Thursday, March 09, 2006

Norman Finkelstein at Columbia

What stinks about Norman Finkelstein is not his scholarship. Plenty of academics holds views similar to his on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. People can disagree. It's his rhetoric, his demogoguery, his intellectual dishonesty, his hypocrisy, and his bad faith toward those who disagree with him that has gotten him into trouble.

Finkelstein was at his demagogic best on Wednesday night at Columbia University, where he gave a speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that focused on two main themes. The first was that the conflict was uncontroversial because everyone agreed that Israel was violation of international law and was the conflict's aggressor. The second was that reports of increased antisemitism around the world were a hoax and were driven by the goal of stifling criticism of Israel.

The coalition of student organizations responsible for bringing Finkelstein to the campus consisted of the school's major Muslim and Arab groups.

Real intellectuals acknowledge differences of opinion. Finkelstein, who has always chosen the path of mocking polemicism to civil intellectualism in his public addresses, chose to argue that the other side didn't really exist. He used a mix of half-truth and demagoguery to do it. Finkelstein quoted at length from the International Court of Justice's opinion to back his assertion that there was nothing controversial about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because of the agreement of all 15 judges that Israel was in contravention of international law. The World Court, he claimed, was the world most important legal body, and thus, the verdict being in, there was simply nothing to argue about.

He then went on to say that a similar consensus exists among human rights organizations on the issue of Israel's culpability and that this was further proof that there was little to argue about.

But like most weak arguments, this one rested on the faulty assumption that there was nothing whatsoever controversial about international law, human rights law, or the international arbiters who create and apply these laws, and that a World Court opinion was the final say on whatever issues of international law there were as applied to the conflict.

Of course, neither one of these assumptions is accurate. International law, particularly as applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, continues to be a highly controversial discipline, an unregulated, unbalanced, unacountable concept. General Assembly resolutions, so often cited by pro-Palestinian propagandists for their lopsided support of anti-Israel resolutions, prove only that the Arabs wield the powerful weapon of oil effectively and that third-world states continue to hold a misguided view of Israel as a colonial power and hold its association with the United States against it. It proves nothing about the feeling of these states for the values of human rights, both because many of these states are human rights violators themselves, and because they are unwilling to spend any comparable amount of ink condemning much worse situations, from the Sudan to Libya to Congo to China to Saudi Arabia. Israel is thus a political issue, not a human rights issue, and a controversial political issue at that. It is true that the UN Human Rights Commission has condemned Israel early and often. It is not true that these condemnations are not controversial, because many of the countries that run the UNHRC are among the world's worst violators of human rights laws.

International law, because of these political imbalances, does not yet contain a definition of terrorism. This is solely because most of the Arab and Islamic states are unwilling to accede to any definition that would define the killing of Israeli civilians as terrorism. This adds to the controversy of international law, at least as promulgated by the General Assembly and the World Court, as a reliable medium for assessing the conflict.

And though Mr. Finkelstein would like us to believe that the World Court is, in essence, a Supreme Court of the world on issue of international law, the system simply doesn't work that way. Like the resolutions of the General Assembly, the opinions of the World Court are non-binding. They are advisory. They are not the final say. They are only binding if the parties before the Court agree to be bound by its decisions. That is why, outside of an occasional advisory opinion on something like the legality of the use of nuclear weapons, the World Court mostly settles highly technical border disputes and things like water rights.

As any honest scholar of the conflict knows, only certain resolutions of the United Nations Security Council are binding, and that is why, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most major human rights organizations, as well as most governments, affirm that UN Security Council resolution 242 is the operative resolution. 242 calls for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, and does not, as Mr. Finkelstein claimed, call for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders. It is not the case that there is a consensus that such a withdrawal is the solution to the conflict; even many Palestinian negotiators are willing to accept the assumption that there will be adjustments made so that Israel can keep large settlement blocks and sovereignty over the Western Wall. To the extent that 242 contradicts views expressed by the World Court, it is 242 that controls in international law, not the World Court.

