Home > Israel/Palestine, Montana > The lecture last night

The lecture last night

Since I’m such a slacker and haven’t posted at all this week, my fairly pedestrian thoughts on Norman Finkelstein’s lecture last night.

There were around 120 people in attendance, mostly students (obviously). Finkelstein spoke for about an hour and a half and then took questions for another forty five minutes. His talk was essentially a basic history of the Israel/Palestine conflict, nothing that I hadn’t heard before. It’s hard to do that in an hour and a half and Finkelstein spent most of his time talking about pre-1967 events. In what I’ve read of his work (a book and various interviews), he comes off as somewhat arrogant and combative. So it was surprising to me when he came off as pretty mild and conciliatory during his lecture. Aside from microphone trouble and some odd over-explanation (am I overestimating the student body when I say that he didn’t need to define caveat and quid pro quo?), he did quite well.

The question and answer period was pretty boring. He asked for “dissenters” to come up first, obviously used to people objecting strenuously to his statements. We only got one towards the end, though it was hard to tell if he was annoyed at what Finkelstein had said or was having trouble processing information that was so contrary to what he had heard before. His question led to the most interesting (to me) point of the night. He took issue with the practicality of refugees returning to Israel, the so-called “right of return” issue. Which is a genuine problem and Finkelstein’s response was that it’s unjust to refuse them such a right and that if Israel is going to do so, they need to make them an offer. An obvious position in retrospect, but it struck me because that’s an issue that I often dismiss out of hand because there’s simply no chance of Israel accepting a right of return.

So not the most interesting night, but a fairly unique one for this campus. He was brought here by a couple of students from Gaza, which should answer the question of why we would get someone like Finkelstein.

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Categories: Israel/Palestine, Montana
  1. LanceThruster
    March 27, 2009 at 8:52 am | #1

    I have seen Dr. Finkelstein speak a couple of times before and he was always well received. He does ask that dissenters be given the first opportunity to challenge his assertions but they never fare very well. At the lecture at my college, they pretty much left in a huff when he would not accept their characterization that he minimizes the Holocaust. There is a change taking place on the accepted I/P narrative and Dr. Finkelstein is it the forefront of that. Those that helped keep him from getting tenure might well regret their meddling as he has all the time in the world now to bring his message to a much larger audience.

    As to his ‘over explaining,’ I’ve always appreciated the fact that his style is such that rather than assume people are familiar with particular terms and concepts, he finds it preferable to offer definitions as it takes so little time to do so. I find him a superb educator and a man of vast integrity. I also sense that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

  2. March 27, 2009 at 11:38 pm | #2

    So far as I can tell, there’s an “I/P narrative” accepted in academia and another one accepted in mainstream political debate. It seems to have been like that for some time now and they don’t appear to be converging. So I’d like to believe the accepted narrative is changing, but I don’t see it.

  3. April 5, 2009 at 2:27 pm | #3

    I was sadly out of town or would have been there. Was the event recorded on audio or video? Any way I can access it?

  4. April 6, 2009 at 9:54 pm | #4

    They had video cameras there, but I haven’t found anything online.

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