I made yet another trip to Casa Video and rented a copy of American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein. This is a name I had heard before, but had little knowledge about the controversy surrounding it. This documentary filled those holes.
Finkelstein is seen as either the biggest asshole or the bravest intellectual to ever speak against violence. Here’s a little background history, all of which I learned from the documentary:
Both his parents are Holocaust survivors and fought in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. After having seen the atrocities people are capable of committing against each other, Finkelstein’s mother became an extreme advocate against violence. She passed along these beliefs to Finkelstein and his two siblings.
During parts of the documentary, filmmakers followed Finkelstein as he promoted his book, The Holocaust Industry, around Europe. This is where it starts to get uncomfortable. During a press conference in Berlin, Germany—the setting makes this even more uncomfortable—he called the Holocaust an “extortion racket.” He goes on to say that Jews are using the Holocaust to victimize themselves and justify their violence against the Palestinians. Yes, he went there. And this is why Finkelstein is known as a “self-hating Jew.”
Oddly enough, the more I watched the documentary, the more I began to see him as an advocate against violence, not a self-hating Jew. Finkelstein is trying to defend what his mother taught him as a child: violence is never justified. He may have taken her message to an extreme. A lot of people think he should not use the Holocaust in his anti-violence crusade. However, he does have a point. Does every nation that is oppressed by another have the right to turn around and oppress their neighbor? I don't think so and Finkelstein doesn't think so. But his point of view has certainly put a neon-colored target on his forehead. Those who oppose him want his head, bad.
Aside from the controversy, this was an amazing documentary. It captured what Finkelstein is like backstage, before speaking in front of thousands of people, most of whom probably want to kill him and piss on the remains. Whether you’re into debates or not or whether you agree or disagree with him, it doesn’t hurt to rent a copy of this and get a little more knowledge on who he is and why the hell he’s causing such a ruckus.