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The perception of the Middle East conflict has changed radically in the last twenty years, says Finkelstein. Back then the conflict was described in fairly propagandistic terms. Thus Israel made the desert bloom - a kind of Indian and cowboy version of history. But this view is mostly gone as things are looked at in more realistic ways. In addition scientific research shows that Israel time and time again has chosen war over diplomacy. This is also true for the so called Six Day War in 1967 with Egypt when Israel attacked even when it was clear that Egyptian President Nasser did not pose a threat.


Norman Finkelstein, political scientist from the U.S. and author of several books about the Israel-Palestine conflict. His latest book is: “Gaza. An Inquest into Its Martyrdom”.


David Goeßmann: Welcome to Kontext TV. We are at the University of Leuven in Belgium. Our guest today is Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein is political scientist in the US and author of several books, including “This time we went too far. Truths and consequences of the Gaza invasion” and “Knowing too much. Why the American-Jewish romance with Israel is coming to an end”. His book “The Holocaust industry” got worldwide attention and initiated a heated debate.

David Goeßmann: I want to start with a book you wrote in 1995, which was called “The image and reality of the Israel-Palestine conflict”. What is the image and what is the reality of this conflict in your view?

Norman Finkelstein: Well, you have to bear in mind that the book was written nearly two decades ago. And what I described as the image and reality spoke to what the current image was at that particular moment. It has changed radically in the last 20 years. That’s actually the subject in my most recent book “Knowing too much” – that the public perceptions in particular on college campuses and among so to speak educated people, who read the mainstream journals and so forth, the image of Israel has changed radically. Back then Israel was seen pretty much in fairly conventional propagandistic terms. As having turned the desert into a – having made the desert bloom, fighting terrorists and backward Arabs. It was sort of a cowboy and Indian version of history. In the case of the American history it was conquering the wilderness and here it was making the desert bloom. But now much more is known about the history of the conflict. Much more is known about Israel’s conduct. So a lot of what I wrote in that book twenty years ago is not at all controversial anymore. It’s extensively referenced so there’s a lot of evidence to support my claims, but the claims themselves are not really controversial any more.

David Goeßmann: There has been a bloody history of violence … after the state of Israel was founded in 1948. The latest military escalations were the bombings of Gaza in 2008 and 2012. You wrote: “This time … went too far.” Talk about the history of wars and military escalations in Israel / Palestine and the notion of Israeli self-defense.

Norman Finkelstein: Probably the best book on the topic is by an Israeli author named Zeev Maoz, who wrote a book called “Defending the holy land”. What’s important about the book is that it’s based on all – and the emphasis is on all – the available current scholarship on the history of Israel’s wars and engagements, military engagements with its neighboring countries. And the conclusion is reaches. I’m quoting him pretty close to verbatim With the possible exception of the 1948 war, none of the wars Israel has fought since 1948 can be described as a no choice war. In everyone of those cases, in everyone of the wars with the possible exception of 1948, Israel was not engaging in self-defense. These were self made disasters, I think he put it, or self-made wars. In legal jargon they would be called wars of aggression.

David Goeßmann: Can you give an example for that?

Norman Finkelstein: Well, the interesting thing is to find a counter-example. The standard counter-example is of course the June 1967 war which is sometimes held up as a preemptive war of self-defense. There’s no evidence for that. The two basic facts about the June 1967 war, the two basic facts which are no longer subject to any contradiction or refutation are. No. 1: President Nasser of Egypt did not intend to attack. And No. 2: Everybody agreed that if he did attack against all odds and all predictions Israel would easily knock him out. Or, as President Johnson at the time of the United States, Lyndon Johnson said to the Israelis: First, war intelligence says that Egypt is not going to attack you and second, if it does, you’ll whip the hell out of them. Which is exactly what happened.