 days. Finkelstein simply ignored the passage of time.
For all of his assertions of war machinations fueled by untamed Israeli aggression, Finkelstein provided very little in the way of factual evidence. His lecture—which rested upon fallacious logic, glaring omissions of fact, dishonest double standards, and fabricated conspiracy theories—epitomized the type of fraudulent agitprop that precludes serious, factual discussion of the issues.
Penn could help advance a productive dialogue on the Arab-Israeli conflict if it stopped hosting speakers recognized for producing scholarship that, as DePaul University accurately put it, is “provocative more for inflammatory effect than to carefully critique or challenge accepted assumptions.”
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