American Radical : The Trials Of Norman Finkelstein

Norman G. Finkelstein received his doctorate in 1988 from the Department of Politics at Princeton University. For many years he taught political theory and the Israel-Palestine conflict. He is currently an independent scholar. Finkelstein is the author of five books which have been translated into more than 40 foreign editions: Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history (University of California Press, 2005; expanded paperback edition, 2008) The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering (Verso, 2000; expanded paperback edition, 2003) Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (Verso, 1995; expanded paperback edition, 2003) A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen thesis and historical truth (with Ruth Bettina Birn) (Henry Holt, 1998) The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A personal account of the intifada years (University of Minnesota, 1996) He has just completed a new book entitled A Farewell to Israel: The coming break-up of American Zionism, to be published in 2009.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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15 Responses to American Radical : The Trials Of Norman Finkelstein

  1. modernity says:

    Fascinating, I was tempted to watch it but my stomach couldn’t take it.

    Does it have a bit in there explaining why his book “The Holocaust Industry” is so popular on the far right?

    Equally does it include his famous interview on Lebanese television?

    I suspect not.

  2. @ndy says:

    You should watch it — it’s a really good doco.


    It refers to The Holocaust Industry on a number of occasions — but does not contain any lengthy exegesis on its popularity on the far right. It does contain footage from a number of his speaking engagements where the subject [that is, The Holocaust], and his book on the subject [that is, on the ‘industry’ he claims has been generated subsequently by it], is raised — including some from a Canadian university, in which he himself is accused of being part of the industry. [The tour took place in December 2004, and was organised by student groups, including ‘Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights’. The footage is taken from an address he gave at The University of Waterloo. It includes very brief footage of a leaflet with the title ‘Norman Finklestein [sic] doesn’t like Nazis… But they like him!’, seemingly available for distribution at the event at which he spoke by groups protesting his appearance.]

    It does include footage from the interview in which he states he supports Hezbollah against the Israeli army (filmed while he was touring Beirut) — it also includes a statement from Finkelstein opining that Israel needs to suffer a decisive military defeat in order to ‘normalise’ its policies (my words, hot his), and a whole lot more besides — including the opinions of his critics (Dershowitz), supporters (Chomsky), and so on.

    Really, even if you despise Finekelstein, it’s worth watching.

  3. lumpnboy says:

    Oh, please, Mr Modernity. Finkelstein has a reasonable account of the history and politics of Zionism and of the state of Israel, and a reasonable account of the instrumentalisation of the Nazi genocides for purposes very far from opposition to persecution or even genocide – even opposition to anti-Semitism.

    From the MEMRI-distributed, approximately ten-minute excerpt from the interview on Lebanese television I’ve seen, Finkelstein adopts a position about the legitimacy of resistance to the Israeli state which is consistent with almost any serious version of anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism or just the principle that people should be able to resist violent invaders.

    There are critiques to be made of these positions, but I don’t expect those are what anyone would get from someone who thinks trying to guilt-by-associate ‘The Holocaust Industry’ with the far right is a useful act. How about: Such attacks on Finkelstein are beloved by pro-Israel apologists for mass slaughter.

  4. KinkyBoy says:

    I’m a crock of Shite.

  5. KinkyBoy says:

    I am a Cybelian BoyBitch.

  6. modernity says:

    @ndy, sure, I’ll get my wisdom teeth pulled (again) before that occurs.

    I have read and heard Finkelstein, it is monotonously predictable. Novick was right about him.

    Yeah @ndy, but that sounds about right to you eh? Finkelstein supporting Hezbollah?

    Let me get this straight, you wouldn’t support the far right in Australia, and I’m sure that Finkelstein wouldn’t support rightwing militia in America.

    However, if it happens in Lebanon and they are against Israel then he supports them?

    Seriously Andy, can’t you see the flaw in that type of reasoning?

  7. @ndy says:

    Sho’ nuff. I enjoy political biography, even of people whose views I despise.

    Novick meaning Michael Novick I assume? Or Peter Novick? Of possible relevance:

    Finkelstein’s Follies: The Dangers of Vulgar Anti-Zionism
    Tobias Abse
    [New Interventions, Vol.10, No.2, 2000]

    NORMAN Finkelstein’s new book, The Holocaust Industry, does no service to the left, to Jews or to genuine anti-fascists of any variety. Objectively, this book, whose very title echoes the rhetoric of Holocaust denial rather in the way that the phrase ‘race relations industry’ is a hallmark of all British racists, provides considerable comfort to every Holocaust denier, neo-Nazi and anti-Semite on the face of the planet. It was no accident that the Evening Standard I bought on my way home from Finkelstein’s book launch in Bookmarks (where his presentation had somewhat disingenuously barely mentioned his third, longest and most controversial chapter) in July contained a ‘Diary’ item in which David Irving expressed his pleasure that Finkelstein had vindicated him against his critics…

    Reminds me a little of the kerfuffle the Wicked Witch from Ipswich created when she made ref to ‘the Aboriginal industry’.


