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2006-08-30

Congressmember Weiner Gets It Wrong On Palestinian Group He Tried To Bar From U.S.

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Democracy Now! interviews Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D–NY) about his attempt to bar the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations. In May, Weiner infamously stated the delegation "should start packing their little Palestinian terrorist bags." Weiner says Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does not represent the PLO and that the group is listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department. Author and Professor Norman Finkelstein says he’s wrong on both counts. [includes rush transcript]

Democracy Now! had a chance to interview Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D–NY) yesterday in New York. In May, Weiner successfully added an amendment to a House bill banning aid to the Palestinian Authority. The amendment would outlaw the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations and kick them out of the United States.

  • Rep. Anthony Weiner (D–NY), questioned by Amy Goodman, August 29, 2006.

But is Rep. Weiner’s information accurate? Not his point of view–the facts. We speak with author and professor, Norman Finkelstein.

  • Norman Finkelstein, professor of Political science at DePaul University in Chicago. His latest book is "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History."
    - Website: NormanFinkelstein.com

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: After I spoke with [Congressmember John Murtha], I talked to New York Democratic Congressmember Anthony Weiner. In May, Weiner successfully added an amendment to a House bill banning aid to the Palestinian Authority. The amendment would outlaw the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations and kick them out of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: You called for the Palestinian delegation to the UN to pack their bags, or more specifically, to pack their "little Palestinian terrorist bags."

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Right, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Well, for the longest time, the Palestinian — the PLO Mission — PLO hasn’t been an accepted voice of the Palestinians for the longest time. Congress has said very clearly back in the 1980s, as recently as the middle of the 1990s, that they were not welcome here in the United States. And frankly, the PLO is an organization that, frankly, no longer seems to represent anyone, but they’re still considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

AMY GOODMAN: So would you call the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a terrorist?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: No.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the people who are at the UN —

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Not the Mission of the Palestinian Authority. This is the PLO Mission. Mahmoud Abbas does not represent — I hope he doesn’t represent the PLO. He certainly doesn’t say he does. He represents the Palestinian Authority. The PLO is a terrorist organization. It’s acknowledged it’s a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. And the only reason that they’re still there is because a court ruled that they were an adjunct of the United Nations, and thus there were two conflicting laws that are in place about — one that says the PLO has to leave the United States and the other that says that missions to the United Nations may stay. And so, frankly, I think that what I tried to do with the amendment you’re referring to is just clarify the PLO is not welcome in the United States, nor should they be.

AMY GOODMAN: They represent the Palestinian government. The Palestinian government is led — the president is Mahmoud Abbas.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Not true. The PLO Mission, the PLO Mission. The Palestinian Liberation Organization is a terrorist organization and is acknowledged that by the United States government. The Palestinian Authority, which is headed by Mahmoud Abbas — arguably that doesn’t represent the Palestinian people anymore since the election either, but that’s a whole different story. But the PLO is a terrorist organization, and I believe that they should lose their quasi-diplomatic status, as they no longer represent anyone — any of the Palestinians, and they are considered a terrorist organization.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Anthony Weiner. He called for kicking the Palestinian delegation out of the United States. But is his information accurate? Not his point of view, just the facts. Norman Finkelstein joins us in our Firehouse studio, professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago. His latest book is called Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. The facts, Professor Finkelstein?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: The facts can become a little technical, because there are multiple organizations now operating in the Occupied Territories, but Mahmoud Abbas was the successor to Yasser Arafat, when Arafat passed away and he became the chairman of the Palestinian — PLO chief — chairman of the PLO Executive. So he’s clearly a member of the PLO. That, I don’t think, is a matter of dispute.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of the PLO being on the list of terrorist organizations of the Justice Department?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: My recollection is — I don’t want to be — I’ll be as precise as I can. The PLO was on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations until 1988. In 1988, there were these famous words that George Shultz had made Arafat recite in public.

AMY GOODMAN: The Secretary of State under Reagan.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, Secretary of State George Shultz. And at that point, he was — the PLO was removed from the list of terrorist organizations, and the United States openly had diplomatic relations or ultimately was able to meet with the PLO. I’m sure your listeners will recall, before then there was the incident with Andrew Young having met with the PLO when it was a terrorist organization — officially a terrorist organization. But afterwards, it was removed from the list.

AMY GOODMAN: So, for almost 20 years, it’s been removed and the PLO has had a mission to the United Nations.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, the PLO Mission to the United Nations began, if my memory serves, in 1974. The PLO Observer Mission began at the UN. Some of your older listeners will recall that’s when Arafat gave that famous speech at the United Nations, "The Gun or the Olive Branch." So the Mission, I think, began in 1974, and right now the PLO is pretty much considered an ally of the United States against Hamas. So it’s kind of peculiar that Mr. Weiner should be venting his ire at the PLO. Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO are considered U.S. allies. We work with Dahlan, who’s the main PLO representative in Gaza. He heads up their security forces, works with the CIA, works with Israel. These are our people.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. And then we’re going to come back to the conversation with Congressmember Weiner. And then we’re going to Lebanon to play comments of a member of parliament in Lebanon about whether Israel should be accused of war crimes. Finally, we’ll speak with an Iranian dissident about the situation in Iran now and particularly about U.S. policy. We’re talking to Professor Norman Finkelstein of DePaul University. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We continue with my conversation with New York Congressmember Anthony Weiner.

