RNP reporter Jill Bolstridge interviews Professor Norman Finkelstein, author of the controversial book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. The son of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein is a sharp critic of Israel and of US foreign policy.
What compelled you to write The Holocaust Industry?
Basically, there were three reasons. One, I've been involved in the Israel/Palestine conflict for a long time. It was obvious to anybody who was involved that the Nazi Holocaust was constantly being evoked and exploited in order to justify Israel's violations of human rights. And, more currently, from a political point of view, to expose the lies and the misuse and the exploitation of the Nazi Holocaust. That was the political motive; it was the main motive. From a historical point of view, it seemed to me that there were many lessons that could be learned from the Nazi Holocaust, but those lessons were being obscured and distorted by the way that the Nazi Holocaust was being taught and being promoted by the United States. And finally, there was a personal reason. Both my parents survived the Nazi Holocaust, and I felt they deserved better than what it has been reduced to by the Holocaust industry.
Who was responsible for manufacturing this industry, as you put it, and why?
Mainly it's been the United States and the mainstream Jewish organizations. And there have been individuals and institutions which, for one reason or another, have become apologists for Israel.
It is widely considered that anyone who questions the Holocaust or the actions of Israel in the Middle East is anti-Semitic. Why do you believe this to be the case?
There are separate questions here. Questioning Israel's policies or actions, it seems to me, has no relationship whatsoever to anti-Semitism, and that is simply an exploitation of the historical suffering of Jews for political purposes. They have been using the anti-Semitism epithet to silence criticism of Israel and to intimidate critics of Israel into silence. The questioning of the Nazi Holocaust is an entirely separate question. To question whether the Nazi Holocaust itself happened is as absurd as to question whether or not in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Of course it happened. That is not a subject for serious debate. There is no rational basis for questioning the fact that it actually happened. But once one establishes the fact that it happened, there are all sorts of unresolved questions about the Nazi Holocaust: factual questions. And then there are all sorts of interpretative questions. And those two sets of questions include when the Nazi Holocaust began, what was the motive behind it, those sorts of things.
Have you received any threats because of your opinion?
How are you treated within the Jewish community as a result of your opinions?
I'm not really part of the Jewish community, per se. I'm obviously Jewish, but I have many friends in life. I have faithful friends, loyal friends, people who share my visions and ideals, and those are not particularly Jewish. I'm sure they have Jewish components, but they are not particularly Jewish. These are a set of ideals which are human.
In regards to the current situation in the Middle East, do you believe the capture of two Israeli soldiers was the real provocation of this war, or is there a hidden agenda?
Oh, it's clear that you don't turn the whole country into a parking lot because two soldiers were captured. Especially since the records show numerous skirmishes and cross-border raids and so forth since 2000, when Israeli troops were ejected from Lebanon. That clearly serves as a pretext for much bigger plans which were in the making for a long time by Israel.
Why do you believe the world, in particular the UN, has sat by and done nothing as Lebanon has been destroyed by Israel?
You can't stop the US now. Because it's run by a bunch of gang members and hoodlums, and they take out the big stick and break it over the skulls of anyone who stands in their way. And the UN has been paralyzed by the people currently occupying the White House. It's very tough. And basically, Europe's attitude is, ‘Let the United States do what it wants, and destroy itself in the process.' So the Europeans, rather than trying to fight the United States, I think have pretty much decided, ‘If that's what they want to do, let them do it, because they are going to wind up in a huge mess.' The problem, of course, is that, in the process of the United States ending up in a huge mess, it kills many, as in the case of Iraq. And hundreds of thousands of people will suffer as well; therefore, European acquiesces to a huge criminal, and that's been their basic attitude.
What do you believe is pushing the Israeli government to such extreme action?
