Politics

Norman Finkelstein Challenges Hamilton

By Jeff Reid
Published February 21, 2011

I know how fortunate I am to be living in Hamilton, enjoying a safe night-out downtown with my wife. Saturday's began with pointed analysis of the Middle East at the grand Centenary United Church, followed by a fantastic late-kitchen meal and discussion at the London Tap House, as the popular dance club warmed-up above.

Too soon for dancing, but we will before long and celebrate all the recent victories of our brothers and sisters overseas. Right now, I just feel sober gratitude for where I live, and where my children can go to school.

The only disappointment this weekend was hearing that tired song about Hamilton: it's somehow more unsafe here, compared to other cities.

More Fear and Self-loathing in Hamilton

In all of the controversy, Mohawk College called up that old fave of the local press, and it was replayed by Mr. Finkelstein for Arab-rights supporters world-wide, and directly challenged by the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, claiming security is not really the issue.

I am not critical of the College for all this. It seems reasonable to feel threatened by outraged calls and messages. These are tense days, and we are all at the crossroads of history this month.

But like all the overstatements of the constant danger in our town, I just do not see the practical threat.

I suppose it is not unimaginable to some that my anxious Jewish, Arab or Persian neighbors might come to a head at a controversial Israeli-policy lecture. However, the truth of who we are as Hamiltonians was evident in who came out on Saturday night, ironically, to one of our oldest houses of Christ.

I met concerned people with family overseas, looking for some further insight into the fears that have followed them across oceans and throughout a lifetime. I also met concerned people with no familial ties to the region, who were equally terrified for a lifetime by cultural clashes of biblical proportions.

All of us, equally helpless a world away, were hoping to understand more. But there were no protests and no need for security here in Hamilton. In the end, I even felt our warm host made it a better night than one spent in a cold auditorium.

Finkelstein Challenges Hamilton

Norman Finkelstein's introduction at the Q & A portion of the lecture called for disagreement, declaring the Historian had eagerly awaited a debate all week. I would like to offer one.

I admire Mr. Finkelstein's wealth of historical facts. I could listen to ten more nights, would buy his book to study his point of view and relentless information. My own opinion always changes and, one hopes, evolves.

However, as usual with American perspectives, we hear a lot about what nations have done wrong with U.S. cash, but not so much about why the money keeps coming.

Our speaker painted Israel with a very broad brush; Israel plots to do wrong and waits for very long stretches, and Finkelstein claims an entire nation hopes for pretext to do harm to another.

But if we accept an entire population is possessed of a singular, diabolic plan, can we not view you, The Americans, as part of that same agenda? After all, one nation has paid for nearly all of the regional Autocratic political parties at some point.

From your friend Mubarak in Egypt to friend Musharraf in Pakistan, endless billions for tiny Bahrain, luxurious Kuwait and the vast House of Saud. Iraq and Iran too, until those friends turned or fell to people's revolt. You offer strongmen $2 billion a year (or endless choking sanctions) and the armageddon-proof U.S. 5th Fleet looms, ready to help close the deals and keep peace with firepower.

It was Americans who supported like-minded friends in Israeli politics. Even now, in the glory of Egypt, the U.S. State Department warns that our families in Cairo are not ready for democracy. So, is the Arab 4/5ths of a person, just not there yet for American freedom? We understand, friends of Amerca in Israel are worried.

But perhaps I'm oversimplifying it all when I say "you Americans", as it appears it was the Neoconservitive dedication for decades - Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld's friends - handing out oversized cheques to brutal Kings. The U.S. delivers the latest tools of civic repression to partners, and the world sees the Made in America tear-gas cans in Egypt and the fleet of 2011 Suburbans in Bahrain.

But if it is wrong to assume The American is of one mind, then you must admit these are the plans of individual hawks in Israeli politics, which go hand-in-hand with the wishes of certain American eagles.

I suggest it is not "Israel", or even "America" that is the problem: there is a specific list of individuals, I'm sure you could name, that should be deloused in The Hague.

Mr. Finkelstein, you took the time to call "President Change Obama ...a pathological narcissist", but no choice words about the students of Nixon and Kissinger who ushered us all here?

The CJPME in Hamilton

Debate is interesting, but here at home, we are presented with an opportunity to act. A number of Hamiltonians are determined to form a chapter of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East in our community.

This organization aims to bring Canadians of all backgrounds together, in the pursuit of regional freedom and development. I hope it will include people of all our local faiths. It would be unfortunate if this organization did not include Jewish Hamiltonians, who may have felt Mr. Finkelstein's opinions to be antisemitic.

