I find it revelatory that virtually no major American newspaper has covered Dr Norman G Finkelstein’s arrest and deportation from Israel other than a brief summary from Associated Press wires or, as usual, uncited sourcing from blogs. No American reporter has been assigned to this incident in which a distinguished and internationally known American scholar becomes a political prisoner and incarcerated by a “friendly ally.” Had a neo-conservative from the American Enterprise Institute been arrested in Iran and held in a jail prior to deportation, the supine press and the three major presidential candidates would all have demanded an instant release from Iran. In particular, Senators John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton would have engaged in their usual brinkspersonship and used this to pander to a weary American public tired of endless war. The fear of reprisals for criticising Israel, a rogue nuclear power that certainly tested a nuclear device with apartheid South Africa on September 22, 1979, is costly: a loss of conscience, a loss of ethics, a willingness to ignore arbitrary authoritarian tactics and its consequences when an innocent American is treated as a criminal instead of as an individual worthy of intellectual engagement and debate.
May 27, 2008
On Friday morning, the State of Israel refused to allow Prof. Norman Finkelstein, an American Jewish political scientist, to enter the country. Finkelstein was arrested at the airport and questioned by the Shin Bet security service for several hours. A day later, it became known that he had been banned from entering Israel for 10 years, for security reasons. Finkelstein managed to meet with a lawyer, who told him his chances of changing the decision were slim. When the Shin Bet decides that someone constitutes a security risk, the courts do not intervene.
According to the law, both in Israel and in other countries, no one has an intrinsic right to enter a country of which he is not a citizen. Immigration authorities have the power to keep a tourist from entering the country for reasons known only to themselves, and do not even need to provide an explanation. In Finkelstein’s case, the disturbing issue is neither the legality of keeping him out nor the authority to do so, but the reasonableness of the decision. Considering his unusual and extremely critical views, one cannot avoid the suspicion that refusing to allow him to enter Israel was a punishment rather than a precaution.
It is difficult to sympathize with Finkelstein’s opinions and preferences, especially since he decided to support Hezbollah, meet with its fighters and visit the graves of some of its slain operatives. But that does not mean he should be banned from entering Israel, since meetings with Hezbollah operatives do not in themselves constitute a security risk. True, the right to enter Israel is not guaranteed to noncitizens, but the right of Israeli citizens to hear unusual views is one that should be fought for. It is not for the government to decide which views should be heard here and which ones should not.
The decision to ban Finkelstein hurts us more than it hurts him. Every once in a while, the state suffers an attack of excessive sensitivity regarding its visitors. In 2002, it was Romanian flautist Gheorghe Zamfir who was kept out of the country by the Interior Ministry. The interior minister at the time, Eli Yishai, explained that Zamfir had expressed anti-Semitic views and that his entry into Israel would “hurt Holocaust survivors.” Avraham Poraz, who succeeded Yishai, overturned the decision.
When the person refused entry is Jewish, the absurdity is even greater. After all, Finkelstein could realize his right to immigrate to Israel as a Jew, in accordance with the Law of Return. Since he is Jewish and has no criminal past, it is doubtful whether he could be prevented from receiving Israeli citizenship.
The Shin Bet argues that Finkelstein constitutes a security risk. But it is more reasonable to assume that Finkelstein is persona non grata and that the Shin Bet, whose influence has increased to frightening proportions, latched onto his meetings with Hezbollah operatives in order to punish him.
And the decision is all the more surprising when one recalls the ease with which right-wing activists from the Meir Kahane camp – the kind whose activities pose a security threat that no longer requires further proof – are able to enter the country.