American Radical: Trials of Norman Finkelstein

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TITLE: American Radical: Trials of Norman Finkelstein
ACTORS: Norman Finkelstein
DIRECTOR: David Ridgen, Nicolas Rossier
YEAR: 2010
RATING: Not Rated
Written By: Rene Trujillo
Aug 15 2011

The middle East is a story of feuding brothers, brothers born of the same father Abraham but of two different mothers: Sarah And Hagar.

For thousands of years these brothers have warred upon one another intent on the utter destruction of the other. Now, in modern times, we see this conflict become one which seemingly divides the world itself.

After the horrors of World War II the Jews were finally given their homeland, and we have seen many of those who lived there prior to the founding of the new state of Israel be pushed to squalid refugee camps which gave birth to a burning hatred towards those they believed to be at fault.

We have seen terror born in the Middle East, from the Jewish Group Lehi (aka the Stern Gang), who acted against the British Government in Palestine using robbery, extortion, bombings and assassinations between 1940 and 1949, the P.L.O., Hamas and Hezbollah among many others, be exported across the planet like a malignant cancer.

The conflict has become so divisive that it often results in heinous crimes against humanity where innocents on all sides suffer wounds of almost unimaginable proportions, if not outright murdered, in the name of God and Land.

There are none whose hands are free of blood, yet if one takes sides in this conflict, no matter what their motives, even if on purely benign humanitarian grounds, they are accused of either being a Zionist or a Terrorist.

One can't help but feel anger and frustration as a Palestinian father is gunned down while futilely trying to shield his son from Israeli bullets or when a youngster whose mind is poisoned by hatred boards a bus in Tel-Aviv to blow himself up, killing him/herself and all on board in a flash of C4 and ball bearings.

In the West, especially in the United States, if we speak out against Israel on political terms, we are labeled anti-Semites, making those who speak out to be almost as vile as any guard in Dachau or Buchenwald; that to take any position against Israel's treatment of the average Palestinian to be one in support of a doctrine of hatred like that disseminated by madmen such as The Islamic Republic of Iran's current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

If we can make ourselves understand the position Israel feels by being a small nation surrounded by groups which want to see it's utter and complete annihilation, then, as mentioned before, we are heartless Zionists.

The Middle East is a vicious circle of hatred which feeds upon itself, a whirlwind of intolerance which will not only insure the continued suffering of all, but perhaps, even the destruction of all who seek peace, freedom and a land they can call home. This review is not about the conflict, nor will it delve into the origins and obvious results which seemingly may never be resolved.

It does however, present to you a powerful documentary about the controversial and brilliant American scholar, political scientist Dr. Norman Finkelstein, who is well known (and reviled) for his book: The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, where he argues that the main threat against the memory of those who were victims of Nazi Germany is not from the perversions created by Holocaust deniers, but rather, from self-proclaimed protectors of Holocaust memory.

Norman Finkelstein, is an outspoken critic of Isreal's policies towards the Palestinain people, what makes him unique compared to other critics is that he is Jewish, the son to parents who both survived the holocaust itself.

It gives the viewer an intriguing insight into views which are often labeled as "radical" or "anti-Semitic" by Israel, the media and those who are proponents of hatred in the name of security. And precisely because of his own views, he has lost his professorship at several universities and constantly harassed, one of the latest, by the Jewish Defense League (described as both a hate group involved in "anti-Arab terrorism" by the Southern Poverty Law Center and "a right-wing terrorist group" by the F.B.I. ) who is trying to pressure the landlord of Dr. Finklestein's home to evict him.

Throughout this documentary you witness Dr. Finklestein as he stands up to those who are both grossly misinformed and those who are as religiously radical as the people they declare to be "terrorists". It clearly shows how he understands that no one, not even his critics, or those blind to the realities of Palestine, should be quieted; that only through dialogue can there ever be a resolution to a never ending conflict.

It also shows how vulnerable he is as a human being from feeling the pain of others to allowing his passions to perhaps get the better of him, especially where he makes a comment which seemingly has him siding with Hezbollah...something which he knew would be immediately jumped upon and used against him; he speaks in such a way that you come to understand that, in retrospect, he was incredibly unsure as to whether he should have said that, but in usual fashion he shrugs and says "I always say what I feel." or when he tells us of a converstaion he had with a woman in either a refugee camp or the Palestinian territory (I am drawing this from memory mind you); " I was speaking with an elderly woman who was living in a hovel which was rat infested with open sewers, I asked her; 'How old are you?' She responded: 'Twelve' 'Twelve? I asked' 'Yes, when I left Palistine I was 12, so I have had no life after that.' " In those moments you can see his compassion for these people, and yet throughout the documentary, I never once felt as if he hated the Jewish people, on the contrary, I saw nothing but a love for his people, a love that made him, perhaps some might contend, in a flawed way, to take a stand against injustice and try to bridge a gap between the two peoples.

You can see this is no heartless individual without empathy or understanding of who and  what he is up against, and there are many moments where you can view his soul through his own recounting of his upbringing; of moments in his life which molded him into the controversial figure that he has become. One such part is where he speaks of his mother and how she said to him: "In the camps you saw the secrets of human nature."

He goes up against everyone who dare not speak out against Israel as well as many leaders of academia and pays a price for his views. One individual in particular who he butts heads with is Harvard Law School's Alan Dershowitz whom he accused of plagiarism for his book "The Case For Israel". Mr. Dershowitz had responded by writing DePaul University faculty members to lobby against giving Dr. Finkelstein tenure, the Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty answer was to send a letter of complaint to Harvard University, and the faculty voted in favor of Tenure 17 to 7, but nonetheless, Alan Dershowitz is an influential individual and with support of DePaul's Dean , Chuck Suchar, Dr. Finkelstein was denied Tenure and removed (resigned) from his position. Suchar justified his stance with the minority of opposing faculty to tenure by saying this: "Finkelstein's personal and reputation demeaning attacks on Alan Dershowitz, Benny Morris, and the holocaust authors Elie Wiesel and Jerzy Kosinski were inconsistent with DePaul's "Vincentian" values".

Whether or not you agree with Dr. Finkelstein's views should not be the driving force to you watching this incredible documentary (even though many, many of his points are incredibly valid), what should be of interest to you is the powerful statement it makes with regards to freedom of speech and opinion. It is incredible how "defenders" of liberty are quick to label this man as "self-loathing, with an identity crisis" or "Anti-Semitic"...a son of Holocaust survivors, being anti-Jew? It shows that those willing to take a stand against Israel should prepare themselves to ridiculed and labeled an "extremist".

In this documentary you see that Dr. Finkelstein's views on Israel is not solely one of religion but, rather, one of politics and it is a debate which should be had. I highly recommend this documentary to anyone willing to view the other side of the coin and allow themselves the moment to understand one of Isreal's most vocal critics or anyone who holds dear the values of the first amendment.

IDFA 2009 | Trailer | American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein by IDFA

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