Finkelstein went on to discuss what is now the tired topic of how Zionists stifle debate by accusing critics of Israel of antisemitism. Finkelstein's most outrageous rhetoric came in this section of the program, where he made the totally unsupported and false accusation that it was now common for critics of Israel to be referred to as Holocaust deniers, and that he thought that soon, Holocaust epithets would enter the slang lexicon, such as "mother-Holocauster" and the like. A joke to be sure, but a joke in very bad taste, based on a total lie. Finkelstein also cited last year's controversy over anti-Israel bias in the classroom at Columbia as another example of a false controversy.

As a questioner who had appeared in last year's documentary on anti-Israel bias in the classroom at Columbia reminded Finkelstein, no person who appeared in Columbia Unbecoming accused anyone of antisemitism, proving what many of us already know, which is that rather than critics of Israel being accused of antisemitism, it is far more common for critics of Israel to pronounce any criticism of themselves personally or the pro-Palestinian movement in general as an accusation of antisemitism. This is a valuable lie, because it justifies outrageous rhetoric of the type Mr. Finkelstein and others are known for. If one creates the impression that accusations of antisemitism are de facto without basis, one can immunize oneself from that charge. And indeed, the tactic appears to have been successful, because the reality is that there has been no stifling of debate. Mr. Finkelstein came to Columbia and gave his speech. If the Middle Eastern Studies Association is any measure, academe is dominated by people who share many of Finkelstein's political opinions. They haven't been silenced. There is not one case that I know of where a pro-Palestinian academic was fired for his viewpoint.

Mr. Finkelstein was no more honest in his surprisingly thin argument that there was no spike in European antisemitism. Mr. Finkelstein's sole support for this part of his thesis was a Pew survey finding a lessening in antisemitic attitudes among Europeans. No mention was made of the rise in actual antisemitic incidents. The logic of his argument was that Jews should take comfort if antisemitic viewpoints drop 20 or 30 percent, even if attacks rise 40 or 50 percent. In other words, it isn't a big problem if the fascists killed 100 more people than last year, so long as they dropped a couple of seats in the Parliament.

Mr. Finkelstein concluded his speech by attacking Alan Dershowitz's book, The Case for Israel, claiming that it was a hoax and a fraud, exemplified by Mr. Dershowitz's claim that Israel's human rights record was generally superb. Like so much else, this was a half-truth because Mr. Finkelstein did not tell the audience that Dershowitz's argument was not based on the assessments of human rights organizations based on the controversial discipline of international law, but was a relativistic argument based on the reality of conflict and the comparison of the conflict to other situations both past and present. Thus, Dershowitz could argue that whether a policy of targetted killing was considered legal by this or that human rights organization, when compared to, for instance, US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel's record was indeed superb. When compared to the responses of other states faced with terrorist insurgencies, such as Syria in 1982, Jordan in 1970, the US today, and so on, Israel's response had resulted in far fewer casualties, evinced a much greater respect for the principles of proportionality that are at the heart of international norms of armed conflict, and on this relative basis, could be reasonably characterized as generally superb.

Finkelstein also mischaracterized, as many have, the position of Benny Morris on the expulsion of Palestinian refugees in 1948. Morris has said that Israel's mistake was not expelling all of the Palestinians in 1948. He was almost certainly saying this tongue in cheek to illuminate the irony that states who perpetrated a complete ethnic cleansing, a "successful" ethnic cleansing as it were, came in for far less criticism than those that hadn't. The proof is that Morris also made the point that had the Arabs fulfilled their aims in 1948 and expelled the Jews, the world would not now be clamoring for repatriation of Jews to the region. They don't clamor for repatriation or restitution for Jews expelled from Arab countries, largely because these ethnic cleansings were by and large successful.

Finkelstein's mocking bad faith and nastiness were on display during the question and answer period. To a student who asked how Finkelstein could argue that antisemitism in Europe was on the wane when his own synagogue in Istanbul had recently been bombed, Mr. Finkelstein's response was that technically, Turkey was not part of Europe. To another question (mine) challenging Mr. Finkelstein's citation of casualty statistics as support for his thesis that Israel was a worse aggressor than Hamas by asking what Mr. Finkelstein would say if one of Hamas's many attempts to perpetrate a mega-terror attack were successful and resulted in thousands of casualties, Mr. Finkelstein compared it to asking if Grandma grew wheels, would she be a baby carriage.

