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Book review beyond chutzpah

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Reviewed by Iqbal Jassat

On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History

Beyond Chutzpah


A Book by:

Norman Finkelstein

Norman G Finkelstein 

(ISBN 1-84467-049-X Verso 2005)

The imminent visit to South Africa by Norman G. Finkelstein following a major new initiative by S.A NGOs to mount a legal campaign seeking the arrest and prosecution of Israeli war criminals and those who hold SA citizenship and participated in the recent brutal military onslaught in Gaza, is anticipated with great excitement.

After all, Finkelstein whose earlier international bestseller The Holocaust Industry, created a huge stir in Jewish circles – particularly in the United States and Israel, for daring to posit a distinction between the Nazi holocaust and The Holocaust. The Nazi holocaust is the systematic extermination of Jews during World War II. Distinctly different to it is The Holocaust that Finkelstein describes as “the instrumentalisation of the Nazi holocaust by American Jewish elites and their supporters.”

This may sound to be semantically gibberish to the uninitiated. Yet his incisive and scholarly study on the abuse of the Nazi holocaust has been welcomed as a major landmark. Finkelstein has been able to not only make the distinction; he has also contributed to an understanding of the abuse of anti-Semitism.

Like The Holocaust, “anti-Semitism” is an ideological weapon to deflect justified criticism of Israel and, concomitantly, powerful Jewish interests according to the author. In its current usage, “anti-Semitism” alongside the “war against terrorism”, serves as a cloak for a massive assault on international law and human rights.

“Beyond Chutzpah” is a sequel and as the title explains continues the same theme in a systematic and accurate analysis that is impossible to reproach. This is attested to by the blurbs on the back cover by a range of credible historians, academics and analysts. Noam Chomsky describes the book as “very solid, important and highly informative”.

Avi Shlaim says that Beyond Chutzpah displays all the qualities for which Finkelstein has become famous: erudition, originality, spark, meticulous attention to detail, intellectual integrity, courage and formidable forensic skills.

For a South African audience, Finkelstein and his study will hopefully articulate a discourse allowing media practitioners the confidence, courage and resolve to confront Israeli apologists who constantly “cry wolf” whenever reports critical of the Zionist regime emerge.

Indeed, an entire chapter called “Crying Wolf” is at the heart of this book. It deals with issues of exaggeration and fabrication and what’s currently called the “new anti-Semitism”. According to Finkelstein this incorporates two main components in addition to exaggeration and fabrication: mislabeling legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, and the unjustified yet predictable spillover from criticism of Israel to Jews generally.

As victims of a deliberately contrived smear campaign by local apologists of Israel, my NGO, the Media Review Network [MRN] know only too well that demonizing us as “anti-Semites” is a tool deployed to deny us space in the mainstream media. Of course as Finkelstein states, many claims of this anti-Semitism prove on investigation to be wildly overblown or fabricated.

 This is an essential read, containing a breathtaking range of material. As Mouin Rabbani states: “He has left no stone unturned”.