Monday, December 17, 2007

Comment Trail for the Monday:

I feel SO sorry for him (The Bald Headed Geek)

Here is one comment I made in response to another commenter:

You provide this quote:

“But I have abandoned that project. ..--to sift through and evaluate every single claim on Dershowitz's List--.”

As supporting this statement:

“This is but one example of many that I have seen where Dr. Finkelstein's scholarship holds up and that of Alan Dershowitz falls flat.”

Yet by the author’s own admission, he abandoned the project of actually looking into Dershowitz’s allegations.

Finkelstein’s main beef with Jews is that they cynically and dishonestly invoke the Holocaust, to promote their own interests. What would those interests be? Lining their pockets with German blood money and immunizing Israel from criticism about its treatment of Palestinians.

How do they achieve these aims?

By carping upon the horrors of the Holocaust, keeping the memory alive, emotionally blackmailing poor, guilt-stricken Germans into giving more money to Jewish claims.

In other words, he claims that these tactics are a fallacy, Argumentum ad misericordiam (argument or appeal to pity). There is nothing morally wrong in using appeal to pity in order to argue for the benefits of a certain policy. The Holocaust did happen, it was as horrendous as it is described, and seeking reparations is one way of addressing the injustice.

Finkelstein places the allegation that the Holocaust industry is based on a logical fallacy at the core of his thesis. Yet, in contradiction to his own declared distaste for the “appeal to pity”, he keeps referring, repeatedly, to the fact that his parents are Holocaust survivors.

Why does he do that?

Because in his opinion, it gives him moral authority or leverage: here is a son of Holocaust survivors who is brave enough to stare down Holocaust industrialists, like Elie Wiesel and his minions. As when he says in the following examples:

“[A]ny temptation to "indulge in a bout of self-pity," he [Finkelstein] said, was halted by thinking of his parents, who survived the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi death camps while the rest of his relatives were exterminated. "They survived," he said. "I'll survive."

"Because she's an Eichmann-like bureaucrat currying favour with the powerful while blandly following orders. Were my mother still around, I am quite sure - I mean this literally - she would have taken the first train to Cambridge and - just as she did with the Nazi guards from Maidanek when confronting them at the postwar trial in Dusseldorf in 1979 - called Kagan a whore to her face and then throttled her."

And then there is this:

“Afterward, Finkelstein says, he lost seventeen pounds. “People saw me wasting away,” he says. A student group held a hunger strike; Chomsky and others defended him. One of his colleagues made him a mix CD with tracks like “I Will Survive” and “What’s Goin’ On?” “I’m an old fan of the Negro spirituals,” Finkelstein says. “I was going around singing to myself, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there?’ That’s how I felt. I was being crucified by the end.”

His “persecution” manifests itself in physical symptoms, visually reminiscent of the extremely thin apparitions that greeted American liberators of the concentration camps. This is a pathological attempt to create equivalence between his situation and that of Holocaust survivors. It is the worst, most macabre kind of “fetishization of balance” that I have seen.

Why is he doing this? Why is he invoking his personal memory of the Holocaust when he so rigorously castigates others for doing the same?

Because it serves his interests, his quest for political and academic influence and a secure source of income, because he cannot discuss any aspect of Holocaust without this personal dimension.

An appeal to pity may not be aesthetically pleasing but it is morally acceptable. However, if you castigate others for resorting to that fallacy, you ought to make damn sure that your own discourse will be clear of any trace of that same distasteful practice. Which is where I locate Finkelstein’s hypocrisy.

As for your third “challenge” about Finkelstein being milked to promote Palestinian causes, all you need to do is look who his “friends” are and in which academic journal most of his articles were published. Just as Finkelstein asks “Cui bono” from the “Holocaust industry”, I ask, who benefits most from his tribulations. Certainly not him. It is hard not to notice that of the few academics whose tenure process was embroiled in great controversy, he, the Jew, is the only one who has not been tenured…

Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections (From: Simply Jews)

Snoopy: Hirsch's paper is just too long and convoluted to be attractive reading. It is 160 pages, about four times the size of an average paper. Paul Berman's very readable and excellent TNR article about Ramadan was 50 pages long and even there, I read some complaints about its excessive length. Seems to me that Hirsch wanted to encompass all aspects and all nuances of what he considers the Engage project. He should have written a book. The essay needs a good and ruthless editor. There is some extremely valuable stuff in it, but it gets lost in the labyrinth of Hirsch's tortured understanding of Anti Zionism and antisemitism.

Two tiny points:

I cannot make up my mind if he means it ironically when he says that Hamas Charter is a critique of Zionism.

To the question of whether the Left is antisemitic, he gives a categorical No. And then goes on the point out all the exceptions to this "No". So which is it?

bob said...

Minor point: Hirsh's working paper should be read as a book and not as an essay. It is basically a book, even if it appears on-line.

In response to Bob's comment:

That's the problem with it; it is basically a very sprawling, meandering essay, almost book length. Whether it is read on-line or in hard copy does not change the fact that it badly needs to be edited for clarity and sharpness.

I have read Hirsch's opinions on Engage and this essay (at least the parts I’ve read of it) reflects the exact same hesitations and circumlocutions. I liken it in my mind to the fear of black and white. So afraid he is of having to make black/white judgments, or appearing to be making them, that he focuses on the shades of grey in between, trying to show how this shade of grey is slightly darker or lighter than the one next to it. The problem with this approach is that between any two shades of grey there is another multitude of shades of grey depending on the number of pigments, ad infinitum.

Ex. With this kind of thinking, a genocidal manifesto becomes a “criticism” of Zionism. An anti-Semitic criticism, no less. Unwittingly, this becomes a sort of backdoor legitimation, both of the charter’s right to exist and anti-Semitism as a methodology.

In many ways the debate about the boycott is over. And the boycotters are the winners in it. Here is DH posting an essay on a Yale sponsored website purporting to fight anti-Semitism, and he tacitly accepts, through his use of language, the terms and sentiments motivating the boycotters.

I don't feel like reading the entire thing. I've read the first 30 pages and the conclusion. I'm basing my opinion on these excerpts as well as what I read from Hirsch on Engage. Or heard what he says in interviews and when addressing the Engage meeting. They all seem consistent.


At 6:00 AM EST, Blogger bob said...

Minor point: Hirsh's working paper should be read as a book and not as an essay. It is basically a book, even if it appears on-line.


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