Book Review: Beyond Chutzpah

18 Jan

Beyond Chutzpah; On The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History

By Norman G. Finkelstein


It is often believed that the controversy surrounding the Israel- Palestine conflict is such a difficult issue to understand that in order to make sense of the situation, one would need to read widely from well- respected scholars and academics who would be able to sieve out the large amounts of information available. The author of Beyond Chutzpah, Norman Finkelstein, who wrote Image and Reality of The Israel-Palestine conflict however, believes the reality and ground facts are in fact simpler that most would care to admit.

In his Introduction, he wrote,

The Israel-Palestine conflict is often said to pose questions of such unique profoundity or complexity as to defy conventional analysis or resolution. It’s been variously cast as a cosmic clash of religions, cultures, civilizations. Even normally sober observers like Israeli writer, Meron Benvenisti used to contend that its essence was a “primordial, irreconcilable, endemic shephard’s war.” In fact, such formulations obfuscate rather than illuminate. No doubt, the conflict raises thorny theoretical and practical problems, but not more so than most other ones. It is also perfectly amenable to comparative analysis, bearing in mind, as always, the limits to any historical analogy. The obvious reason Israel’s apologists shun such comparisons and harp on the sui generis character of the Israeli-Palestine conflict is that, in any of the roughly comparable cases – the Euro-American conquest of North America, the apartheid regime in South Africa – Israel comes out on the “wrong” side in the analogy.

While that is strictly not the core basis of this book, explaining in intricate details the whys (this reviewer believes Image and Reality serves that function better), it comes out, perhaps, unconsciously as a work which however ‘illuminates’ the situation; as it works on two levels.

Firstly, Beyond Chutzpah is a critique of Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians. Given that human rights organisations often only publicize statements or released lengthy reports on these abuses on a periodic basis, one rarely gets an understanding of the dire situation. The book compensates for this ‘blind spot’ by compiling some of these human rights abuses in subsequent and related chapters by quoting on respectable human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, B’ Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights. The horrifying picture that is drawn shows that such abuses are systematically planned and executed. From its use of lethal force mainly through the Israel Defense Force (IDF) to state sanctioned assassinations, torture on prisoners and house demolitions (as a form of collective punishment), Israel has violated many of the stipulated international human rights laws and yet, never suffer from any physical setbacks from the UN.

The seriousness of such violations is astounding. On house demolitions for example, the only country in the world to have such a practice, according to Middle East Watch, is Iraq under Saddam Hussein rule. The torture of Palestinian political suspects by Israeli security services according to AI, dated back to as early as 1967.

On another level, Beyond Chutzpah acts as a confrontational and direct criticism of Alan Dershowitz’s work, The Case for Israel, which the latter seeks to explain Israel’s position in the conflict. The criticisms leveled against Dershowitz’s book, is not to criticise Dershoqitz’s analysis per se, since observations and opinions can be different despite having the same facts. What it does, is to dispel the clout that Dershowitz possess, for simply being a Harvard professor, and hence, his work, being tagged as credible. Beyond Chutzpah acts on a factual and logical level by tearing apart The Case for Israel explaining how the book does not withstand academic scrutiny as it is supported by falsifications, plagiarism and dubious sources. As such, the book, on the criticism of The Case for Israel, not only seeks to destroy the myth perpetuated by Dershowitz, but also widens and deepens the reader’s knowledge of the conflict indirectly.

Norman writes that Dershowitz’s book seeks to defend Israel’s human rights record, which the latter deems to be “generally superb”. The irony, is that not only does Dershowitz not quote these human rights organizations mentioned above, but that he wrote them off as biased against Israel. Instead, he relies on Israeli military sources to support his findings and considers organisations such as Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a pro- Israeli group, to be more credible.

If recent events are to indicate, with the American President, George Bush, making his holy pilgrimage to Israel and West Bank, hoping to solve the quintessential Middle Eastern conflict that has plagued the region for years, one gets a sense of deja vu of helplessness as he commented on the ‘inconveniences for Palestinians in checkpoints’ (but a necessity for Israel security); or that Palestinians have to choose between Hamas or Fatah revealing his deep-seated ignorance or perhaps racist sentiments and underestimating Palestinian misery. He even made a callous remark in Israel when he said America should have bombed Auschwitz camp in which Condeleeza Rice has to stepped in and clarified that he meant the railway tracks. Such is the level of idiocy of the head of the current Administration that it begets disbelief.

Someone send George Bush a book! Beyond Chutzpah is highly recommended.

The official website of Norman G. Finkelstein is located at He has written various books including The Holocaust Industry and Image and Reality of The Israel-Palestine conflict.


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