Personally, I did not. I took away a detailed condemnation of an ultraconservative political party that runs a state and military, in no way a denouncement a religion or race. If you disagree, perhaps all the more reason to participate in the CJPME here in our City.

I wish the CJPME advocates a bright future here in Hamilton, and thank both Mr. Finkelstein for sharing his life's work with us and Centenary United for hosting the discussion.

Jeff Reid attended Humber College for journalism before starting an internet development firm in the 90s. As a proud Ward 3 homeowner, Jeff lives, works and has three children in school on Wentworth St with his wife Heather, in the city of Hamilton, ON, Canada. In 2010, launched Hamilton-ON.ca to expand mobile news coverage.

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By Englightened (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 10:06:15

Mr. Reid, your comments are fair-minded. I have a bias and that bias is towards the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel, however flawed.

However, Finklestein's visit will always be suspect when anarchists organize it. Kevin is not worthy of organizing anything for this city. He despises democracy and favours revolution. That was the problem all along.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 10:49:35 in reply to Comment 60134

How about you try to re post your comment without the personal attack? Kevin has done more than most to promote civic engagement in this city, maybe some anarchists are nuts but he's definitely not one of the crazy's.

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By Englightened (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 10:54:47 in reply to Comment 60136

Fair comment also Nobrainer. So here goes. Kevin is an anarchist who believes in tearing down the rule of law. His involvement in anything is always suspect in the minds of mainstream hamiltonians.

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By Zot (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 14:00:14 in reply to Comment 60137

@Englightened:

I don't have any direct knowledge of Mr. McKay's views on the "rule of law". Do you? or are you suggesting that he would be opposed to it by definition if he were in fact an Anarchist?

Legal precepts and institutions of various sorts predate the nation state as we now know it, and exist within and between them without their sanction or authority.

Questions of "law", and it's institutions have a rich history within anarchism iun both theory and practice and are certainly the subject of much decussion within various anarchist movements today. I wonder are you ignorant of this, or simply choose to suggest otherwise?

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:00:52 in reply to Comment 60137

Or how about: Kevin is an anarchist who believes citizens should make there own rules for living, not unaccountable powers-that-be that make rules to serve there own interests. Anarchy doesn't mean setting fire to stuff, it means communities creating social justice by working together. As for mainstream hamiltonians they're the same people who cheered when we agreed to spend $160 million to half way rebuild IWS so we don't lose a precious football team and it's multimillionaire owner, sorry but how I decide what's right or wrong isn't based on what mainstream hamiltonians think.

Comment edited by nobrainer on 2011-02-22 11:01:40

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By Englightened (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:18:39 in reply to Comment 60139

I really am interested more in how people see Reid's comments than how they view people like Kevin. But your comments sort of prove my point. Kevin and to some extent you are anarchists who believe that you hold the only corner on the virtuous. If mainstream Hamiltonians choose to have IWS rebuilt then so be it. It may not suit you, but if it suits the majority then who are you to belittle it? And who is Kevin to be pushing these contrarian ideas on our city. No one said anything about blowing things up, but one can be even more destructive of the social fibre of our society by simmply advocating far out beliefs. And to think that he even supposedly teaches/brainwashes at mohawk college, the very institution that he denigrates.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 23, 2011 at 12:40:16 in reply to Comment 60141

I find it fairly disturbing that somebody is denouncing an entire event because somebody with views they don't agree with helped book a room for it.

It's pretty clear that "Enlightened" lacks a basic understanding of anarchism which could be found with 30 seconds of research. "Anarchy", which originates with the Greek "An" (no) and "Archos" (rulers). It has always been about those in charge, and never about abandoning all kinds of "rules" or "laws".

Jeff - amazing article. More questions need to be asked about why so much military aid is flowing into Israel. This doesn't really benefit Americans in any plausible way - at least, 99% of them, and it's turned life in Israel into a militarized hell, to say nothing of the effects on the occupied territories. Using entire countries in regional power plays is never good for those countries involved.

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By say what (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2011 at 13:10:24 in reply to Comment 60193

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By say what (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:02:43 in reply to Comment 60194

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:38:43 in reply to Comment 60203

For most people, "research" goes well beyond a dictionary. Then again, most people who "research" are looking to learn something, not just spam and troll.

Far be it for etymology, two centuries of history, libraries of printed (and peer-reviewed) work and personal statements from any number of actual anarchists to go against Websters...

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By another zookeeper (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:15:34 in reply to Comment 60206

Don't feed the troll, just downvote and move on.

