Daniel Finkelstein

April 2, 2008

Daniel Finkelstein, or the ‘Fink’ as he likes to be known, is the ‘Comment Editor’, of the ”The Times”; although his Times column is notorious for having nothing much to comment upon and for trivialising just about anything.  He is also an advisor/contributing editor to Editorial Intelligence.

More or less
What will all the companies funding Editorial Intelligence be getting for their money? Finkelstein has the extreme habit of reproducing material from the web while denouncing it as the domain of nutters; but he is more adept at advancing concepts such as:

“…the Metropolitan Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers puts up £9,000 … to finance a Muslim extremist to travel to Britain and speak at a conference.” [1]

This article  ‘Politeness in the photocopier queue is why we’re losing the War on Terror’ holds up this Orwellian gem for us to admire:

“It is always difficult to counsel that we should understand less, be less curious. Yet in the War on Terror, to understand less is to comprehend more.”

So its the usual on Israel:

“Israel, always controversial, is now commonly talked about as if it were a pariah state.”

For Finkelstein that is an unbelievable remark about the land of milk and honey.  What can you say to someone with their fingers in their ears, but the problem is that people like Finkelstein have their fingers in our ears too. Recent research by Greg Philo indicates that media, particularly television, coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict tends to reflect Israeli perspectives, while leaving most viewers alarmingly ill-informed:

“The result of this approach is that there is almost nothing on the news about the history or origins of the conflict and viewers are extraordinarily confused. Many believed that the Palestinians were occupying the occupied territories or that it was basically a border dispute between two countries who were trying to grab a piece of land which separated them. The great bulk of those we interviewed had no idea where the Palestinian refugees had come from – some suggested Afghanistan, Iraq or Kosovo.”[2] 

But for Finkelstein to take this line of thought on board would be to ‘comprehend more’. He was in a huff because editors were following Section 11 of the BBC’s editorial guidelines which read: “The word ‘terrorist’ itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should try to avoid the term.”  For Finkelstein understanding is the last thing we want, he wants good old-fashioned jingoistic encouragement: “What is this, if not a disastrous loss in confidence?”  The tone is of an armchair US drill-sargent shouting ‘there’s a war to be won here people and for that we need an enemy — now go out and find one!’  Meanwhile he’s off to the football.

Too close to the terrorism industry himself (as an amateur propagandist) he has not caught on that this stuff cuts both ways: that many people might refer to Israel as historically a terrorist state, citing the history of David Ben gurion, the Stern Gang, founded by terrorists, the killing of British soldiers and so on.

We are reminded by Finkelstein that he is Jewish almost as many times as the great Jackie Mason, who rather fittingly said: “It’s no longer a question of staying healthy. It’s a question of finding a sickness you like”.  For Finkelstein is the sickness Muslim baiting? Take this example:

“…The extraordinary decision of the supposedly mainstream Muslim Council of Britain that they are unwilling to attend this week’s commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz did not attract as much media attention as I thought it would and feel it should have. The council should be more concerned than I am about this, because it suggests strongly that most of the press have given up expecting any better from them. I retain my capacity for amazement and dismay. It is a disgraceful thing to have decided.”[3]

Sadly Finkelstein would be lost without the word ‘terrorist’ and the bombing of the twin towers provided a new impetus to his attack on the Palestinians — or ‘America’s enemies’ as he portrays them, here using the ventriloquism of the anonymous source:

“It is Israel that for many years now has been fighting America’s war, the democratic world’s war. For many years Israel has faced almost daily attack from the same sort of people who attacked the World Trade Centre, indeed perhaps from the hijackers themselves. What these extremists hate about Israel is not its appropriation of a tiny sliver of Arab land, it is the sitting of a Western style, non- Islamic democracy in the Middle East.”  [4]

Gaza is such tiny sliver of Arab land its hard to get those tanks and bulldozers through the streets and of course the West Bank is the spoil of war. But can the same suicide bombers strike twice?

For Finkelstein its permanent war: “There will be peace in the Middle East only if, first, there is victory in the war against terrorism.”  In a competitive marketplace Finkelstein’s writing has to fit in with the more rabid stuff that the Israeli state encourages — a mild expression of which is arguing that Anti-Semitism, comes in the guise of anti-Zionism.  This is extended by front groups such as The Anti-Defamation League , which hold that a modern and common form of anti-Semitism is the statement that Jews claim that all criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitism [5], yet it does not work the other way: Arafat is still the father of modern Arab terrorism and the Palestinian people (even the unborn) are its enthusiastic supporters. 

And when not sickeningly baiting Muslims, there’s a fine retail in puffery:

“Tony Blair’s attraction to the music and the glamour of the rock world is a central reason why he has been such a great political success and understands so well the country he is leading.[…] The opening up of popular culture to anyone, the strength of American influences, the rejection of a fake Old Left traditionalism in favour of an accessible, popular commercial product, the overwhelming triumph of rock and pop music over all its rivals, all these things have helped to define modern Britain.” [6]

Although Finkelstein practically claims to have discovered the web he will suffer from the fact that all his work has been collated onto sites such as Byliner. That’s the huckster’s nightmare: compare and contrast: just see how much of him you can stand before you run fleeing from your computer.

