Book Review of Norman Finkelstein’s “Knowing too Much”
Norman Finkelstein released his newest book approximately a week ago and eagerly I ordered it and began reading it. I have been interested in Norman Finkelstein for about five years when I first became involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict and his books have been a beneficial tool in deciphering the conflict. Even at one point I actively worked to get him to speak at my Alma Mater (University of Massachusetts Lowell) about what happened during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9.
Since living in Palestine since the beginning of 2010, his books have hit a point with me that cannot be explained. Studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem opens up many racist facets in the American Jewish community. Having been disconnected to American live, unfortunately this community here has reminded me of the many problems within my home country.
All this being said, Finkelstein’s new book “Knowing too Much” is about the American Jewish community specifically and its role in the conflict. He begins by analyzing it from the founding of the State of Israel and its relationship with it. He documents rather extensively the passive attitude the vast majority of American Jews had towards Israel during this time. The shift, which he correctly sees, begins with the 1967 war when Israel carried out an extremely premeditated attack on its Arab neighbors while at the same time maintaining a sense of innocence and constant threat upon it. The subsequent occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan became invisible to the American Jewish community as compared to the “great achievements” the Israeli army carried out. Finally, American Jews were able to be “proud” of Israel and this manifested into many various forms.
All of the sudden Israel became a source of inspiration and a leading factor in American Jewish life. Often it was heralded as the “light unto nations” and various narratives at this time sprang up with great proliferation. Criticism of Israel and its policies within the community and within the world in general was kept hidden to a point that criticism was (and still now) considered anti-Semitic or “self hating.” This newly found love affair produced a plethora of “authoritative” works by prominent American Jews and their sympathizers that were held in high regard. Miraculously these books coincided with key events in the history where Israel was rightly being condemned for massive atrocities in the occupied territories and foreign countries such as Lebanon.
Unfortunately for the American Jewish community, since the first Intifada in 1987, it has become impossible to ignore the massive and gross violations of basic human rights of Palestinians in particular and Arabs living under constant Israeli domination on the other. The springing up of human rights groups in Israel, Europe, the United Nations, and beyond have simply made it impossible to maintain the same fantasy of a “light unto nations” that so forcefully dictated the framework of which one has discussed Israel since 1967.
As this being the basic framework, Finkelstein forcefully maintains that the American Jewish community cannot maintain the ignorance or high opinion of Israel anymore. Specifically he holds that due to Israel’s rightward shift and extremely fatalistic propaganda war it unleashes on any criticism of it, the American Jewish community has a very near dilemma to deal with. Does the American Jewish community maintain its liberal values that has allowed it to become the most prosperous and powerful ethnic group in the United States for the defense of Israel, or does it abandon Israel to maintain these liberal values and forego the charge of dual loyalty? Finkelstein is of the mind that the vast majority of American Jews will choose their liberal values and prominent positions in the United States instead of remaining diehard Israel supporters.
Finkelstein believes specifically that the second Intifada, the 34 day war with Hizballah, and the massacres of Gaza and the Freedom Flotilla in 2010 have simply become a catalyst for a potential turn of the American Jewish community to abandoning their support for Israel in favor of human rights. He states that various polls showing the support and importance of Israel constantly decreasing, especially among young adults, within the American Jewish community. He attributes this to the above mentioned situations. As he says:
“Twenty years ago Israeli soldiers toured US college campuses to be feted by Jewish students as war heroes, now the campus Hillels drag them on tours to persuade Jewish students that Israeli soldiers are not war criminals. Twenty years ago pro-Israel Jewish students aggressively interrogated critics of Israel at public events, now they sit silently in the audience or do not bother to even show up.”
As stated, he does not believe the whole community will get behind accepting the fact that Israel is an oppressive occupier, as he says “the likes of Alan Dershowitz will continue to laud Israel’s ‘generally superb’ human rights record even after Israelis themselves look back upon it with shame.” In fact, he states that (mostly) American Jewish apologists for Israel have had to change their discourse of ‘scholarly’ work. The likes of “From Time Immemorial” and “Exodus” simply cannot manipulate the Jewish community anymore and new forms of propaganda have been developed, mostly futile attempts, and he goes on to document a number of them.
Any reader of Finkelstein knows that he likes to deconstruct ‘popular’ literature on a specified topic to further drive home his point and this book is no different. To prove the ‘new propaganda’ theory he analyzes Jeffrey Goldberg’s book “Prisoners,” Dennis Ross’ “A Missing Peace,” Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez’s “Foxbats over Dimona,” Michael Oren’s “Six Days of War,” and Benny Morris’ “One State, Two States.” In every analysis he goes point by point proving how utterly false, but ‘creative,’ these new narratives for apologizing for Israel’s crimes have become. He documents all the various lies used in each one to cover up various topics such as 1967, Camp David, the Intifadas, and more in order to deceive the readers. Each one of these deconstructions brought me great joy to read, having read all of these lies and distortions. This to me personally is Finkelstein at his best and he does not let down in his thorough analyses of the topics.
The last topic in which I will bring up about the book is two other deconstructions he carries out in great detail. First he uses his framework of the abandoning of the American Jewish community to go through Walt and Mearsheimer’s book “The Israel Lobby.” He contends that although they are correct on many key aspects, their hyping of the power of the lobby is potentially dangerous and rather off point. By creating connections to things such as the war in Iraq, they actually give it too much credit and misdirect where attention should be about the lobby. Second, he discusses a couple of Human Rights Watch reports about the bombing in Lebanon by Israel and the inconsistencies involved in the documentation. He states that Israel’s pressure, in addition to local lobbies, watered down and even caused great distortions about what happened in the war between Hizballah and Israel in order to white wash Israel’s massive human rights violations including the dropping of four million cluster munitions in Lebanon in the last days. He uses vast sources to prove massive inaccuracies, all the while further proving his point about the actual power of the Israel lobby in the world.
Overall the book is fantastic and a must read for anyone who enjoys reading Finkelstein’s work or wanting a very detailed and well researched book about the topics mentioned above. Although Finkelstein has recently many complaints and even allegations regarding his stances on BDS and solving the conflict, his book stays true to his consistent scholarly standard. The book is available on OR Books on e-book and hard copy, both for reasonable prices. I would rate the book a solid 9/10 due to its consistency, scholarship, and detailed analysis. If you have read Finkelstein before, you will not be disappointed or if you like well documented writing on the Israel-Palestine conflict, you will be greatly pleased. If anyone has any questions about the book, since 1,400 words can hardly do justice to a 500 page book, please ask.