Aaron Maté’s Martyrdom

Aaron Maté has been a brave journalist. He had worked for DemocracyNow! and is now  host at TheRealNews (TRN). He was born in Canada to Jewish parents but is a supporter of the Palestinian cause. So, he might be the right person to interview Norman Finkelstein on his promoting tour for his new book Gaza – An Inquest into Its Martyrdom.

Finkelstein had been interviewed by TRN before by its founder and CEO Paul Jay. I had reported on the series of televised parts here. While Jay let him describe his biography almost unchallenged (it becomes instantly clear that Finkelstein is an awfully difficult guest), the new promotion interview with Maté is worse, quite scandalous.

At least in its third part, Maté seems to lose his patience when Finkelstein, who claims to choose his words  pretty carefully, compares Hamas’ rockets with “enhanced” firework and an “SOS call”.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I was pretty careful in my choice of words because I went through the scholarly literature on the subject and the most authoritative opinions by say, James Crawford at Oxford is that there’s no law barring, prohibiting peoples under occupation and struggling for self determination, there’s no law barring them from using armed force to gain their self determination or to end an occupation. On the other hand, international law is very clear and unequivocal that an occupying power, or a power denying a people the right to self determination does not have the right to use armed force.

Now, that raises two, or the next level of analysis is two complications. Complication number one on the side of Hamas is even if they have the right to use armed force, or there’s no law prohibiting them, do they have the right to use weapons which are inherently indiscriminate and therefore cannot target military sites or military personnel but will end up causing significant civilian death? So, there’s a question, that’s a secondary level of analysis. They have the right but do they have the right to use indiscriminate weapons? On the Israeli side, they don’t have the right to preserve an occupation. They don’t have the right to deny a people the right to self determination but do they have the right to use their weapons in self defense? That’s their claim, okay?

If you’ll allow me, let’s look at each of those questions. Question number one: Hamas’ use of indiscriminate weapons. First of all, as a factual matter, let’s set aside the quality of the weapons. The weapons are basically symbolic. They’re the equivalent of fireworks. As Khaled Mashal put it at one point, the head of Hamas at that moment, he no longer is, he says they’re “our cry to the world.” It’s a kind of, if I can use my language, it’s a kind of SOS. They’re sending these flares into the air, “SOS. We’re dying.”

At that point Maté sort of sighs or groans and shows, in his facial expression, complete disagreement. Apparently he wants to make an attempt to interrupt and respond. But Finkelstein raises his voice, points his two index fingers at him, and continues lecturing him with his eyes closed and defying and quite aggressive body language.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: That’s not an exaggeration. When Mary Robinson from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, when she went to Gaza in 2008, she said “a whole civilization is being destroyed. I am not exaggerating. A whole civilization is being destroyed.” So, if you send up flares saying, “SOS. We’re dying,” which have next to zero impact on civilians, next to zero. I think whether or not they’re discriminate or indiscriminate, it’s beside the point. They’re doing no damage. They are almost entirely symbolic.

What follows is another unavailing attempt by Maté to interrupt Finkelstein. When he finally succeeds, he does not address the important question to which extent Qassam rockets, how little physical damage they allegedly do, according to Finkelstein, on the Israeli side, terrorize the people on the other side of the border.

AARON MATÉ: Okay, but here’s my problem with that. To say that they’re entirely symbolic and …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Almost entirely.

AARON MATÉ: Almost entirely symbolic, that that’s their SOS, presumes that that’s their only method of letting out an SOS. And firing rockets, even if they’re futile, is not the only way. You’ve pointed this out, that they could engage, if they wanted, they could organize a mass nonviolent campaign. But you write in the book this. You say, “The ultimate question is do Palestinians have the right to symbolically resist slow death, punctuated by periodic massacres, or is it incumbent upon them to lie down and die?” But why are those the only two options? Why is an option, instead of exercising their symbolic right to resist, why is not, instead of directing energies towards that, towards violence, in the case of Hamas, directing it towards organizing mass nonviolence? How do you respond to that?

Well, Finkelstein does by, “I get to call my own tune.” It’s both ways.

Nobody has the right to tell Palestinians that they should practice nonviolence. I think it’s a losing strategy, the strategy of armed resistance. And I’ve said it many times to them. Occasionally, I do seminars over Skype with people in Gaza. And I’m very forthright about that. I said, it’s just a mythology. There’s no armed resistance. It’s just something Israel exploits each time it launches one of its massacres.

But there’s a difference between telling them, “I don’t think this strategy’s gonna work,” and telling them they don’t have the right. The law is clear.

By that argument, you factually cannot accuse Finkelstein of supporting terrorists, of course. This is utterly bigot. Arguing that “so-called” armed resistance has anyway no damaging effect (“There were five civilians killed by mortar shells, one civilian killed by a Hamas rocket”) is disingenuous, given Hamas’ intention: spreading terror. Calling that an SOS call is laughable.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: They have the right. I’m not gonna tell them they have to practice nonviolence. Gandhi did not do that. During the first Arab rebellion in Palestine in 1936 to 38, he had a very heated exchange, you might say an unfriendly exchange, with Martin Buber, the so-called pacifist Zionist philosopher. He said to Buber, I think it was initially it began with an interview that Gandhi gave. He said, “I wish the Palestinians choose nonviolence.” But then he went on to say, “According to the accepted canons,” C-A-N-O-N-S, “according to the accepted canons of right and wrong,” he didn’t say Palestinians, at that point Arabs, have the right to use armed force to resist their aggressors, their occupation.

So, Ghandi, who advised also the Jews in Germany to go nonviolent, also said, allegedly, “I wish the Palestinians choose nonviolence.” He didn’t say that Arabs have the right to use armed force to resist their aggressors, “[a]ccording to the accepted canons of right and wrong,” then. But now, after decades of conflict with Israel, as well as a global war on terror, that “law” has changed, according to Finkelstein (or rather James Crawford at Oxford)?

Finkelstein entertains comparisons of Gaza with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1944 and Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006 with the Mongol army’s (two times) conquest of the 13th century, a racial slur.

Seeing the video and reading the transcript, one gets the impression that Maté completely failed to stop Finkelstein’s rants and challenge his extreme views. The same happened the other day when Amy Goodman interviewed Finkelstein about his new book on DemocracyNow!, when he badly distracted, ranting about the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who gave The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman an as ridiculous as scandalous interview in November last year, or Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s obvious lack of capabilities to solve the Israel-Palestinan conflict. That neither Amy Goodman nor Aaron Maté are willing to intercept Finkelstein’s questionable claims badly reflects not only on their hosts but on either “progessive” news organization, DemocracyNow! and TRN. In particular as there will be no interviews, for sure, with mainstream media for exactly that problem with Finkelstein.

Finkelstein has to ask himself whether he is still able to foster the Palestinian case when promoting his extreme doctrines. He hasn’t been employed at any American university for more than a decade.

12 January 2018 @ 9:56am.

Last modified January 12, 2018.


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