Israel bars a critic

May 26, 2008

THE WELL-known Jewish academic and critic of Israel Norman Finkelstein was stopped at the airport on arriving in Israel May 23 and told he wouldn't be allowed to enter because of "security concerns."

Finkelstein was held and interrogated by Israeli security services for 24 hours before being put on a plane to return him to Amsterdam. His attorney in Israel, Michael Sfad, said this could mean a 10-year ban on Finkelstein entering Israel.

Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, is the author of numerous books protesting Israeli policies, including Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict and Beyond Chutzpah.

Several months ago, he went to Lebanon and met with officials of the Shia political party and militia Hezbollah, the target of Israel's deadly assault on Lebanon in summer 2006. Finklestein said he believed that Hezbollah, by fighting for their homeland against Israeli aggression, represented hope for Lebanon.

Israeli officials said Finkelstein was stopped at the airport "because of suspicions involving hostile elements in Lebanon" and "did not give a full accounting to interrogators with regard to these suspicions."

But Finkelstein told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz he gave "absolutely candid and comprehensive answers to all the questions put to me. I am confident that I have nothing to hide. Apart from my political views, and the supporting scholarship, there isn't much more to say for myself: alas, no suicide missions or secret rendezvous with terrorist organizations."

Finkelstein said he was kept in a holding cell at the airport for about 24 hours. "I had several unpleasant moments with the guards at the airport and in the holding cell," he told reporters, "but since martyrdom is not my cup of tea, I'll spare you the details."

He said he finally borrowed a cell phone from detainee and called Allan Nairn, who he was scheduled to see in Israel. Nairn arranged to get legal help to Finkelstein.

The travel ban on Finkelstein exposes the hypocrisy of the Israeli state, which claims to be a "home" for all Jews--except, apparently, those who disagree with its military expansionism, unprovoked attacks on Lebanon and oppression of the Palestinian people.

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