I responded, by now fed up with Finkelstein's lack of good faith, by reminding Mr. Finkelstein that whereas Grandma was not trying to grow wheels, Hamas and Islamic Jihad had tried many times in the past to perpetrate a mega-terror attack. (I was shouted down by members of the crowd.)

Like so many other times that night, Finkelstein was responding to an argument by claiming that it didn't exist. That's intellectual dishonesty.

The promotion of your viewpoint as the only legitimate one of right-thinking people and the belittling and mocking of all others is demagoguery.

Accusing others of debasing the Holocaust when you are given to comparing Israelis to Nazis early and often is hypocrisy.

Claiming that the term "Holocaust denier" is used with any regularity as an epithet is a simple fib.

Claiming that the term "antisemite" is used with any regularity as an epithet began as an invidious exaggeration, and now has turned into a full-blown fabrication to legitimize hate speech.

Mr. Finkelstein is thus an intellectually dishonest, demagogic, lying hypocrite, and he did the groups that brought him to Columbia no good.

14 Comments:

At 1:08 AM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

This is a great analysis. It's a good complement to my own report, which focuses more on detail and doesn't mention some of the specifics. You should send it to Middle East Web Dialogue and to Ariella.

 
At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Debbie said...

Very good and very thorough. Thanks for commenting at Right Truth, my site. I hope my readers will all click over and read your post. I will put a link to it on the bottom of the post. I didn't see where you can receive 'trackbacks'. Am I wrong?

Debbie
Right Truth
http://www.righttruth.typepad.com

 
At 10:54 AM, Blogger Ami Isseroff said...

This is a pretty thorough job. More people need to expose Finkelstein, but it has to be done dispassionately and objectively. You hit on important points regarding both Morris and Dershowitz. You defended Dershowitz better than Dershowitz defended himself against Chomsky. Please send this to the ZNN list. znn@yahoogroups.com.
Thanks
Ami Isseroff

 
At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Zeruel said...

You passionately write about this conflict, but it seems your position isn't entrenched any less than that of Finkelstein.

I think you cherry pick whatever suits you. When you write:

"242 calls for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, and does not, as Mr. Finkelstein claimed, call for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders."

You forget the following resolutions:

"799 (1992) Israel

"Reaffirms applicability of Fourth Geneva Convention…to all Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem, and affirms that deportation of civilians constitutes a contravention of its obligations under the Convention."

And when you write:

"When compared to the responses of other states faced with terrorist insurgencies, such as Syria in 1982, Jordan in 1970, the US today, and so on, Israel's response had resulted in far fewer casualties, evinced a much greater respect for the principles of proportionality that are at the heart of international norms of armed conflict, and on this relative basis, could be reasonably characterized as generally superb."

That is just a joke. Israel's tactic after war crimes is to seal off the territory, refuse U.N. operatives to enter, clean up the evidence and pretend it didn't happen. That way no record, no statistics. If you have seen the images of the massacre in Jenin you know what i mean. Which also the following resolution addresses:

"1405 (2002) Israel

Calls for UN inspectors to investigate civilian deaths during an Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp."

If you have to compare yourself with Syria when it concerns human rights, than how much lower can you fall as a supposed civilized country?

Don't get me wrong, i'm not alligned to the Palestinian case. I'm just an outside observer. And i also think Hamas is a terrorist organization and that the 'right of return' is an illusion.

But a debate should be about the real issues instead of the legal maneuverings that nobody benefits from, Israel included. If Israel wants sustainable peace it has to make concessions.

And for better or worse, Hamas is democratically chosen. They will have to take responsibility, give up terrorism and concede to the international rules of conduct(including acknowledging Israel). But deny it's democratic mandate and the next stop will be Al-Qaeda.

 
At 9:55 AM, Blogger Michael Brenner said...

Thank you all for the comments.

Zeruel makes three points:

UN Security Council resolution 799, which I believe was passed when Rabin decided to deport 400 alleged terrorists to Lebanon in 1992, is not inconsistent with 242. Neither does invocation of the Fourth Geneva Convention's applicability in Jerusalem contradict 242. The point is that 242 does not call for a withdrawal from all territories occupied in 1967, ie, acknowledges that there will be border adjustments.

