American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein

Historians in the News

“American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein” is a cautiously respectful documentary portrait of a political firebrand who presents himself as a beacon of moral truth in the murk of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A scholar, author and passionate advocate of the Palestinian cause, Mr. Finkelstein, 56, is a thorn in the side of the Israel lobby....

Early in the film, directed by David Ridgen and Nicolas Rossier, Mr. Finkelstein is shown at a 1982 rally in front of the Israeli consulate in New York carrying a poster urging “Israeli Nazis” to “stop the Holocaust in Lebanon,” referring to the Israeli invasion of that country. Until he was banned from traveling to Israel, he paid regular visits to Palestinian friends on the West Bank. He is a supporter of Hezbollah.

Mr. Finkelstein’s inflammatory rhetoric has earned him many powerful enemies, most notably the civil liberties lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz, whose book “The Case for Israel” Mr. Finkelstein has called a fraud, accusing the author of plagiarism. Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, describes Mr. Finkelstein as “poison: a disgusting self-hating Jew.” Even Mr. Finkelstein’s political ally Noam Chomsky questioned his judgment in picking some of his fights.

Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Finkelstein explains in the film that he inherited his temperament from his mother, Maryla Husyt Finkelstein. Both Maryla and Mr. Finkelstein’s father, Zacharias, were survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and of concentration camps. His father was interned in Auschwitz, his mother in Majdanek....

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