Basically, there are two reasons. There are local reasons and then there are international reasons. The local reasons are pretty straight-forward. Israel's attitude has always been that the Arabs have to know that what they say goes. And when the Arab State, or in this case, Movement, asserts itself and claims that it has a right to take initiatives on its own part, that it's not simply a slave to Israel, then Israel comes in and smashes them. That has always been Israel's style. It will break the back and crack the skull of anyone who gets in its way. And Hezbollah, to Israel, needs to be taught a lesson. That's the local reason. And the broader reason is that Israel is pretty much now just an agent of US power in the region. And the United States is egging Israel on, urging it on, in the hopes that, by inflicting the defeat on Hezbollah, it may set back the regional aspiration to power, which is in conflict with the US. So the US not only entirely sees these acts of Syria, Iran, Hezbollah; these are all movements that are unwilling to follow completely what the US dictates. And so, the hope is that Hezbollah is the weakest link in the chain. Well, Hamas is actually the weakest link. But they think the second weakest is Hezbollah, with a militia of maybe just a thousand soldiers. And they think if they can inflict a defeat on Hezbollah, they can set back the goals of the regional aspiration to power. And the United States is leading it. Israel has its own agenda, but it is serving the US agenda as well.
What will be the wider repercussions for the Middle East?
It's really hard to guess that. I really can't make predictions. Basically, on the Arab side, Hezbollah demonstrates that Arabs have a learning curve and some groups have learned from some of the errors of the past. Hezbollah is well organized and very well-disciplined. It knows the state-of-the-art technology. And, above all else, they are wholly committed to the cause. They are not dissolute, they are not degenerate, they are not corrupt; this is a serious organization. And it may anticipate the beginning of serious organization among the Arabs to finally defeat the colonial imperialist forces which have dominated their part of the world for a century now. And that may not be a positive thing for Israel. It harbours pretty terrible prospects. Ultimately, Israel can not exist in its current form if it is going to be simply a vandal state, a rampaging state, which periodically goes into neighbouring countries and just flattens them, annihilates them, obliterates them, and pulverizes them. If that's what its existence is going to come down to, then it's going to be destroyed.
Are Israel's actions in any way connected to the US military presence in the Middle East?
Yeah, I think there is a connection. The connection basically is that the United States sees all the opposition forces as being joined together in this ‘Axis of Evil,' and they are hoping that the weaker link in the chain, Hezbollah, if it's defeated, will then defeat the forces of Iraq and others. So they are hoping that a defeat for one will be defeat for all.
The media has a very clear bias towards Israel; would you agree and, if so, why?
Well, there are two reasons. One, the media has a clear bias toward the United States, and since Israel is a connection to US power, it would be surprising if it weren't biased toward Israel. So part of the reason is that Israel is as integral to the United States, at this point, as California or Texas. So, if you say the media has a bias toward California up against Papa New Guinea, it's going to have a bias toward Israel against Papa New Guinea. So that's one reason. The other reason is that Jews have a huge presence in the media, and the bias comes, in part, from that.
Do you believe "The War on Terror" is real?
There is a problem with groups and how big they are. It's hard to say, but there are groups who are committed to acts of terrorism against the United States and other powers. That's a given. The real questions are altogether different. The rational questions are, first of all, how big is the threat? And secondly, much more important, how you deal with the threat? How many allegedly being accused as a threat really present a threat? And that brings us to another question: if they actually do present a threat, are the people in power irrational, or are they using the threat to exploit it for other reasons, which actually have nothing to do with the threat?
Confusions abound as to who is the major player in Israeli/US relations; who do you believe calls the shots?
The United States calls the shots ultimately, that's for sure. But it's not true to say that everything Israel does has an American agenda. Broadly, in the Middle East, it is correct to say that the agendas of the United States and Israel overlap. But on local issues, for example, the actual Israel/Palestine conflict, the settlements, have very little to do with the United States. The United States has no stake in the occupation of the territories. It has no stake in the settlements and so forth. Those are Israeli initiatives.
Do you believe the world is going through a new phase of neo-colonialism?
I'm not confident to speak in such global terms. What's obvious is that there are conflicting forces in the world today, toward freeing the world of US/European domination. As you can see, those tendencies are working themselves out, primarily in regions where the United States is currently unable to act, such as South America. And the other aspect is that, especially since the destruction of the Soviet Union, there has been no formidable power in any way blocking US efforts to impose its agenda on the world. And you have those two tendencies. I think it is accurate to say that there is a new phase, a continuation of long-term trends, and the struggle continues between those trends.
Many feel that demonstrations are quite frustrating in that you march, go home, lobby your friends in action, and then wait for the next demonstration. What sort of action do you believe will best force the politicians into action?