"That is just a joke. Israel's tactic after war crimes is to seal off the territory, refuse U.N. operatives to enter, clean up the evidence and pretend it didn't happen. That way no record, no statistics. If you have seen the images of the massacre in Jenin you know what i mean."

I have seen the images. There was no massacre in Jenin. On this point, all but pro-Palestinian diehards agree. There was a fierce street battle, and the images suggest Israel destroyed about a square block to deny gunmen cover.
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, organizations far more reputable than the UN, released reports on Jenin and neither found a "massacre" The most damning reports found that 55 Palestinians were killed and that about half of them were civilians. Many others have cited statistics suggesting far fewer of the 55 or so Palestinians killed were civilians.

"But a debate should be about the real issues instead of the legal maneuverings that nobody benefits from, Israel included. If Israel wants sustainable peace it has to make concessions."

I agree. The legal "manuevering" I've done is only to recognize Israel's right to exist in security. That was the reason 242 was written the way it was.

 
At 9:55 AM, Blogger Michael Brenner said...

Debbie: I don't believe I'm set up for trackbacks. I'll try to change that. Thanks.

 
At 12:20 AM, Anonymous Fern Sidman said...

ANTI-SEMITIC JEW SPEAKS AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

BY: FERN SIDMAN

Columbia University students including the College Conservatives and campus Democrats plan to protest a speech Wednesday by a professor who has written that Jewish organizations exploit the Holocaust to deflect criticism of Israel and to extort European banks and governments for compensation.

Norman Finkelstein, an assistant professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago, wrote in his 2000 book "The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering" that some Jews have used the Holocaust as an "extortion racket" to get compensation payments, and he has referred to Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel as the "resident clown" of the "Holocaust circus."

His most recent book, "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History," is largely an attack on lawyer Alan Dershowitz's "The Case for Israel." In it he argues that Israel uses the outcry over perceived anti-Semitism as a bully weapon to stifle criticism.

In an editorial in Columbia University's student newspaper, The Columbia Spectator, Columbia sophomores, Chris Kulawik and Josh Lipsky write the following: "Those who assume that Finkelstein is just another "controversial" speaker, one of many in Columbia's recent past, fail to grasp the absurdity that is Finkelstein. Taking a job at DePaul University after being fired by New York University for his ludicrous and factually inaccurate book, The Holocaust Industry, this "scholar" makes his living off of absurd statements that garner comfortable speaking engagements. At a recent speech delivered at Yale University, Finkelstein equated the Jewish concern over Holocaust denial with a "level of mental hysteria." Clearly, we must first question his very "professorship." Anyone who so blatantly disregards facts and vehemently supports the murder of innocent children is worthy neither of academia nor of the title of professor.

Well, what precisely is Mr. Finkelstein's crime? It is not that he is a Holocaust revisionist. It is not that he denies the right of the Jewish state to exist. It is not that he cheapened the lives of the millions of innocents lost to the concentration camps by equating their systematic murder to any other large disaster. No, his crime both includes and transcends these radical, depraved stances. Only months after Sept. 11, 2001, Finkelstein asserted his support of terrorism. In that 2001 interview, Finkelstein exclaimed, "Frankly, part of me says—even though everything since Sept. 11 has been a nightmare—'You know what, we deserve the problem on our hands because some things [Osama] bin Laden says are true.'"

It is this sentiment that forces students to take a stand against Finkelstein's unique blend of pure idiocy and potent evil. Columbia attempts to teach its students to respect all opinions, listen to all viewpoints, and embrace the free exchange of ideas. We will listen, but we will not let a petty ploy to incite tension and turmoil go unnoticed."

In defense of Professor Finkelstein, the Columbia Spectator also published the views of Arab students. Maryum Saifee and Athar Abdul-Quader who write, "Finkelstein's critics, most notably Alan Dershowitz, charge Finkelstein with anti-Semitism precisely because of his criticism of Zionism, i.e. criticism of the Israeli occupation and Israeli state-sponsored human rights abuses committed against Palestinians. This isn't the first time that a reputable scholar has been typecast as anti-Semitic for critical views against Israeli policies (see David Horowitz's The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America). Undoubtedly, anti-Semitism is an ugly, appalling form of bigotry that deserves universal condemnation. However, Zionism is a political ideology and must never be confused with the Jewish religion, culture, or population. Contrary to the anti-American label commonly placed on Finkelstein, his critique of political Zionism is precisely the type of controversial political discourse that is characteristically American and is analogous to the College Democrats' stimulating debate on the Bush administration.

