Dr. Norman Finkelstein, an American writer and academician, was detained upon his arrival to Israel. After he was held in detention at the airport for more than 24 hours, he was expelled to the United States on what was characterized as “security grounds.”
Finkelstein, a Jew who is the son of Holocaust survivors, is among the harshest critics of Israel’s policy in the occupied territories. In his publications and lecturers he protests the usage that is being made, in his view, of the memory of the Holocaust in order to justify Israel’s policy. In his last book, called Beyond Chutzpah, he slams the manner in which Israel’s critics are presented as anti-Semites. He writes, lectures, and also acts – a few months ago he visited Lebanon, and reportedly met with Hizbullah men and toured areas bombed by Israel.
The impassioned talkbackers on websites praised the decision to expel Finkelstein. They repeatedly said he was “dangerous”. Yet Finkelstein did not carry explosive materials on him, but rather, only his views. The fact that he visited Lebanon, and met Hizbullah men, does not make him dangerous. Many academicians and journalists visited Lebanon and met many people, and their entry to Israel was never banned.
The automatic concurrence of many among the public with the unexplained ruling by Israeli authorities that Finkelstein is “dangerous” is no less bothersome than the ban on his entry. No less bothersome is, as noted, the embarrassing perception that Finkelstein “insulted us.” We should keep in mind that Ben-Gurion Airport is the entry gate to a place that is the home of many people who hold different and diverse views. Good manners are not a condition for passing through the airport.
Sign of country under siege
In recent years we have been forced to get used to immediate expulsion of visitors of Arab descent, relatives of residents of the occupied territories, peace and human rights activists, and to abuse of foreign reporters. Now is the turn of those who “merely” annoy Israel. The permanent justification for this policy is that a “foreign person has no given right to enter,” or in other words, the Interior Ministry and the Shin Bet security service can decide who enters and who doesn’t, and they do not need to be accountable to anyone. Not even to Israeli citizens.
This procedure, which is undertaken quickly and discreetly, is a sign of a country under siege which fears that her citizens or those under its occupation will be exposed to other views, outside the consensus. Freedom of speech is not only about the right to express oneself, but also the right to be exposed to other views, even if they are outrageous and annoying.
Regardless of whether Finkelstein’s views are brilliant, outrageous, or useless, we have the right to have him enter the country. The decision to expel him from Israel did not only deprive freedom of speech from him, but rather, from all of us.
Attorney Oded Feller is a member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel