Police officers intervene protesters during a rally against the Israeli strikes on Gaza strip, organized by Jewish and a prominent pro-Palestinian activist Norman Finkelstein, in New York outside the UN office, on July 29, 2014. PHOTO BY LEWAA KHALEK/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

The useful idiots trotted out to bash Israel

Have you heard the expression, “Two Jews, three opinions”? Truly, we have always been a contentious people.

In judging the worthiness of any particular internal debate, our sages applied the criterion of motivation. Constructive debate, they decreed, was noble; debate intended to wound was ignoble. I consider “ignoble” any public rhetoric by Jews that provides both comfort and ammunition to our enemies.

These Jews can be found in academia and the media, as well as in anti-Zionist groups, such as Jewish Voice for Peace and the If not Now movement. All preface their public statements with “Speaking as a Jew” or similar tropes. They’re willingly trotted out by Israel-loathing activists to deflect charges of demonstrable antisemitism in their ranks. On X, I hashtag these foolish dupes “Useful Yidiots.”

For candour and ignobility, it is hard to beat a 2008 Facebook post by Useful Yidiot Michael Neumann, Trent professor of philosophy, and, not incidentally, the son of German Jewish refugees:

“(My aim is to) help the Palestinians (and) I am not interested in the truth, or justice, or understanding, or anything else, except so far as it serves that purpose…If an effective strategy means that some truths about the Jews don’t come to light, I don’t care. If an effective strategy means encouraging reasonable anti-Semitism, or reasonable hostility to Jews, I also don’t care. If it means encouraging vicious racist anti-Semitism, or the destruction of the state of Israel, I still don’t care.”

Neumann’s savage tone is typical of a certain sub-genre of Useful Yidiots. These are psychologically warped intellectuals who interpret their own or their family links to the Holocaust as a de facto moral credential endowing them with authority to promote the odious libel against Israel of Holocaust inversion: that is, the pernicious false allegation that Israel is to the Palestinians what the Nazis were to the Jews.

In their febrile imaginations, Israel is pure evil, while the Palestinians are blameless victims with no agency in the creation of their alleged Holocaust-level circumstances, and no power to effect change in their destiny. All expressions of Palestinians’ hatred for Jews (at Israel and abroad) and any form of violence against them qualify as justified “resistance.”

There is no better example of the type than Norman Finkelstein, in progressive circles a much admired historian, who has devoted his entire professional life to Holocaust inversion. His parents — alone of their entire families — survived Auschwitz and Maidanek. How their tragedy inspired Finkelstein’s rabid loathing for mainstream Jewry and Israel, always presented under cover of a near-ecstatic empathy with Palestinian suffering, is a question for psychoanalysts to solve if they can, but rabid is certainly the word for it (conservative intellectual and journalist Douglas Murray termed Finkelstein a “psychopath”).

Finkelstein is the go-to keynote of reassuringly scholarly affect for any program or conference where an extreme anti-Israel position is sought. Finkelstein spoke on Dec. 5 at the Toronto Public Library as a participant in the TPL’s year-long programing theme, the exploration of intellectual freedom. Requests to cancel his appearance by B’nai Brith and city councillor James Pasternak were ignored.

There are any number of responsible and respected commentators available on the issue of freedom of speech the TPL could have invited. Given Finkelstein’s controversial history — a very partial list of examples to follow — why did they choose him?

The New York Times’ 2000 review of Finkelstein’s book, The Holocaust Industry, described its premise as a “novel variation” of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the archetypal Jewish conspiracy theory that Jews are plotting to seize control of the world. In his book, Finkelstein describes Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel as the Holocaust industry’s “resident clown,” charging him with promoting “a meaningless version of the Nazi Holocaust.”

In a 2009 interview with the Tehran Times, Finkelstein called Israel an “insane state,” a “lunatic state,” and a “terrorist state.” Oh, also a “satanic state” from “the boils of hell,” which is “committing a holocaust in Gaza” (in 2009, Israel was long gone from Gaza). At an event in support of former antisemitic UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, Finkelstein described infamous — and finally, in Austria — jailed Holocaust denier David Irving (“fairy tales gas chambers”) as “a very good historian.”

Following Hamas’s pogrom on Oct. 7 — after the Toronto libray’s invitation had been issued, to be sure, but very much in character with much else due diligence would have provided — here is what Norman Finkelstein posted on his substack: “For the past 20 years the people of Gaza, half of whom are children, have been immured in a concentration camp. Today they breached the camp’s walls. If we honor John Brown’s armed resistance to slavery; if we honor the Jews who revolted in the Warsaw Ghetto — then moral consistency commands that we honor the heroic resistance in Gaza. I, for one, will never begrudge — on the contrary, it warms every fiber of my soul — the scenes of Gaza’s smiling children as their arrogant Jewish supremacist oppressors have, finally, been humbled. The stars above in heaven are looking kindly down. Glory, glory, hallelujah. The souls of Gaza go marching on!” It’s still there.

All reasonable people uphold freedom of intellectual inquiry. But while hateful speech should remain legal, elite venues are under no obligation to confer social respectability on its speakers. Specifically, no tax-funded cultural institution should give a moral pass to abhorrent speech simply because the speaker is himself a member of the hate-targeted group.

In 2019, speaking at Oberlin College, Finkelstein called Israelis “biped bloodhounds drinking the blood of one million (Palestinian) children.” That’s not criticism couched in a colourful metaphor. That’s a blood libel.

‘Nuff said? Next time, Toronto Public Library, do better.