Finkelstein is often met with accusations of Holocaust revisionism, generally associated with Holocaust denial. Finkelstein's book The Holocaust Industry is actually a critique of Holocaust revisionist arguments that privilege the Holocaust as exceptional in the historiography of genocide. Far from the Anti-Defamation League's claims that Finkelstein is a Holocaust denier, his proof is an unambiguous affirmation that the Holocaust did occur -- his parents are living proof of its horrors! -- noting that the tragedy of the Holocaust has since been ruthlessly exploited and commercialized into what Finkelstein outlines as an industry to promote Zionist interests."

In Norman Finkelstein's own words, he states, "The problem is when you get to the United States. In the United States among those people who call themselves supporters of Israel, we enter the area of unreason. We enter a twilight zone. American Jewish organizations, they’re not only not up to speed yet with Steven Spielberg, they're still in the Leon Uris exodus version of history: the “this land is mine, God gave this land to me," and anybody who dissents from this, you can call it, lunatic version of history is then immediately branded an anti-Semite, and whenever Israel comes under international pressure to settle the conflict diplomatically, or when it is subjected to a public relations debacle, such as it was with the Second Intifada, a campaign is launched claiming there is a new anti-Semitism afoot in the world."

There is no question that Professor Norman G. Finkelstein is a self hating, viciously anti-Semitic Jew. One of his biggest supporters is David Irving, the Holocaust denier who was recently sentenced to three years in prison by an Austrian court for statements he made denying the veracity of the Holocaust. Despite the fact that Finkelstein in the son of Holocaust survivors, his vituperative and twisted and patently distorted logic is being embraced the world over by legions of devoted Jew haters.

We are told that a person can be honest, decent, moral and ethical without belief in G-d. We know that at the beginning of the 20th century, the false gods of education and culture began to replace the One true G-d of Israel. Jews began to believe that a moral and ethical person was one who was highly educated, one who attended the best of most prestigious universities and institutions of higher learning. We believed that an educated and cultured person was a moral person, who would never even entertain the notion of murder, of dishonesty and engaging in unethical practices.

At the beginning of World War II, that fallacy fell apart at the seams. For it was highly educated and extremely cultured German scientists who invented the gas chambers, who invented techniques to transform Jewish fat into soap and who discovered ways of making Jewish skin into lampshades. It was highly educated and cultured lawyers who devised and created laws that developed a society predicated on racism, fascism and xenophobia.

Let us never be fooled. "Reishis Chochma Yiras AdoShem". The beginning of wisdom is the fear and knowledge of G-d. Without that we have nothing. Without that, even highly educated and cultured people can and do engage in immorality, unethical conduct and become purveyors of lies, hatred, distortions, bigotry and Jew hatred. Professor Finkelstein is the personification of such evil.

 
At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman Finkelstein is a fraud. According to Alan Dershowitz, Finkelstein was was dismissed from a university teaching position for abusing students and has stated so publicly.

Needless to say, this is a serious allegation and Finkelstein has never taken legal action against Dershowitz (who has a little more credibility than Finkelstein) for this "defamation".

 
At 3:57 PM, Blogger Peter said...

It is true that the UN Human Rights Commission has condemned Israel early and often. It is not true that these condemnations are not controversial, because many of the countries that run the UNHRC are among the world's worst violators of human rights laws.

Michael,

You miss one of the points of Finkelstein's book, which is that he specifcally eschews groups which have been attacked as anti-Israel, like the UN Human Rights Council. Rather, Finkelstein relies on respected mainstream human rights groups like Human Rights Watch, Btselem, and Amensty International to document Israel's denial of basic human rights of Palestinians.

If you're going to attack Finkelstein's sources as biased, attack HRW or Btselem.

 
At 4:28 PM, Blogger Peter said...

