Analysis: Finkelstein's Germany tour sparks protest

The controversial American Jewish political scientist was denied entry to Israel in 2008 because of his pro-Hizbullah solidarity activity in Lebanon.

norman finkelstein 311 (photo credit: AP)
norman finkelstein 311
(photo credit: AP)
BERLIN – Remember the late British Jewish actor Marty Feldman’s role in the 1974 comedy film Young Frankenstein?He plays Dr. Frankenstein’s hunchback assistant Igor and moves his humpfrom shoulder to shoulder to deliberately perplex his boss.
The controversial American Jewish political scientist NormanFinkelstein’s attempt to secure locations last week in Munich andBerlin to deliver anti-Israel lectures recalls Feldman’s shifting hump.
Finkelstein, whose scheduled talk – “One year after the invasion of theIsraeli army in Gaza and the responsibility of the German government inthe starvation of the Palestinian population” – generated protests andcancellations last week, resulting, like Igor’s hump, in a perpetualshift of venue. Initially, he was scheduled to speak in the Trinitatisevangelical church in Berlin, with organizational and financial supportfrom the political foundations of the Green Party, Left Party,German-Palestinian organizations, and a fringe group of anti-ZionistJews.
Finkelstein was denied entry to Israel in 2008 because of hispro-Hizbullah solidarity activity in Lebanon. According to a February New York Timesreview of a documentary on Finkelstein, he waved a banner during aprotest against the First Lebanon War in 1982, “urging ‘Israeli Nazis’to ‘stop the Holocaust in Lebanon.’”
The Heinrich Böll Foundation, affiliated with the Green Party, pulledthe plug on its involvement and said in a statement: “We regret ourdecision... and because of careless, insufficient research we made afiercely bad decision. Finkelstein’s behavior and his theses takeplace, in our view, not within the framework of justified criticism.”
There has always been an insatiable market, particularly among theLeft, for Finkelstein’s views in Germany, largely because he allowsmany Germans to air anti-Israel sentiments in a politically andsocially correct way. A spokeswoman from the respectable Piperpublishing house in Munich, which publishes his books, told The Jerusalem Post that Finkelstein’s anti-Israel Holocaust Industry sold 150,000 copies in 2001, catapulting it to best-seller status.
It’s not hard to explain the popularity of Finkelstein in Germany: Ifthe son of Holocaust survivors can equate Israel with Nazi Germany andcharge American Jewish organizations with exploiting the Holocaust totap into the guilt and financial chords of Germans, then Germans canbreathe more easily and alleviate their sense of guilt and connectionto the Shoah.
Finkelstein’s background serves as a social-psychological crutch thatallows many Germans to invoke his Jewish biography to insulatethemselves from accusations of anti-Semitism.
After the cancellation of the support of the Green Party foundation andthe Trinitatis church, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, which isaffiliated with the Left Party, offered to provide a venue forFinkelstein. A diverse group of pro-Israel organizations – includingthe BAK Shalom Working Group within the Left Party – protested thefoundation’s decision. Henning Heine, a spokesman from the foundation,issued a statement, saying “we underestimated the politicalexplosiveness of Finkelstein’s lecture” and rescinding its offer.
BAK Shalom is a group of young Left Party members who seek to end theirparty’s adherence to flourishing anti-Zionist positions within theparty.
Rising pressure from the pro-Israel community also prompted the AmerikaHouse in Munich to walk away from its support of Finkelstein’sappearance.
The last refuge for Finkelstein is the headquarters of the notoriously pro-Islamic Republic leftist Junge Weltdaily, a leftover from the former communist East Germany. Finkelsteinwill deliver his talk on Friday in the gallery of the paper’s buildingin Berlin.
Finkelstein’s counterpart in France, the German-born Alfred Grosser, isanother telling example of an anti-Israel Diaspora Jew who has a fanclub among broad swaths of the Left in Germany. Following inFinkelstein’s footsteps, he sees Germany as exposed to “an exaggerated,masochistic guilt consciousness.”
Grosser has argued in newspaper interviews that “criticism of Israeland anti-Semitism have nothing to do with each other. It is ratherIsrael’s policies that promote anti-Semitism globally.”
Grosser’s book From Auschwitz to Jerusalem was published last year in Germany.