Norman Finkelstein is one of Israel’s fiercest academic critics and a vocal supporter of the Palestinians.
He is urging the Palestinians to break down the "segregation" wall built across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The son of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein was an assistant professor of Political Science at Chicago’s De Paul University for six years until he was denied tenure there in June 2007.
Known for his critical investigations of other scholarly works on Israel – notably his ongoing feud with Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor and Israel supporter – he has published six books on the occupation and the issue of Palestine.
Finkelstein’s works have earned him both praise and condemnation.
Finkelstein is working on his seventh book – A Farewell to Israel: The Coming Break-up of American Zionism – postulating that American Jewish support for Israel is beginning to wane.
Currently on an international speaking tour of Venezuela, The Netherlands, Turkey, Lebanon, Japan, the UK, Canada and the US, Finkelstein spoke with Al Jazeera about the siege on Gaza and what options Palestinians there faced.
Al Jazeera: Has there been much controversy so far on your speaking tour?
Finkelstein: There are some die-hards occasionally in the US but that has pretty much ended.
Israel’s case [for occupation] has collapsed, it’s not just weak, it has collapsed. You could see in the audience [at Manchester University] there was a row of hostile people who were anxious to hear me finally come to the end, but when I was done they had no objections because you can’t argue the case any more.
I think people know too much.
So where does that leave the Palestinians?
The suggestion has to be, as I said earlier, God helps those who help themselves. The Palestinians have to find a way to act on their own, and I think what happened in late January [the destruction of part of the wall separating Gaza from Egypt] is a good sign.
That is exactly what they should be doing in the West Bank. One million Palestinians armed with picks and hammers should go to that wall and say "The International Court of Justice (ICJ) said this wall has to be dismantled. We are implementing the ICJ decision. We are knocking down the wall."
Does that mean you encourage violence?
What happened in Gaza last month was not violence. I advocate what international law allows – that people under occupation can resist occupation using means which are legal under that law. This includes violence so long as you are targeting combatants and not civilians.
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote in their book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy in 2007 that Israel has a huge amount of influence over Washington policy. Does the Israel lobby control Washington, or is it the other way around?
I don’t really agree with Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. On broad regional issues, such as Iran, Iraq and so forth, America is calling the shots because they are fundamental American interests.
These are tough people – Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense and Dick Cheny, the vice-president – and no Israel lobby is going to tell them what to do. But when it is Israeli issues like the occupation and settlements, in that regard I think it is the lobby.
George Bush, the US president, has called Iran and North Korea "rogue states". Do you consider Israel a "rogue state"?
It is more than a rogue state. It is a lunatic state. The only country in the world where the population overwhelmingly supports an attack on Iran is Israel – 78 per cent want to attack Iran. The state has gone berserk. The whole world is yearning for peace, and Israel is constantly yearning for war.
You have been called an extremist, a neo-Nazi, an anti-Semite and a Holocaust denier.
What I have to say is not particularly radical. I have said pretty much what the whole international community has said for the past 30 years. When people actually hear what I say, it’s not particularly extreme.
One of the most serious claims against you mentions your invitation to Tehran’s Review of the Holocaust conference in December 2006.
I said I would appear under three conditions. Number one, you have to provide me with a list of who the invitees are because I want to be able to judge if this is a serious conference or if it is a circus. Number two, you have to give me serious time to present my point if view, and number three, you have to let me speak at the universities to the students.
They rejected all three conditions so I rejected the invitation.
What about the claim that you testified as an expert witness for Hamas in a
2006 US court trial?
In Chicago, there was a person who was indicted on some lunatic terrorism charge and I was called in as an expert witness on what Hamas’ record was in Gaza. That’s all I was called in for. I would certainly support them of course, what’s wrong with Hamas? They’re the elected government of Palestine. Who cares what they are considered, the people elected them.
Are you deliberately trying to provoke a reaction with your views?
No, I have no desire to provoke, I want to win this cause [for Palestine]. I think we can really win it; that’s one of the reasons I’m on this tour.
I think public opinion about Israel is now in freefall. I think it is going to be even worse now because nobody is going to defend Israel when the Palestinians blow up the wall.