242 calls for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, and does not, as Mr. Finkelstein claimed, call for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders

Again, Finkelstein sets out to establish in Image and Reality that Resolution 242 does in fact require a full withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian territories, which he shows by quoting figures at the time Resolution 242 was adopted, including Abba Eban and Moshe Dayan. He does not deny that Resolution 242 allows for minor territorial adjustments, provided the adjusments be on equal and reciprocal basis. If Israel were to annex 10% of the West Bank, involving the most strategically valuable portions, and give the Palestinians 1% in territory back, that would not be consistent with Resolution 242.

What Finkelstein attacks is Dershowitz's distorted interpretation of Resolution 242 -for example, leaving out the preambular clause, "emphasizing the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war" - in his discussion of Resolution 242 in The Case for Israel.

 
At 12:10 AM, Blogger Michael Brenner said...

"Again, Finkelstein sets out to establish in Image and Reality that Resolution 242 does in fact require a full withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian territories, which he shows by quoting figures at the time Resolution 242 was adopted, including Abba Eban and Moshe Dayan. He does not deny that Resolution 242 allows for minor territorial adjustments, provided the adjusments be on equal and reciprocal basis. If Israel were to annex 10% of the West Bank, involving the most strategically valuable portions, and give the Palestinians 1% in territory back, that would not be consistent with Resolution 242."

None of this is consistent with 242's text. Text is the first and most important level of analysis. The second is looking at how those who actually wrote the text interpret the text. They say that 242 is not about full withdrawal to the 1967 borders. The Israeli offers at Camp David and Taba included reciprocal land swaps. So I believe Finkelstein is incorrect on this point.

"What Finkelstein attacks is Dershowitz's distorted interpretation of Resolution 242 -for example, leaving out the preambular clause, "emphasizing the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war" - in his discussion of Resolution 242 in The Case for Israel."

Finkelstein vastly overstates the line about the "inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war because he doesn't understand the difference between a preambular clause and an operative clause. Preambular clauses are not law. Operatives are.

 
At 5:56 AM, Blogger Peter said...

Finkelstein vastly overstates the line about the "inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war because he doesn't understand the difference between a preambular clause and an operative clause. Preambular clauses are not law. Operatives are.

No offense, but that's BS. If the preambular clause is unimportant, why did Abba Eban lobby Lord Caradon against the incorpoation of "inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war" in Resolution 242?

The Israeli offers at Camp David and Taba included reciprocal land swaps. So I believe Finkelstein is incorrect on this point.

They weren't reciprocal. Israel would have annexed more land (and more valuable land) than it would given up.

None of this is consistent with 242's text. Text is the first and most important level of analysis.

Read this piece by John McHugo

"Many pro Israel publicists maintain that the wording of the first principle was intentionally devised to enable Israel to have the right to acquire some of the territories. 'Withdrawal from territories occupied in the recent conflict', we are told, only meant withdrawal from 'some' of these territories. We are also told that words such as 'all' or 'the' were deliberately not included before 'territories', and that the interpretation intended by the Security Council was that Israel could fulfil its obligation by only withdrawing from 'some' of them.

This argument is fallacious for all the following reasons:

(i) It is not true that the plain meaning of the English wording 'withdrawal from territories occupied in the recent conflict' does not cover all the territories occupied. If you saw a notice which said 'Dogs may swim in ponds in the park', would you not assume that it applied to all ponds in the park, even though the notice does not say 'all ponds in the park' or 'the ponds in the park'. It is similar with 'territories occupied in the recent conflict'. A reader is entitled to assume that all such territories are intended.

(ii) The Israeli interpretation is inconsistent with the prohibition on the acquisition of territory by war in International Law which is emphasised in the Resolution.

(iii) There is a presumption in International Law that a document should be interpreted in order to make its meaning clear, and so an interpretation which leads to an uncertainty should be avoided if possible. By giving Israel a right to remain in 'some' of the territories, uncertainty arises as to which these territories are. This is a recipe for further conflict and cannot have been the intention of the Security Council.

(iv) There is a presumption that documents should be free of contradiction. The Israeli interpretation leads to a direct contradiction with the emphasis on the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, as well as the uncertainty just mentioned.