AMY GOODMAN: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the New York Times has called for an investigation of Israel for the use of cluster bombs on Lebanon. What are your thoughts?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Well, first of all, a lot of those organizations, Amnesty International in particular, has always had bias against Israel, and frankly I would argue that in many cases, the New York Times has, as well. You know, Israel didn’t choose to have a war. Israel — this is not about land. Hezbollah hasn’t said, "We want this sliver of land." They’ve essentially crossed over an international border. They are an organization who, their avowed purpose is to eliminate Israel. Frankly, they’re the enemies of the United States, as well.

In times of war, bad things happen, and it is tragic when there is any innocent loss of life. But when the — when Hezbollah chose to declare essentially — violate an international border, a UN-recognized border, a border that was agreed to by Israel and, theoretically, the nation of Lebanon. When they chose to invade Lebanon and essentially take over by creating a government within a government, they, to some degree, chose the war, and Israel, you know, they’re a sovereign state. They have to prosecute it the way they think it’s best.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. government is now investigating whether Israel’s use of cluster bombs violated their relationship with the United States, in terms of getting cluster bomb technology. Your thoughts on that?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Well, look, I certainly think that the United States government should make sure that all laws were followed, but we mustn’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. This was a horrible thing that happened. Why did it happen? It happened because the Iranians have armed Hezbollah to be a surrogate army for them, to essentially occupy the — occupy Lebanese territory, to then invade Israel. None of these things were chosen by Israel, and Israel, frankly, has to be able to defend herself, just like we do.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question, do you think the New York Times is anti-Israel?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: I think that there have been times it is — that the New York Times has shown bias, but, you know, the — I’ve heard many of my friends who support the Palestinian position say the same thing about the New York Times on that side. So perhaps that’s the definition of a — of someone who’s the middle ground. But I do think that they are — that the New York Times has shown a bias in its reporting.

AMY GOODMAN: That is New York Congressmember Anthony Weiner. Our guest is Norman Finkelstein, professor at DePaul University in Chicago, professor of political science, author of Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. The issue of Human Rights Watch — I guess he’s talking about Amnesty International — and then to the New York Times of being anti-Israel.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, it depends on what standard you’re using. Throughout most of the world, I think American media, generally, and the New York Times, in particular, are considered very pro-Israel. I suppose in certain extreme fanatical corners of the universe, they’re considered anti-Israel, but if you look at — you know, you take an ordinary incident, and it’s useful to look at ordinary incidents.

Take the case in June of this year when there was the killing of the Palestinian family in Gaza Beach, and there was the famous scene of the ten-year-old girl wailing beside her father. Now, there were two ways the story could have been reported. There was the official Israeli version. They claim they had nothing to do with the killing of the family and the firing of the shell. And then you had the version of Human Rights Watch, which is one of the leading human rights organizations in the world. They sent over an expert to examine all the available evidence. He concluded that the evidence was overwhelming that the Israeli government was responsible for the deaths of that family.

What did the New York Times do? It reported the Israeli government version. Then it reported the Human Rights Watch version. And then, a few days later, the Human Rights version disappeared, and the New York Times stated that the deaths that occurred on Gaza Beach, we don’t include as among those for whom Israel is responsible. Why? Because the Israeli government said it wasn’t responsible.

Now, that kind of reporting you haven’t found in the United States since the days of the Daily Worker, when it reported on the Stalin purge trials to take the word of a government against the word of a human rights organization, and then to simply deposit the findings of the human rights organization in Orwell’s memory hole. Human Rights Watch disappeared. Israel wasn’t responsible. Why? Because the Israeli government said it wasn’t responsible.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to this issue of criticizing organizations or people who criticize Israeli military policy, calling them "anti-Israel," and then there’s always the step beyond, "anti-Semitic." Your comment.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, first of all, it has a long history. Every time Israel comes under international pressure, as it did recently because of the war crimes committed in Lebanon, it steps up the claim of anti-Semitism, and all of Israel’s critics are anti-Semitic. 1974, the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League, puts out a book called The New Anti-Semitism. 1981, the Anti-Defamation League puts out a book, The New Anti-Semitism. And then, again in 2000, Abraham Foxman and people like Phyllis Chesler, they put out these books called The New Anti-Semitism. So the use of the charge "anti-Semitism" is pretty conventional whenever Israel comes under attack, and frankly it has no content whatsoever nowadays.

If you open up, like, Phyllis Chesler’s book, The New Anti-Semitism, she says Jewish feminists are anti-Semites, NPR is anti-Semitic, BBC is anti-Semitic, Los Angeles Times is anti-Semitic, New York Times is anti-Semitic, Washington Post is anti-Semitic. Everybody is anti-Semitic. The term is devoid of any content. Anyone who ever criticizes Israel is anti-Semitic.

