Mises Wire

Finklestein’s Folly: How Not to Discredit One’s Opponents

The ongoing Israeli-Palestine conflict continues to captivate podcasters and listeners. So, Lex Friedman tapped into this interest by assembling a panel of experts to debate the issue. However, his decision to invite online personality Destiny as a commentator to defend Israel elicited criticisms, as Destiny is a college dropout who was parachuted to fame as a videogame streamer before becoming a political commentator.

Since then, he has established a reputation for debating members of the populist right. Destiny applied his talents to build a lucrative brand as a political commentator and this is commendable. Although Destiny is not in the league of people like Thomas Sowell and Ilan Pappe, he is a successful political entrepreneur whose prosperity depends on market appeal rather than intelligence. There is no reason for people like Destiny, and Candace Owens to be scholarly because that’s irrelevant to the success of their brands.

Rather than begrudging Destiny and other online figures for their fame, critics should copy their approach. Some think that Destiny’s lack of official credentials invalidates his perspective because they misunderstand how the market operates. In contrast to competent, but dull intellectuals Destiny is rewarded for excelling in the social media space. Therefore, if intellectuals resent the ascent of online personalities, they must rise to the occasion by outcompeting them in the social media space.

Yet observing that intellectuals can learn the art of self-promotion from Destiny does not justify his presence on the panel. Online pundits are often unqualified to elaborate on geopolitical issues since they usually lack rigorous training, however Destiny surprised listeners because he exceeded expectations. Instead of reiterating granular details, Destiny identified key points to undercut pro-Palestinian propaganda. On the other hand, Norman Finkelstein was expected to outclass Destiny, but he disappointed his fanbase by resorting to inartful comments. Listeners assumed that Finkelstein had the latitude to eviscerate Destiny’s arguments, but he betrayed their confidence by lashing Destiny with a trolley of insults.

Informing the audience that Destiny was relying on information from Wikipedia, calling him a moron, or telling him that his literacy is subpar painted Finkelstein as unprepared and uncouth. If Finkelstein had devoted more energy to the substance of Destiny’s arguments by countering the claim that the British made it difficult for the Jews to migrate to Israel or demolished the narrative of a corrupt Arab elite that facilitated the sale of properties to Jews, Finkelstein would have earned the admiration of viewers. Finkelstein should have dismantled the thesis that deceptive Arab elites instigated a bloody war against Jews in the 1930s and 40s to bolster his credibility as an expert, though in retrospect it seems that sycophants overrated Finkelstein’s abilities.

Finkelstein tasted fame in the 1980s after skewering the conclusion of Joan Peters’ 1984 book, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine. Heavyweights were impressed by Finkelstein’s research, so he was able to position himself as an anti-dote to pro-Israeli propaganda. Although, Peters’ book attracted accolades from mainstream outlets, contemporary scholars consider it a flawed text. From Time Immemorial is laced with erroneous assumptions that were thoroughly debunked by reviewers nevertheless, the primary insights derived from the text are true: Palestinian nationalism is a recent invention that was formed to counteract Zionism and many Palestinians are the descendants of recent immigrants to the area.

Surely Finkelstein would have emerged as the winner of the debate if he had discredited these narratives. Evidently, the temptation to belittle Destiny was too overwhelming for him however he unfortunately succeeded at debasing his reputation. The emotional intensity of the conflict has trapped pundits on both sides into peddling lies. For example, a critical piece in the New York Times describing the atrocities of Hamas was exposed as incredulous and estimates show that the fatality numbers supplied by Gaza are dubious.

Truth should be paramount to the debate, and baseless charges of Islamophobia or anti-Semitism must not browbeat participants into disseminating propaganda. Intellectual honesty, and a willingness to engage substantively rather than resorting to personal attacks, are essential for fruitful discourse on this contentious issue.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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