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Its point of view is nothing but respect for the truth
on 3 December 2008
Somebody, I forget exactly who, pointed out that Norman Finkelstein's books about the Arab-Israeli conflict are not actually works of Middle Eastern history but books about American history. This is essentially true, in that Finkelstein does not write narrative history or even critical history; he is essentially a scholarly critic of American opinion on the conflict, and the general tendency of his work is to point out the gap between what American writers have tended to say about the conflict and what the historical record actually shows. So, the meat of this book is his relentless, meticulous and devastating demolition job on Joan Peters' book "From Time Immemorial", a work that no professional historian is now willing to cite but which still has a loyal and uncritical readership out there among people who think that the Israeli government can do no wrong.
It can be seen, therefore, that criticising Finkelstein for having an "agenda" is beside the point. It's never very to the point anyway, since everybody who writes a book about anything whatever has an agenda, in that they have something that they want to say about the subject. Finkelstein's agenda is simply open for anyone to see. This book also contains his relatively brief and offhand dismissal of Michael Oren's "Six Days of June", which is interesting partly because that book is often cited as an "objective" history of the Six Day War, and Finkelstein doesn't find it difficult to prove that it is nothing of the sort, being heavily biased in favour of the Israeli side.
He performs an essential public service, and has been vilified and slandered for doing so. Finkelstein remains one of those fiercely independent thinkers who are the backbone of any secular culture; when there are no more guys like him, who are prepared to insist on telling the plain truth no matter how much it costs to him personally (and it has cost him a great deal, in terms of advancement in his actual career as an academic), then you live in a society where there are no effectively more public intellectuals, merely timeservers and lickspittles. My own country, Ireland, has reached that condition.