Demonstrations ought to be a culmination of activity, not the be-all-and-end-all. Demonstrations are the climax after organizing, after speaking, after writing, after doing a lot of hard labour of trying to convince people then you have a demonstration. And then, hopefully, in the course of the demonstration, you convince people to become activists. But the demonstrations are clearly not, in and of themselves, the goal. The demonstration registers the kind of support that is needed to mobilize people over time.
What do you believe is the cause of anger and so-called terrorism, particularly from the Muslim world?
I don't think you need great powers of perception to figure that out. Look at the degradations of the United States and Israel throughout the Arab world. Since the Bush Administration came to power, they have demolished Afghanistan, they have demolished Iraq, they have demolished Palestine, they have demolished Lebanon. These are vandals, straight out of the thirteenth century, like Genghis Khan. And to wonder why, is just a level of blindness, which really is very difficult to comprehend. I was listening to David Grossman yesterday and he said, “We have been here 60 years in the Middle East, and they still don't accept us.” Well that's a really big surprise, ya know? It's like, the United States' black people. They were slaves from 1619 to 1865, and they still didn't accept white people! If you keep stomping on people, if you treat them like slaves, if you wreck, destroy, rampage their society, if you flatten them, just like in Lebanon, four times since 1978! Operation Litani in ‘78, the destruction of Lebanon in ‘82, Operation Accountability in ‘93, Operation Grapes of Wrath in ‘96, each time sending hundreds of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians fleeing from the south, and then you sit there and you wonder why they don't love us after sixty years? You're lucky they don't want to strangle you! Even though most of them do, and rightfully so. The level of self-absorption of these people is just mind-boggling! Why don't they love us? You know what? Maybe the Arabs should send Valentines to support us.
Do you believe the world is really facing a threat from radical Islamists?
The issue is not whether the world is facing threats of radical Islamists. You have radical militias in the United States. The question is, how big is the threat? And how significant is it? And, most importantly, how do you diminish it? And all the policies which have been implemented to date plainly do not have it as their main goal to diminish the threat. It's only exacerbating the threat. The same thing with Israel. Israel, in my opinion, is only two wars away from complete destruction. This war, the red line was Haifa. It's clear that, in the next war, Tel Aviv will be targeted and then, the war after that, it will be destroyed. But who's causing it? Who's creating it? Let's be honest about that.
Why are most of the western world's conflicts and disputes with Islamic nations?
I don't think it has anything to do with Islam. They could be Buddhists. It's oil. They don't care that they're Islamic. They don't care about religion. Once the oil's been depleted, then they will go to central Africa. They will let everybody starve, steal whatever minerals and wealth they have, and just let them die. They don't care about democracy anymore. All they're interested in is democratizing the oil, until they get their fair share of it, or, in their minds, their fair share of it.
Why does the United Nations not take a stronger stance against the United States for its disregard of international law?
The UN can't do anything against the US. It's impossible. This is a gang of hoodlums. What are they supposed to do? If they were really, as they say in Yiddish, mensch, then of course they could stop them. But these people are out to protect their own interests, and their own interests would come to serious conflict with the US. And they don't want to come to serious conflict with the US. The US controls too much: the World Bank, the IMF. It has too much power.
Is the United Nations redundant?
No. The UN does a lot. One shouldn't kid oneself about that. So many peace-keeping operations, so many health concerns, environmental concerns, refugee concerns. They do a lot. No question about that. It's a huge organization. There is no doubt of bureaucracy, corruption, no doubt about it. But one shouldn't gainsay the amount of good they do in the world. So it's not like it's become redundant. That's not true at all.
Do you think many have lost faith in the UN and its founding principles?
No. Not at all. There is no evidence of that at all. The world doesn't hold the United Nations to blame for the paralysis of the United States. They hold the United States to blame. If you were to take a poll of the world's population and ask whether people want to strengthen or weaken the UN, my guess is that the result would be that 95%, or even more, would say to strengthen the UN. If they were asked if they want to strengthen or weaken the US presence in the UN, I am most certain the result would be 99.5% percent would say weaken the US presence. So everybody knows who the real problem is.