    Re Finkelstein and Hezbollah — I’ll have to chase down sauces. Lumpnboy reckons F’s view is in basic accord with more general forms of resistance to colonial / imperial rule (the criticisms of which also vary). Beyond this:

    I’ve not read any of F’s books;
    I don’t support the Australian far right;
    I seriously doubt F supports or advocates support (or cares much) for right-wing militias in the US;
    Hezbollah, as far as I can see, are better understood as a religious grouping, sometimes referred to as Islamist (as opposed to Muslim, altho’ the distinction varies and can be problematic), rather than right-wing in the sense that segments of the pop in Aus or the US are;
    the advocacy of armed resistance in one part of the world against one particular regime does not mandate support for the same strategy elsewhere. That is, it may be, but isn’t necessarily, contradictory to support Hebollah in Lebanon and not to support violent Islamists in the US — this depends upon the underlying political principles from which such support flows. To put it another way: the meaning of Israel in Lebanon may be different to the meaning of Israel in the United States.

  8. @ndy says:

    Also of possible relevance, Battle for the Holocaust (Channel 4, 2005):

  9. modernity says:

    Fair enough, @ndy, you missed my point completely.

    When you find yourself making excuses for rightwing militia, like Hezbollah, who will kill Jews without thinking, then it’s time to rethink.

    I’m exceedingly disappointed that an antifascist has to have these explained to him, it should be bleeding obvious.

    Go read Finkelstein’s Holocaust book and if you aren’t sickened by his melodramatic polemics then I’ll be very surprised and rather disappointed.

    It was Peter Novick, he basically said you can’t trust Finkelstein with facts.

  10. @ndy says:


    I’ve missed your point.

    To begin with, I thought your point was that Finkelstein was so objectionable, you couldn’t stomach watching this documentary; I suggested that, even if you despised him, it was a worthwhile film. You stated that your violent disinterest in the film (and Finkelstein) was based on the supposition that it failed to reference the fact that his book, The Holocaust Industry, was popular on the far right, nor include his (in)famous interview with Lebanese TV.

    I pointed out that, while the film doesn’t explore the question of the status of The Holocaust Industry on the far right in any great detail, it does deal with its reception more generally, as well as the controversy it generated. Further, that footage of an interview in which he expressed support for Hezbollah on Lebanese TV is, in fact, included.

    You then make reference to ‘Novick’, and ask a number of further questions, which seem to have less concern with the film than they do Hezbollah, and why it should be regarded as being objectionable. That’s certainly an interesting subject, but not what I thought was your original point: American Radical : The Trials Of Norman Finkelstein is not worth watching because Finkelstein is so hideous.

    Further, I don’t agree that I’ve made any excuses for Hezbollah, which I’ve only referred to in the context of Lumpnboy’s remarks about Finkelstein’s support being relatively conventional within a particular, ‘anti-imperialist’ ideological framework. For the record, the term ‘Hezbollah’ occurs on only a tiny handful of occasions on my blog, none of which have involved any serious or sustained commentary on my part.

    Finally, I will read Finkelstein’s book at some point, I guess, but it’s not a priority at this one. As for Novick, I found this:

    The Chutzpah Industry
    Jon Wiener
    The Nation
    May 2, 2007

    …Tenure votes are among the most carefully guarded secrets in the academy, but not in this case. In separate meetings, both the political science department and a committee of the college voted to give Finkelstein tenure. The department vote, according to The Chronicle, was 9 to 3, and the College Personnel Committee’s was 5 to 0. The confidential departmental report, according to The Chronicle, concluded that “while not all members of the department share a love of polemic and inflammatory rhetoric as practiced by Norman and his adversaries, there is clearly a substantial and serious record of scholarly production and achievement.” But Charles Suchar, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, recommended against tenure. In what The Chronicle called “language similar to that used by Mr. Dershowitz,” the dean wrote, “I find the personal attacks in many of Dr. Finkelstein’s published books to border on character assassination and, in my opinion, they embody a strategy clearly aimed at destroying the reputation of many who oppose his views.”

    Among the numerous comments on the case, the most thoughtful come from University of Chicago historian Peter Novick, who has written the definitive book on the history of US Holocaust commemoration (see my “Holocaust Creationism,” July 12, 1999). He’s been a sharp critic of Finkelstein’s writing, declaring that many of the assertions in Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry are “pure invention” and calling the book “a twenty-first century updating of ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.'” But Novick objects to the way Dershowitz portrayed him–as an ally in the campaign to block Finkelstein’s tenure.

    At Dershowitz’s suggestion, the political science chair asked Novick for “the clearest and most egregious instances” of Finkelstein’s malfeasance. Novick replied that while inviting outside opinions on a candidate for tenure was common, soliciting “the dirt” was totally improper, and he wouldn’t satisfy such a request. Novick then published key parts of his letter in The Chronicle to publicly disassociate himself from Dershowitz’s tactics.