By contrast, the Palestinian interpretation is clear and contains no contradictions. When an interpretation of a document which is free of ambiguity can be established, that should be the end of the process of interpretation. The 'secure and recognised borders' to be negotiated are for the benefit of Israel's neighbours as well as of Israel itself, and adjustments agreed to the boundaries are as likely to be in favour of these neighbours as in favour of Israel.

http://www.caabu.org/press/focus/mchugo.html

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger Michael Brenner said...

"No offense, but that's BS. If the preambular clause is unimportant, why did Abba Eban lobby Lord Caradon against the incorpoation of "inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war" in Resolution 242?"

Preambular clauses have no direct legal force, but it doesn't mean they are meaningless. Obviously, they are assumptions to some extent. Eban doubtless had many good reasons, among them the total lack of respect for Israel security that such a phrase implies. Not to mention the basic hypocrisy of applying this principle only to Israel and not to Jordan or Egypt.

Before I rebut these arguments, I note that they come from the CAABU website. CAABU is an Arab-British lobbying outfit. They are not a reliable source of information on international law.

"This argument is fallacious for all the following reasons:

(i) It is not true that the plain meaning of the English wording 'withdrawal from territories occupied in the recent conflict' does not cover all the territories occupied. If you saw a notice which said 'Dogs may swim in ponds in the park', would you not assume that it applied to all ponds in the park, even though the notice does not say 'all ponds in the park' or 'the ponds in the park'. It is similar with 'territories occupied in the recent conflict'. A reader is entitled to assume that all such territories are intended."

Eugene Rostow was involved in the writing of the language. He says unequivocally that this is reason the word "the" is not included. This is the language of diplomacy. There are nuances, and everyone who knows anything about the history of issue knows what the truth is. It's not like this interpretation came later. There was a distinct fight over this wording at the time of the writing of the resolution, and the Israelis won. The reason they won is simple; a complete withdrawal to the 1967 borders was and continues to be widely regarded by security experts as infeasible because these borders are largely indefensible.

"(ii) The Israeli interpretation is inconsistent with the prohibition on the acquisition of territory by war in International Law which is emphasised in the Resolution."

It is not at all inconsistent, particularly if you consider the idea of land swaps to be implied.

"(iii) There is a presumption in International Law that a document should be interpreted in order to make its meaning clear, and so an interpretation which leads to an uncertainty should be avoided if possible. By giving Israel a right to remain in 'some' of the territories, uncertainty arises as to which these territories are. This is a recipe for further conflict and cannot have been the intention of the Security Council."

Again, this is a basic distortion of the history. The word "the" was purposely omitted because the solution was to have been negotiated. If 242 means a literal withdrawal, then what is there to negotiate about?

"(iv) There is a presumption that documents should be free of contradiction. The Israeli interpretation leads to a direct contradiction with the emphasis on the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, as well as the uncertainty just mentioned."

Presumption or no such presumption, there is no contradiction in terms, because the meaning is clear to anyone who knows the history of 242 and is not consciously trying to distort it.

"By contrast, the Palestinian interpretation is clear and contains no contradictions. When an interpretation of a document which is free of ambiguity can be established, that should be the end of the process of interpretation. The 'secure and recognised borders' to be negotiated are for the benefit of Israel's neighbours as well as of Israel itself, and adjustments agreed to the boundaries are as likely to be in favour of these neighbours as in favour of Israel."

It's always amusing when a partisan author destroys his own argument through self-serving contradiction. If 242 means a literal withdrawal, then there need be no negotiation, and of course, no adjustment in boundaries. That he places this near the end of the article shows the point of it - to invent a pro-Palestinian interpretation of that rare UN document that is not unabashedly pro-Palestinian.

 
At 10:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree this is a great analysis, and more work of this type needs to be done. In addition to his lack of perspective or knowledge on the topic, Finkelstein needs a geography lesson. At last reckoning, Istanbul, being west of the Bosphorous, is in Europe, not Asia. So, "technically speaking" doesn't work except in Finkelstan.

You are quite right about his vulgarity. An "academic" who showers his opponents with such epithets as "fraudster, hoax, something that crawled out of a sewer, hoodlum, imbecile"
is a propagandist and pamphleteer, not an academic. But there are enough people out their ready to believe and sop up every word that comes out of his poison pen.

 

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