What does the evidence show? There has been good investigation done, serious investigation. All the evidence shows there’s no — there’s no evidence at all for a rise of a new anti-Semitism, whether in Europe or in North America. The evidence is zero. And, in fact, there’s a new book put out by an Israel stalwart. His name is Walter Laqueur, a very prominent scholar. It’s called The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism. It just came out, 2006, from Oxford University Press. He looks at the evidence, and he says no. There’s some in Europe among the Muslim community, there’s some anti-Semitism, but the notion that in the heart of European society or North American society there’s anti-Semitism is preposterous. And in fact — or no, a significant rise in anti-Semitism is preposterous.

The people who write this stuff — you know, you just quoted Mr. Weiner that Mr. Abbas is not a member of the PLO. If you read these people — Phyllis Chesler, her book The New Anti-Semitism had lots of praise by serious intellectuals like Paul Berman. She keeps saying in the book that India is an Arab country, and she’s very emphatic about this, that India is an Arab country. That’s the level of intellectual, you know, debate and discussion in this country when it comes to the Arab world.

AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t the ADL come out this week with a statement about Amnesty International?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, the ADL came out with a statement that Amnesty International is borderline anti-Semitic, and that’s pretty conventional from the ADL, that these organizations are anti-Semitic or then, you know, in other cases, they accuse individuals or organizations of being Holocaust deniers. None of this — first of all, as I said, it’s pretty commonplace in these organizations. The Simon Wiesenthal Center recently issued a statement condemning the United Church of Christ for being not borderline anti-Semitic, but functionally anti-Semitic, because they oppose the wall that Israel is building in the Occupied Territories.

Anyone who’s a critic of Israel becomes an anti-Semite. And the truth of the matter is, the real anti-Semites, they don’t really care about —- or the real Holocaust deniers, which is their other favorite epithet to hurl at people or expectorate at people who are critical of Israel -—

So you take the case, you know, now there’s a lot of discussion about the Iranian president’s statements denying the Nazi Holocaust. Whether he actually did or not literally, I’m not going to get into now. It’s not so important. For argument’s sake, let’s say he did do it. He denied the Nazi Holocaust. Now, you heard Mr. Weiner. He’s very fond of Abbas. He says Abbas has nothing to do with the PLO. Now, you take Abbas. Abbas is an authentic Holocaust denier. He wrote his doctoral dissertation denying the Nazi Holocaust. He published it as a book in 1982. He said less than a million Jews were killed during World War II. He denied the Nazi gas chambers. Now there you have a real Holocaust denier. You don’t have to really probe the meaning of his words. It’s pretty straightforward. Well, he’s the American favorite now. Everybody loves Mr. Abbas, because he does the American bidding. So they don’t care that he’s a Holocaust denier.

Let me just give another pretty indicative example. Take the case of Ronald Reagan. Nowadays many people are fond of Reagan. You listen to rightwing radio, which I listen to all the time, and you listen — everyone loves Reagan. Everybody forgets Reagan was the one who went to Bitburg, gave the speech saying that the Nazi soldiers, including the Nazi — the Waffen-SS, were victims, just like the Jews in the concentration camps. That was his famous statement at Bitburg. The ADL, which claims to be so vigilant about Holocaust denial, the ADL gave him their Torch of Liberty Award.

Then, just this past —- two years ago, Berlusconi, the president of Italy -—

AMY GOODMAN: Former.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Former president of Italy, gave this speech praising Mussolini and saying all the charges against Mussolini were false, he was basically a good guy. Three weeks — three weeks after he gave his speech — and remember, Mussolini passed the Anti-Semitic Laws, at the end of his regime, sent Jews to their death. Three weeks after he gave his speech, the ADL, Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, who is now accusing Amnesty of borderline anti-Semitism, they gave him the distinguished Statesman of the Year Award, had a big gala for him, and even fairly conservative economists like Robert Solow, Paul Samuelson, Modigliani — okay, they’re not conservative by conventional standards — mainstream economists. They wrote a very irate letter to the New York Times: Why is the ADL giving this guy an award? Well, the answer was simple. Because at that point, he was the only European leader who was very pro — he was very pro-Israel. They don’t care about Holocaust denial. They have no interest in it.

Let me give you one example, just —

AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, one example, just from what you were airing a moment ago. You heard the speech by Rumsfeld, where he says that Iraq is like the Nazis in the 1930s. Now, remember, the tenet of the Holocaust industry is, never compare the Holocaust to anything else. Never compare, and if you compare, they say you’re a Holocaust denier. But that side is always comparing. The Mufti of Jerusalem was Hitler. Nasser was Hitler. Saddam Hussein was Hitler. Hezbollah is now Hitler. Iran is Hitler. Hamas is Hitler. Iraq is Hitler. They’re the worst Holocaust deniers in the world, by their own definition. They’re always comparing.

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Finkelstein, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago. His new book is called Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.

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