If there is one thing that I learned from watching American Radical, it is that Norman Finkelstein is not as radical as I thought he was. Even though he is a strong supporter of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups (which by HP standards isn't radical at all) he thinks Israel should continue to exist, the Jews have a history there, and they have every right to be there. At least, that was what the movie said. What didn't make it into the movie was that in a telephone interview with Today's Zaman, in 2009, Finkelstein stated that Israel was a "satanic" "terrorist" "insane" and "lunatic" state, and that "sometimes I feel that Israel has come out of the boils of the hell." Awesome.
What made Finkelstein famous, and what in turn was what brought him down, was not his political views themselves. After all, they demonstrated that he was in not-so-good company with the likes of Noam Chomsky and other members of the Far Left. What brought him down was that Finkelstein was incapable of discussing, debating or writing about anything without verbally assaulting anyone who held different views from him. He surely felt like he was justified in his anger and his insults, but the truth is that he can't be surprised when he ends up as an embarrassment at the universities where he works.
This started with his book The Holocaust Industry in which he accused the Jews of exploiting the Holocaust not merely for money (which would have been bad enough) but so that they could portray Israel as the perennial victim and whitewash it's bad behavior. Sounds a lot like the HPers, doesn't he? It continued with his failed attempt to destroy Alan Dershowitz's career by accusing him of plagiarism, and finally culminated with his denial of tenure from DePaul. After doing further research into the issue, the movie made clear that DePaul made their decision expressly because Finkelstein was functioning like an academic attack dog more than a dignified professor. Finkelstein's critics claimed that they were in fact censoring him because they don't like his views, which is quite ironic considering that is exactly what he accuses "the Jews" of doing. I don't think DePaul made the right decision but I can understand why they made it.
Since then, Finkelstein has been having trouble finding full time work, and this eventually culminated in a trip to Lebanon for a love-fest with Hezbollah. This seems to indicate that the problem is not his political views. After all, Chomsky has been at MIT for quite a while.
After thinking about the movie some more when I should have been paying better attention at work, I think I came to the conclusion of why Finkelstein (and others) compare Israel to the Nazis and stick to it despite all odds and dissimilarities.
The movie made it very clear just how big of an influence Finkelstein's mother made on him. She left the Holocaust with a different lesson than the Jews of Israel: That the Jews not only have a special obligation to be pacifist and not to mistreat or oppress anyone, but they also have a special obligation to help the oppressed everywhere. This worldview was indoctrinated into Finkelstein's head, and ever since he approached the world with the black and white thinking of "who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed here?"
This is most clearly demonstrated in the case of Israel, where Finkelstein came to the conclusion that Israel was the oppressor and therefore deserved all kinds of slander, justified or otherwise. But what is also interesting is that even though people like Hezbollah and Hamas are definitely oppressive toward their own people, because they are fighting against Israel, Finkelstein has nothing but praise for them. This is because he does not seem them in the reality in which they exist but in the fiction that he has created for them in his own head. In his mind, all the oppressed of the world are his parents and all the oppressors of the world are the Nazis. And anyone who stands with the Nazis deserves exactly what they get.
Unfortunately for Finkelstein the world doesn't work that way, and there's a reason why people who hold such black and white radical views are not in the mainstream. And so that was where Finkelstein ended up. In that sense I do seem as a tragic figure, he was so dedicated to his ways that he destroyed himself. Maybe someday he'll realize he was wrong and the world doesn't work the way that his mother always said it should be. But I wouldn't bet on it.