A couple of weeks ago I praised Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher for providing some of the least objectionable commentary in the newspaper. I noted at the time, however, that he tries my patience when he tackles topics outside the D.C. metro region.
Fisher’s column in the Dec. 3 issue of the Post is a perfect illustration of why he should stick with local issues. The column is a hatchet job on Norman Finkelstein, Hisham Sharabi and Halim Barakat.
He describes Finkelstein, who recently spoke at a Georgetown University event sponsored by the university’s Young Arab Leadership Association and Arab studies center, as a writer “celebrated by neo-Nazi groups for his Holocaust revisionism and comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany.” Fisher didn’t include a response by Finkelstein to these claims and declined to say whether he had attempted to contact Finkelstein for comment.
Fisher normally invites responses from local officials whom he targets. So, why did Fisher apparently rely solely on articles from the Georgetown University student newspaper and intelligence collected by the Campus Watch website in branding Finkelstein a hero of neo-Nazis and Holocaust revisionist?
Finkelstein tells Press Action that he has asked Fisher both in writing and over the telephone to supply the evidence to support the “disgusting” and “libelous” claim that he is a Holocaust Revisionist. “If he cannot provide any evidence, and I’m certain he can’t, either he must print a retraction or I will take legal action,” Finkelstein said.
Here’s what Finkelstein wrote in a letter to Fisher dated Dec. 3:
“In your article, ‘Campus Should Cultivate Its Seeds of Debate’ (3 December 2002) you state that “Norman Finkelstein [is] a writer celebrated by neo-Nazi groups for his Holocaust revisionism and comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany.
“You are certainly aware that labeling someone a ‘Holocaust revisionist’ is a serious charge. You are certainly also aware that to label the son of survivors of the Nazi death camps a ‘Holocaust revisionist’ is a doubly serious charge. I therefore ask you to explicitly cite even one phrase of mine that, in your opinion, merits the label ‘Holocaust revisionism.'”
Sincerely, Norman G. Finkelstein
Finkelstein said he will wait two days for Fisher’s response “explicitly documenting the charge of ‘Holocaust revisionism.'”
Allowing Finkelstein to defend himself likely would have taken column inches away from quotes by those who lament the common practice of professors and writers saying bad things about Israeli government policy.
“These academic arms of the university are constantly denigrating Israel and exploiting students and sponsoring programs denigrating to the university,” Rabbi Harold White, Georgetown University Jewish chaplain, told Fisher, as reported in his column.
What about the academic departments and professors across the country who are constantly denigrating Iraq? Denigrating Cuba? What about the professors who denigrated South Africa under Apartheid or the Soviet Union before its demise? Were they denigrating their universities when they spoke ill of these nations? Of course not.
As he did with Finkelstein, Fisher denigrates Sharabi, the Palestinian-American and long-time professor at Georgetown University, without offering Sharabi an opportunity to defend himself. “Jewish students and faculty are outraged by the comments of Hisham Sharabi,” Fisher writes. Could they be outraged because Sharabi holds an unfavorable opinion of Israeli government policies?
Fisher also notes that Sharabi had been quoted in Beirut’s Daily Star [the link to the article has been removed from the Daily Star website] newspaper as saying, “Jews are getting ready to take control of us, and the Americans have entered the region to possess the oil resources and redraw the geopolitical map.”
For this comment, Fisher labels Sharabi an “extremist professor.” Is not Israel a Jewish state? Did not Israel confiscate Palestinian property to build a Jewish presence in Israel? Should not Palestinians be concerned by the aggressive policies of the Israeli government during the past 50-plus years? Did not the Israelis take away Palestinian autonomy a long time ago? Evidently not, according to Fisher. Why else for the disdain for Sharabi’s views?
Because he reportedly used “Jews” and “control” in the same sentence, Sharabi is accused of “provoking anti-Semitism.” In this same vein, then, shouldn’t we condemn those who highlight the fact that the Taliban were mostly non-Afghan Muslims who sought to take control of Afghanistan? Are we also not permitted to recognize the fact that nations in which Muslims predominate tend to be ugly dictatorships that seek to control the lives of their residents and those in surrounding nations? Does this recognition make us anti-Islam?
Sharabi certainly could not be faulted for still feeling rage over what happened in the wake of the creation of Israel. Here’s what was written about Sharabi in a 1982 issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs:
“While Hisham Sharabi was doing graduate work at the University of Chicago in 1948, he had to face, almost overnight, a stunning realization: he might never again be able to go home. For home was Jaffa, a Palestinian city which had just been absorbed into the newly established state of Israel. This event, as was the case for a multitude of other Palestinians in similar circumstances, was to change his life.
“The student has now become a professor at Washington’s Georgetown University, and has emerged over the years as one of the most active, persistent and articulate advocates of the rights of the Palestinians. He has never returned to Jaffa.
“Having become a U.S. citizen in 1962, Professor Sharabi could now go back to visit his birthplace as an American tourist if he wanted to-but declines the opportunity. ‘Until there is a just settlement of the Arab-Israeli problem which gives the Palestinians their rights, I will not set foot in Jaffa again,’ he says.”
Sharabi actually did step foot in Jaffa again, in 1993 on a trip there with Israeli writer Amos Oz as part of a documentary by the BBC. An act of a raving extremist, indeed.
Fisher notes that Barakat, also a Palestinian and a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, has described Zionism as “a wild, destructive beast,” and for this, Barakat also is labeled an “extremist professor.”
At the end of the column, Fisher admits that he couldn’t help “bemoaning” the Georgetown students’ “hypersensitivity” over the comments of Finkelstein, Sharabi and Barakat. And yet he still finds it easy to label those who disagree with his stance on Israel as extremists.