Norman Finkelstein to Hamiltonians – “We will meet at the rendezvous of victory”

By Hussein Hamdani

(March 11, 2011) – In a crowded church hall in front of 300 attendees, Dr. Norm Finkelstein told his audience that “next time” he will not be coming to Hamilton, Ontario – rather, “We will all be meeting at the rendezvous of victory.”

This was a mantra throughout his talk by which he expressed his hope, excitement and optimism that the elusive peace in the Middle East may be closer at hand then ever before, and his aspiration, on that momentous day, to be joining hands with all peace loving people.

Dr. Finkelstein made these comments at the Centenary Church on February 17th.

Originally, he was to speak at Mohawk College, but the College required the organizers to pay an additional $1,500 to pay for 10 additional security personnel.

This last-minute requirement made it impossible for the event to take place on campus.  Instead, Dr. Finkelstein spoke at the downtown church without any ostensive police presence, and without a single security-related incident.

In an interview prior to the lecture, Dr. Finkelstein commented on the Mohawk fiasco by simple attributing to it what he called the “heckler’s veto”.

Under the heckler’s veto, anyone can shut down an event by simple calling the landlord of the venue where an event is taking place and threatening bedlam if the event takes place, or claiming that they feel “scared” or “intimidated” if the lecture is held.

The landlord, fearing that the sky will fall demands an unreasonable amount of security presence from the organizers, or cancels the booking altogether.  Therefore, the heckler vetoes the event and we are all at a loss.

Dr. Finkelstein says that too many of our leaders and institutions will often say that they encourage freedom of thought and expression though they fail to uphold an environment that would be conducive to such expression.

“It is the responsibility of those who say they support freedom of expression to then also promote an atmosphere that makes it possible to practise this sentiment”, said Dr. Finkelstein.

He commented that universities and colleges in particular have a responsibility to create the conditions to foster free expression including, when necessary, bearing costs for security they deem necessary.

He said that the night before the Hamilton lecture, he spoke at York University, a site that is known to have passionate discourse and debate about the Middle East, to over 500 attendees without a single incident, and with only 5 security personnel present.

At the lecture, Dr. Finkelstein had a few key talking points.

He started off talking about the Gaza “massacre” that took place in 2008/2009.

He stated that we cannot call it a war, since there was no battle, no Israeli planes damaged even though there were 2800 to 3000 combat missions because Gaza had no anti-aircraft missiles.  When the dust settled, after 22 days, 1400 Gazans were killed, 1200 of whom were civilians and 350 were children. Israel lost 13 soldiers, half of whom by friendly fire.

He expressed concern that there are real possibilities of another Israeli attack on Lebanon in the next 12 months.

However, despite this concern that Israel will attack Lebanon, he concluded the night by stating that the prospects for peace in the Middle East, and a just solution for the Palestinians are greater now than they have been for decades.

He attributes this positive disposition by stating that since the removal of Hosni Mubarak, there will be no Israeli attack on Iran.

This is because “the new Egyptian leader will have to listen to the opinion of the population.  The Arabs on the street will not allow their government to consent to an Israeli attack on Iran.”

Israel no longer has stooges surrounding it, consenting to any act of aggression on its neighbours.

As Finkelstein said, “Israel might just have to obey international law, for a change”.

Let’s hope that he is correct that peace is on the horizon, and we will all meet at the rendezvous of victory.

*Freelance columnist Hussein Hamdani lives in Burlington and works as a lawyer in Hamilton.