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Because I am Jewish, and because of my very real and painful connection to the Holocaust- my maternal grandmother is a living survivor of the Nazi camps- I take discussion of the Holocaust very seriously, and I take discussion of the Palestine-Israel conflict very seriously. This book by Norman Finkelstein speaks to both of these issues. I therefore read the book very carefully and critically, as I read all non-fiction books, whether written from a conservative or a liberal perspective.
I did not enjoy reading the Introduction, except for the last paragraph of the Introduction, where the author finally declares his purpose in writing this book. I am a practical person and I like to get right down to substance. I felt the Introduction explored arguments and concepts of an intellectual, abstract and often academic nature. I hold a masters degree in international affairs and I have considerable experience digesting abstract theory; I just happen to prefer dealing with concrete facts in the real world. My own advice is to skip the Introduction altogether. After finishing my copy of Finkelstein's book I gave it to a friend interested in the Palestine-Israel conflict and I said the same thing to him- just jump right into Part 1, where the book really begins. You can always come back to the Introduction when you finish the book itself.
And once you begin the book itself you immediately realize that the controversy surrounding the publication of this work and the angry statements going back and forth between the author, Norman Finkelstein, and the celebrity, Alan Dershowitz, actually occupy a very insubstantial part of Finkelstein's work. This book, "Beyond Chutzpah," has in my opinion virtually nothing to do with Alan Dershowitz, a man who many people for many years (myself included) have in any case seen as being nothing more than a clever but obnoxious media hack. My point is that "Beyond Chutzpah" is a book that addresses issues and movements far more significant than either of these personalities, Dershowitz or Finkelstein. If what you seek is mud slinging between these two men, then don't buy books from either author. Instead, simply visit the authors' respective websites, where you can relish the personal attacks and save yourself both time and money.
What is "Beyond Chutzpah" about? Well- have you ever had the impression that American Jews have, on an individual basis, and through some of America's Jewish groups, used the horrible experiences Jews have endured- like my grandmother- as a means of discouraging criticism, particularly criticism of the policies of the Israeli government? If you are American, and non-Jewish, in fact of any race, background or religion- have you ever felt you had to steer clear completely, or tip toe around, any discussion of Israel's military occupation, or of Israel's assassinations, or of any of Israel's policies whatsoever, for fear that you would be violently attacked as an anti-Semite? If you have- or if you are a non-American wishing to gain insight into the American political climate in relationship to the Palestine-Israel conflict- then you must read this book, "Beyond Chutzpah." With the greatest sobriety, in the clearest and most direct words, with no games or fanfare, Finkelstein- both of whose parents were survivors of the Nazi camps- describes how things in America have come to be this way.
Nobody outside of America can possibly begin to imagine the extent to which hysterical and fanatical Jewish Americans and hysterical and fanatical Jewish groups in America have successfully created through great effort over time a climate of moral, political and psychological blackmail. Even I, a Jewish man whose grandmother is a camp survivor, a Jewish man who has personally visited camps in Germany, Holland and Poland, and who has read endless books on the Holocaust, and who holds an extremely deep concern for Israel's safety and security, and has so held for years- even I cannot dare to raise my voice in criticism of Israel, or even address some of the blindingly obvious facts, for fear of an instantaneous and abominable backlash and assault. In "Beyond Chutzpah," Finkelstein explores this reality. Finkelstein goes to the very heart of the matter. And it is absolutely devastating.
By page 85, in the chapter titled "Crying Wolf," Finkeltein's words read like a revolution, some kind of an unbelievable feat. I deeply believe that this page in this book marks the beginning of what is going to be a sea change, a real movement, long overdue, toward honesty and gradual purification in relation to how Jewish Americans, my own peers, have misused anti-Semitism for political ends. What has been done is a sacrilege, and it is at long last going to be exposed- through this very book. I truly believe that this book will occupy that place in modern American history. Only by presenting some unbelievably ugly truths could any book written by any person at any time anywhere in this world ever even hope to encounter the level of hysteria and opposition that this book has faced. That right there tells you something.
The second major concern of this book is the origin, development and current status of the Palestine-Israel conflict. On this subject I have read countless books over many years- and Norman Finkelstein's exploration is unbelievably, and devastatingly, head on. In saying this I am including Finkelstein's materials in Appendix II. Appendix II is virtually a stand-alone presentation on the Palestine-Israel conflict. If your primary or even exclusive interest is the Palestine-Israel conflict, then "Beyond Chutzpah" is a book worth owning for Appendix II alone.
Earlier in the review I stated that "Beyond Chutzpah" was not about Dershowitz. Yet in the second part of "Beyond Chutzpah," Finkelstein makes reference after reference to the claims and conclusions in Dershowitz's book, "The Case for Israel." Finkelstein also dedicates some limited space to showing, embarrassingly well (and embarrassing not just for Dershowitz but for Harvard too) how Dershowitz engaged in plagiarism when writing "The Case for Israel." Still, I say that "Beyond Chutzpah" is not about Dershowitz. I say this because in fact Dershowitz is just a symptom of a far deeper malady, an interchangeable spokesperson for American Jewry gone mad- and as a Jew, it has taken me years of painful self exploration to come to terms with this ugly state of affairs. Again- Dershowitz is insignificant; yes, he's been embarrassed and exposed, but his replacements will line up to keep up the senseless, self-conscious and ultimately devastatingly-damaging-to-Israel campaign. Not only will Dershowitz be replaced, but the false and occasionally outrageous claims that Dershowitz has made in his book, The Case for Israel, are basically the same claims that Jewish American fanatics have been making all along. Truly, "Beyond Chutzpah" is not about Dershowitz, and it's not about Finkelstein either. I'm a middle aged cynic and yet still I deeply believe that Finkelstein's book marks the turning point, a signal that American Jewry is as a whole going to look at itself in the mirror now and begin refraining from this despicable dishonesty and unforgivably ugly hatred and intolerance of a weaker, desperate and humiliated group of people that in the end simply want a land that they can call their own.