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.