    “Of course Finkelstein’s work–like that of all of us–is ‘flawed,'” Novick wrote. The question, he said, is “whether, on balance, the positive contribution of the totality of his scholarly work outweighs its faults.” His own published criticisms of Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry “reflect my values, my sensibility, who I am…but I don’t confuse those criticisms with holy writ.” Novick then appealed for “pluralism” in the academy: “There are those who relish the adversarial role, who delight in combat, whose greatest joy is in advancing a cause… such people are often inclined to stretch evidence to the breaking point, and occasionally beyond…. Professor Finkelstein seems to be of that number, as does Professor Dershowitz.” That was not his own style, Novick said. While it would be “disastrous,” he wrote, “to have a university composed exclusively of people like Finkelstein and Dershowitz,” it would be “equally undesirable to have a university composed exclusively of people like me.”

    Finally, Novick wrote that “Dershowitz’s highly publicized intervention has, it seems to me, made it impossible for DePaul to reject Finkelstein’s bid for tenure without everyone concluding that DePaul had capitulated to Dershowitz’s bullying.” If the administration denied him tenure on legitimate scholarly grounds, he said, they’d have to live with the fallout.

    Novick told me that he thinks Finkelstein and Dershowitz “deserve each other.” But he added that “it’s not Finkelstein who’s threatening Dershowitz’s employment.” DePaul’s final decision, to be made by the university president, is expected in June.

  11. KinkyBoy says:

    No, seriously @ndy… I’m a wanker.

  12. lumpnboy says:

    The Communist Party-dominated resistance to Nazi occupation in France during World War Two could be said to have killed Germans “without thinking”, I suppose, and certainly had political positions which were, to say the least, extremely problematic ie Stalinism. Certainly the discourses of anti-Nazi resistances were not free of racial caricatures of eg Germans which would nowadays be immediately recognised as racist. But someone who attempted to smear a supporter of anti-Nazi resistance by simply pointing to these facts would be sidestepping debates about how people should relate to brutal armies which occupy or rain massive destruction down upon the populations of other countries in which these people live, and related questions of who is entitled to resist and by what means.

    Insofar as this sidestepping is strategic, or even just unthought dogmatism, one would be entitled to suspect that commitment to the defense of the forces involved may be motivating the form and content of argument.

    I’m suggesting some kind of analogy here…

    ‘Hezbollah’ – whose electoral coalition, for what it is worth, got a comfortable majority of votes in the most recent elections – grew in the course of resistance to the occupation of Lebanon by the Israeli military. The Israeli state predictably condemned Hezbollah as ‘terrorists’ even for acts which were targeted solely at Israeli soldiers involved in occupying another country, the one they live in. Occupations generate resistance, and supporters of occupying powers are often disappointed if they can’t determine the nature of the resistance which occupation tends to generate…

    In any case, ‘Modernity’ hasn’t given even a hint as to what is supposed to be so awful about ‘The Holocaust Industry’ beyond the fact that some far rightists are said to like it (others hate it, or would if they knew of it eg. far right zionists of which there is no shortage), and the alleged inclusion of “melodramatic polemics”. Thus there is little to respond to on the subject.

    But for what it is worth I think that Finkelstein’s book is a pretty reasonable account of the development of what might as well be called a ”Holocaust industry”.

  13. modernity says:


    I’m trying to say this in the nicest possible way, as an antifascist you should read as much Finkelstein as you please, but then have a good think about what he’s really arguing and what the consequences are.

    I’ll leave it at that.

  14. Dr. Cam says:

    I like the bit in that one movie where he cuts sick.

  15. @ndy says:

    OK, so the film’s been removed from YouTube.

    Here’s a review:

    Review: Finkelstein’s transformation to victim hero in “American Radical”
    Max Blumenthal
    The Electronic Intifada
    March 15, 2010

    …With unfettered access to Finkelstein during the most dramatic stage of his career, American Radical directors David Ridgen and Nicolas Rossier provide a compelling look at one of the most roundly vilified academics in recent American history. If the film had simply rehashed the tale of Finkelstein as a rabble-rousing iconoclast who defied the Jewish-American consensus to agitate for Palestinian civil rights, it would have been prosaic at best. But by giving equal time to Finkelstein’s critics, who proved unable to conceal their visceral disdain for him even though they have succeeded in isolating him from the intellectual mainstream, the film offers a devastating portrait of an academic establishment that will go to extraordinary lengths not only to rebut but destroy potent critics of Israel, even obviously idiosyncratic characters like Finkelstein. Even with his excessive tendencies and strident style on bold display, when seen in the shadow of his adversaries, Finkelstein appears more than odd — he becomes utterly sympathetic…

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