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Alfred de Zayas, „Gegen Dreistigkeit: Diskurs über Nahost-Konflikt erfordert intellektuelle Redlichkeit,“
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 3 February 2006.

Against Brazenness:
The discourse on the Israel-Palestine Conflict Requires Intellectual Honesty

One usually knows what to make of the word chutzpah - the terms brazenness and insolence come to mind. However, in colloquial American parlance, the Yiddish term chutzpah has positive connotations as well, such as courage and daring. Thus, Alan Dershowitz - a professor at Harvard who has defended sports stars like O. J. Simpson (successfully) and Mike Tyson (unsuccessfully) in court - chose to call his autobiography Chutzpah.

Norman Finkelstein, a political scientist at DePaul University, Chicago, restores the term's original Yiddish meaning, apparently in a conscious effort to refute Alan M. Dershowitz, one of the leading representatives of American Zionism, who, in his polemic, The Case for Israel (2003), arrogantly justified the torture practices resorted to by members of the Israel Defense Forces and security service officials; the at times arbitrary, at times targeted killings of thousands of Palestinians; the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of them since the establishment of the State of Israel; and the destruction of their homes in order to make room for Jewish settlement.

Finkelstein, himself Jewish and also the son of Holocaust survivors, directly attacks his opponent. He demands intellectual honesty, in the discourse on Israel's past as well as on current events in the region, thus calling for nothing less than the abandonment of chutzpah, believing as he does that only when it has been done away with, will there be a chance for peace between Jews and Palestinians, accepted by all sides. The author's uncompromising stance is well known from his previous books such as The Holocaust Industry and A Nation on Trial, the latter being a refutation of Daniel Goldhagen's theses. Just like these publications, Beyond Chutzpah, too, is a devastating, polemical critique. Yet, at the same time, the book is a sober discussion and analysis, leading to the conclusion that not only are Dershowitz's remarks characterized by a brazen and arrogant tone, but they are also brimming with half-truths and untruths.

The diversity and reliability of Finkelstein's historical and legal sources cannot be stressed too much. These include reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as UN Commission on Human Rights plenary sessions and many other sources. All of them serve two interlinked aims, namely criticism of vulgar racism and anti-Semitism on the one side and, by sharp contrast, condemnation of Israeli policy on the other. It is no wonder - in fact, it was almost inevitable - that the United States, too, has come under Finkelstein's scrutiny. He illustrates, and copiously documents, how even the most timid criticism of Israel has been used as a pretext by US media and political culture to tar all those who register protests and issue warnings, with the anti-Semitism slur.

That the Israeli media has been sharply critical of the book, sometimes not even refraining from ad hominem attacks, is not surprising, given the fierceness with which Finkelstein himself challenges his opponents. Outside Israel and the United States, however, the notices for Beyond Chutzpah have been, for the most part, favorable - rightly so, in this reviewer's opinion. For, leaving aside the polemics and looking strictly at the book's content, Finkelstein's argumentation does seem to be very sound: whether the author points up, backed by numerous examples, how paralysing the reign of political correctness with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict has been for the political opinion and decision making processes in the United States, numbing people's minds as well as their morality; or whether he demolishes worthless, elaborate treatises put out by US university chairs like Dershowitz who consider even the most dubious argumentative means right and proper, so long as they can be used in defense of Israel.

What impact can this book have in the political arena and, more specifically, which conclusions can be drawn with regard to the European Union's human rights policy? Perhaps the EU should try to bring to bear its influence on Israel and urge it to comply with UN resolutions as well as respect the International Court of Justice's 9 July 2004 advisory opinion determining that the separation wall is in violation of international law. One thing is for sure: Finkelstein requires his readers to give serious thought to one of the most urgent political issues of our time.

Alfred de Zayas

(Translation: Maren Hackmann)


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