Thoughts Are Free, Entry Is Not

By Joharah Baker

Unfortunately, Palestinians are no longer surprised at Israel’s racist policies. Discrimination against Palestinians and those who support them has become the rule, not the exception. Still, when the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, banned renowned American academic and author Norman Finkelstein from entering Israel on May 23, even the Palestinians’ jaws dropped. Finkelstein was reportedly interrogated for nearly 24 hours before being put back on a plane to Amsterdam and abruptly informed that he would not be able to return to Israel for 10 years.

Finkelstein, as the name suggests, is Jewish.

According to Israel’s Law of Return, any Jew from anywhere in the world has a right to return to Israel and be granted immediate citizenship. As an American, however, his deportation was still within Israel’s jurisdictions.

Hence, it is not the deportation order that is so surprising, even against a foreigner not of Palestinian origin. Over the past several years, hundreds of people sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have been informed by Israeli authorities that they are no longer welcome in Israel. Peace activists, teachers, even Palestinians married to Israeli citizens have been told not to return, banned entry from the various border crossings. Israel has always claimed it retains the right to ban entry to any non-citizen for reasons they do not necessarily have to disclose. In Finkelstein’s case, the Shin Bet said Finkelstein "is not permitted to enter Israel because of suspicions involving hostile elements in Lebanon." This can only mean one thing in Israeli jargon – Hizballah. “He did not give a full accounting to interrogators with regard to these suspicions,” they concluded.

Finkelstein, who did travel to Lebanon earlier this year and met with Hizballah operatives, begs to differ, insisting that he answered to the best of his ability all the questions posed to him by the interrogators. He also maintained he was only traveling to Israel to visit an old friend.

It doesn’t even matter what bogus excuse the Shin Bet offered to justify their deportation order. We all know why Finkelstein is persona non grata in Israel. Not only is he a harsh critic of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, as a Jew he is also critical of Zionism and what he says is the exploitation of the Holocaust by the Jews. That is heavy stuff, especially for a country that has fooled most of the world into believing Israel is forced into these heinous practices against the Palestinians in defense of their security and that the establishment of the state was essential for the Jew’s survival after the Holocaust. For a highly intelligent and educated man such as Norman Finkelstein to shoot these claims down is not exactly what Israel is looking for.

Norman Finkelstein is probably the least surprised of us all, having learned early on that his positions would come with a high price. Last year, Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University in Chicago after his positions regarding the Holocaust came under attack by faculty members, who said they were “inconsistent with DePaul’s values.”

In 2000, Finkelstein published a book entitled “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the exploitation of Jewish Suffering” in which he said Jewish activists, including the well-known Elie Wesiel were “exploiting the memory of the Holocaust as an “ideological weapon,” so that Israel, “one of the world’s most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, [can] cast itself as a victim state” in order to garner "immunity to criticism.”

Subsequently, in his 2005 book, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history”, Finkelstein basically charges Israel with exploiting anti-Semitism to steer international criticism away from it. The book also counters claims made in “The Case for Israel” by Alan Dershowitz, on Israel’s human rights record, recounting the daily practices of the occupation and the multitude of human rights violations its carries out against Palestinians.

No doubt, Israel was looking for an excuse to keep this man out of Israel and the Palestinian territories. The truth about the Palestinians is hardly coveted, especially since the majority of the Israeli public has already swallowed the bulk of Israel’s propaganda. In this case, Hizballah was the perfect scapegoat and one which Israel’s public would be sure to accept. While there may be a small minority of politically-aware Israelis who question Israel’s policies against the Palestinians, it is doubtful that many will show sympathy to Hizballah or those who recognize it.

Even Israeli Jews are not immune to Israel’s discriminatory policies if they are perceived as threatening. The best case in point is Ilan Pappe. Author of “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” among other books, Pappe has caused a major stir within Israeli society, given that he recounts Israeli policy in 1948 and the massacres perpetrated by Jewish gangs against Palestinians. He is one of the few Israelis who support the right of return for Palestinian refugees, something all Israeli governments and the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people adamantly refuse to recognize. This has hardly made him popular among Israelis, with some hardliners even calling him a “traitor” and the “the most hated Israeli in Israel.”

The last straw for Pappe was in 2007 after expressing his support for the academic boycott of Israel. At the time, he was a political science professor at the University of Haifa and justified his position by saying the boycott would be the best means to pressure Israel into ending the “worst occupation in recent history.” This did not go down well with the university’s administration and culminated in the university president asking Pappe to resign.

However, unlike Finkelstein, Pappe is an Israeli citizen, which makes it virtually impossible for Israel to deport him. Instead, Israel has made it tough for Pappe to live in his own home, even by his own admission, saying he found it “increasingly difficult to live in Israel because of his unwelcome views and convictions.”

Both Finkelstein and Pappe are perfect examples of what can be considered the biggest threat to Israel, which are not suicide bombers or Qassam rockets. The power of the mind, revolutionary thoughts and truths never before revealed are what Israel really fears, and for good reason. If these truths spread – the truth about what really happened in 1948 or how Israel treats the Palestinians and their actual plan to cleanse the country from as many Palestinians as possible – this could compromise Israel’s very reason for existence. If the falsities on which Israel was established are deconstructed and the racist premises on which Israel bases its existence are debunked, there is no telling where this could lead.

Israel is well aware of this. It is easy to bomb Palestinian cities, kill those who launch rockets or imprison children who throw rocks. It is not easy, however, to kill a thought and to stop its proliferation. That is why brave men such as Norman Finkelstein and Ilan Pappe are so persecuted by their own people. And that is precisely why they should be appreciated by all those who seek to have the truth told regardless of the consequences.

-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH – www.miftah.org), where this article was originally published. She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org.

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