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By say what (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:28:17 in reply to Comment 60209

I agree I should not have dignified Industrial with a response to his personal attack

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By say what (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:51:09 in reply to Comment 60206

30 seconds of research is what you said it took to understand the issue. I tend to agree. IMO anarchists are a threat to society because by definition they don't believe in authority and therefore don't believe in law and order. Its really that simple

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted February 23, 2011 at 09:05:11 in reply to Comment 60141

"Brainwashes" is over the line, don't you think? That's a cheapshot levelled at someone whose politics you disagree with, not a sensible description of someone standing up before a class in a Mohawk lecture hall.

As to your other silly comment, very many people in politics think they have the only corner on the virtuous. Zealotry lies all over the political spectrum.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:40:33 in reply to Comment 60141

"who is Kevin to be pushing these contrarian ideas on our city" Try, a citizen with the right to free speech, just like you and me and everyone else has. I could ask, who are you to suggest he shouldn't be allowed to support and share his ideals, if they don't make sense to people, then how can they be "destructive of the social fibre"?? Criticize his beliefs if you want, but you're out of line attacking him personally, he's an honest, decent man who believes in what he's doing.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2011 at 15:04:09

I feel like I'm missing something.

Who's Kevin? Is he the same fellow as Mr. McKay? And what's he to do with the Finklestien lecture?

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By Zot (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 15:27:02 in reply to Comment 60165

Yes, Kevin McKay, he is the one who booked the room for the lecture at Mohawk

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By MattM (registered) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 16:27:20

Y'know, I still don't know what the hell Enlightened is going off about. He seems to jump between Finkelstein, anarchists and Ivor Wynne Stadium.

What?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 20:52:48 in reply to Comment 60171

I'm sorry, I have to point out it was nobrainer who first mentioned IWS here:

http://www.raisethehammer.org/comment/60139

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 23, 2011 at 08:12:14 in reply to Comment 60180

You're right, I'm sorry about that, I just didn't like "Enlightened" saying Kevin's dangerous just because his beliefs aren't the same as most mainstream Hamiltonians.

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By engagement (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 17:03:01

Yes MattM, I agree with your statement, whoever this enlightened is, this person has their own agenda, whatever that is.

I believe that people from all walks of life need to participate in civil engagment so that we all can work towards the goal of peace and justice.



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By emetser (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 18:14:04

Englightened can't spell

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted February 23, 2011 at 08:49:21

I find it interesting in these sorts of situations that someone says "I side with X", which usually translates into "X can do no wrong" and any questioning of the actions of "X" simply indicates that you are against "X" and all it stands for.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted February 23, 2011 at 09:11:37

For my own part, as troubled as I am by the situation in the Middle East and the American (and even Canadian) role in it, I find Finkelstein's views on Israel to be odious.

Jeff, thanks for an article that strives to be fairminded. This whole situation has been unbelievably painful to me - the talk of threats and so forth.

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By JJ (registered) | Posted February 23, 2011 at 14:30:27

"But if we accept an entire population is possessed of a singular, diabolic plan..."

Thanks for this article.
I'd just like to point out that nobody, least of all Finkelstein, purports to speak for or about "an entire population". His criticisms, like those of many other observers of the occupying Israeli state--both in and outside Israel--are of the government and its policies and actions. I think you may have tried to make this point in your article, but I'm not sure it comes through as loud and clear as it should.

It really is a crucial distinction, and one the Israeli government would perhaps like to blur since it lends credence to accusations of anti-semitism toward those who have frank criticisms of the state and its actions.

Comment edited by JJ on 2011-02-23 14:33:10

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By Englightened (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:18:24

"You're right, I'm sorry about that, I just didn't like "Enlightened" saying Kevin's dangerous just because his beliefs aren't the same as most mainstream Hamiltonians."

And now words are being put in my mouth; who said that Kevin was dangerous? I simply said that he was chased out of Mohawk College because his reputation as an anarchist espousing contrarian causes like Finklestein's will have him be the target of suspicion by mainstream hamiltonians. I should think Kevin will agree with that statement and attribute it to some kind of capitalist plot.

Be that as it may, Finklestein was more fizzle than pop.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:16:13 in reply to Comment 60205

And now words are being put in my mouth; who said that Kevin was dangerous?

You said he's "destructive of the social fibre of our society", I summaried that to "dangerous" which most people would accept when they can read your own statement right above me, now you're trying to wiggle out of what you said, like you tried to wiggle out of what you said earlier by pushing YOUR OWN suspicion out onto "mainstream Hamiltonians" Sorry but I don't think you're all that Enlightened after all.

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By say what (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2011 at 19:07:38

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