Two nanoseconds eh? well here’s the Finkelstein formula anyway: meaningless tease intro, glance at what every other commentator is doing and slag off in hypocritical manner, decry so and so who has amassed meaningless stats, adopt this, refer to whatever is at hand: book/web/tea cup/ meaningless aphorism.  Twist at the end: a variant on: ‘pundits get it wrong most of time’.  Of course that would all have to be seasoned with Finkelstein’s own brand of pet hates, bias and bigotry.

One particular episode took a 1000 word preamble to say:

“So, I promised you a definitive answer. When will Tony Blair resign? Will the Conservative Party win the next election? Is there another big Cabinet reshuffle on the way? And will Charles Kennedy survive until next summer? I haven’t the slightest idea. And neither does anyone else.” [7]

Demonstrating his own ignorance is one thing but projecting it on to others? One thing to do the next time he is on television is to observe the amount of time it takes before he alienates everyone around him — but why does he appear so often, why do the Times pay him for writing thin nonsense? He is not in the role of ‘the man-we-love-to-hate’: that epithet is somewhat abridged…

Mylroie — Perle before swine

But you won’t find his wonderfully accurate, brilliantly titled “The twin towers trail leads to Saddam by Daniel Finkelstein, The Times, 3rd October 2001” on the web — all links lead to nowhere.  Which is a pity because it shows the Finkelstein at his best: serving his masters.  He became (conveniently) obsessed with laundering what was termed “The Laurie Mylroie thesis”: an attempt to established Iraq’s involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing, which was given much publicity in the US, and then found its way via Finkelstein to The Times, when propaganda linking Iraq to the bombing of the twin towers was required in selling the war.  The job was to bring The Laurie Mylroie thesis up-to-date in a kind of ‘nevermind the quality feel the width’ style:

“…while we may be confident that Osama bin Laden was involved in the latest World Trade Centre attack, we cannot be remotely confident that he and his network acted alone.  An attack of this complexity would have required active state sponsorship.  This leads to the second point — the most dangerous state sponsor of terror is Saddam Hussein.  The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is right to contemplate a new war against him.”

Finkelstein extended this into somewhat familiar Palestinian territory: ”From the moment that the first of the 1993 bombers, a Palestinian with links to the PLO, was arrested, idiotically attempting to reclaim the deposit on the rented van he had blown up, the FBI seemed convinced that this was merely a criminal matter. Since then the extraordinary investigative efforts of Laurie Mylroie, an American academic, have strongly suggested otherwise.”

Here he sums up: “Mylroie argues that the original plot was infiltrated by Iraqi agents, who later disappeared, leaving the naive organisers to shoulder the blame. Her most important contribution has been to trace the movements of one agent, Ramzi Yousef, from his entry into America until his arrest almost two years after the bombing.  Giving in to such pressure would be to repeat history’s mistake. Even the author of the Powell doctrine himself may be ready to agree. Whatever its role in the latest atrocity, Iraq is clearly a sponsor of international terrorism. The evidence that it is assembling biological, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction is overwhelming. Its willingness to invade its neighbours and lay waste to countries is already proven.”

You would think that emphasis on ‘invade its neighbours’ bit might have triggered off some reflection but… ‘overwhelming’, well yes for those paid to think so but as for Colin Powell and the rest of the world…? And why bother keeping it on the web now that it has served its purpose.  Everybody makes mistakes — but sadly this was not a one off for Finkelstein.

Ramzi Yousef

The Times (October 29, 2001) saw his obsession about the Ramzi Yousef story (planted to encourage the carnage) give us Finkelstein the conspiracy theorist enraptured as the CIA visited Wales.

“It explains, for instance, what the former CIA Director James Woolsey was doing last month tramping round a college in Swansea. Woolsey believes that Iraqi Intelligence organised the 1993 World Trade Centre attack. A man calling himself Ramzi Yousef has been jailed for the crime and Woolsey wants to prove that he is an Iraqi agent. In court, Yousef’s claim that he was Abdul Basit Karim, a Kuwaiti who had studied in Swansea, was accepted by most. No one cared much who he was, as long as he was found guilty.”

