Feb 14th, 2008 by Donagh
Jerry Haber is updating us on the outcome of the Oxford Union debate on Israel that Norman Finkelstein was finally invited to and he wonder if it is appropriate considering all that is going on in Gaza at the moment:
The siege in Gaza is tightening, human rights abuses continue daily, Hamas promises more suicide bombings, and I am still blogging about…Norman Finkelstein at the Oxford Union?
So why is it important? Well it seems because there has been a lot of inaccurate reporting of the debate – reporting designed to show Finkelstein as an ideological enemy of Israel - and because Jerry has an informed source who attended the debate (unlike those reporting on it) he feels a responsibility to provide an impartial account.
So Jerry feels that he has to respond to a Jewish Chronicle report which suggests that despite the fact that Finkelstein debated in favour of the motion that Israel had a right to exist on the grounds that it had international recognition he actually voted against it.
According to Haber, or at least his informed source, Finkelstein ‘had no intention of voting, and he left the auditorium without voting, or at least not intending to’.
As explained by my source at Oxford:
The voting system works as follows. The main entry and exit has a bar down the middle of it, with a door either side of it. Above the door to the left of the bar it says something like ‘nay’; above the door to the right of the bar it says something like ‘aye’. If you exit to the left, that counts as you voting against the motion, and the opposite is true if you exit to the right. (I may have got the two sides the wrong way around as to which is aye and which is nay).
You vote simply by virtue of exiting through a particular side of the bar. A union official at each side keeps a tally. If you want to abstain, you have to tell the official as you exit. So unless [Finkelstein] told the union official at the door that he wanted to abstain, if Finkelstein exited then he necessarily (whether he meant to or not) voted one way or the other.
In fact, Finkelstein wasn’t aware of any of this arcane Oxford tradition, much less that he voted with his feet, until I contacted him about it a few days ago. Maybe he should have been, but he was seen walking out talking with students and entirely preoccupied with the debate.
The emphasis is Haber’s. So while Jerry may question whether, in the current circumstances, it is worthwhile writing about a minor intellectual scuffle on the outskirts of the larger Israel/Palestine debate I think its fascinating.
Indeed, its also important when you consider the pressure that can be brought to bear on what essentially is a mainstream position, that Israel should be challenged on its egregious national government’s policy of mistreating a Palestinian population of which it not only has considerable control, but also responsibility.