Leaving aside that last line: the difficulties with his/the neo-Con’’s story on Yousef has been alluded to by others:

“…most theories closely tying Yousef to the government of Iraq tend to involve an amount of misdirection and arcane identity switching that’s extreme even by the labyrinthine standards of international terrorism. The connection has never been proven.” [8]

The Mylroie book, Study of Revenge, was reissued post 9/11 and the CIA’s Woolsley was a chief backer. [9]

Mylroie was an apologist for Saddam’s regime, but reversed her position upon his invasion of Kuwait in 1990.  In ‘Study of Revenge’ she acknowledges Richard Perle and John Bolton and the staff of the American Enterprise Institute for their assistance.  Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Vice President Cheney’s (not entirely untarnished) chief of staff, gave “generous and timely assistance.” And Paul Wolfowitz “was instrumental in the genesis of Study of Revenge”, his then-wife is credited with having “fundamentally shaped the book,” while of Wolfowitz, she says: “At critical times, he provided crucial support for a project that is inherently difficult.” [10]

Having blurbed Mylroie’s first book as “wholly convincing,” Richard Perle now says that “not everything she says is convincing” and that Mylroie’s thinking was “not very important” to the development of his own views on Iraq. But, at the same time, Perle continues to praise Mylroie’s investigative skills, even saying she should be put in charge of “quality control” at the CIA.  This article also mentions that the Woolsey Welsh trip was apparently sanctioned by Wolfowitz. 

Commercial break here: Should you want to book any of these people: Michael ‘Yellowcake’ Ledeen, Richard ‘consulting fees’ Perle, Richard ‘Team B’ Pipes, Laurie “Armchair Provocateur” Mylroie, James ‘World War IV’ Woolsey and many more: try Benador Associates.

The trouble with this gang is that they are rather too up for hire.  As is Finkelstein one fears.  He provided Saddam torture and WMD-constructing Iraqi scientist stories (rolled in to one) as if to order:

“….Saddam Hussein is a murderer for whom human life means nothing, that he is determined to build weapons of mass destruction and has come close to doing so, and that he harbours terrorists who conspired to destroy the World Trade Centre. They also show that while Saddam is cunning and driven, we have been pathetically weak and naive in our dealings with him. In other words, they show that I may be deeply concerned about Saddam, but I’m not bonkers.”

Finkelstein’s mother was in Belsen, although he has written that: “My mother left Belsen in a very rare prisoner exchange.”[11] But one wonders if there is still an issue with Germany: “German Intelligence reports that he is also at work on a new class of chemical weapons, with missiles capable of reaching Europe. German companies have been delivering to Baghdad material necessary for the production of poison gas.”[12]

There’s no mention of the cream of his beloved Tory party enabling the selling to Saddam of a huge enormous sci-fi space gun which might as well have had ‘Israel here we come’ written on the side but:  “By the time of the Gulf War, having travelled all over the world on illegal shopping trips for nuclear spare parts, Hamza had helped Saddam to build a crude device. Only the fact that it was too big to attach to a missile prevented Saddam from being able to fire it at Israel [13]

The fools made it too!  This report (I will omit the details) also has the disinformationist crude device: ”reportedly.”

“He was reportedly hung up by his thumbs and beaten every day for ten years.”

No — hung by the thumbs for ten years!  Anonymous sources appear so often in his work one feels one gets to know them.

Social Market Foundation

Like others in Editorial Intelligence Finkelstein was an acolyte of David Owen when he led the Social Democratic Party. But Finkelstein was one of the most right-wing members in the Hague office.  Finkelstein stood as an SDP candidate in the 1987 elections and  went on to become director of the Social Market Foundation.  This has its own connections to Fishburn Hedges who fund Editorial Intelligence. [14]

“As the lobbying organisation for market-oriented reforms of public services, the Social Market Foundation is often seen as the epitome of Right-wing thinking. Although it dislikes this description, it has been a training ground for two successive Tory research chiefs — Danny Finkelstein and Rik Nye.”[15]

SMF policy advisors are:
Wendy Alexander
Matthew d’Ancona (also with EI)
Lord Dahrendorf
Anthony Giddens
Lord Haskins
Trevor Philips
Lord Stevenson

Its patrons are:
Lord Flowers, Labour Peer Lord Lipsey (the former political editor of the Economist has long been influential with Labour revisionists), Rt Hon Lord Owen, Lord Sainsbury of Turville and Lord Skidelsky.  Beth Egan who previously worked at Demos has recently left.  Philip Collins who previously worked for Frank Field MP tried to focused the SMF’s work in a more Blairite direction, but its all David Cameron now.

Ann Rossiter the Director, prior to joining the SMF, worked for four years as a Director of Fishburn Hedges and for Lexington Communications.  Nina Temple, the Head of Development and Communications, was the last secretary of the British Communist Party. SMF’s site has

“Under her reforming leadership the CP voted to disband and set up Democratic Left, later to become the New Politics Network. In that role she worked to establish various projects including Unions 21, Make Votes Count (a client of PR firm Luther Pendragon) and the Respect festivals.”

But there’s a bit more to it than that.  The SMF’s Katherine Raymond was a Special Adviser to David Blunkett but departed as the Tories started the New Conservatives game.  Their address, 11 Tufton Street, and no doubt a lot more, is shared with the Adam Smith Institute and a whole lot more which should be the subject of another entry.

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

Finkelstein is also a ‘labeler.’ He will set himself up to put down practically anyone rocking the gravy boat.  On Nobel prize winner Harold Pinter — well he might have impressed the experts but the Finkelstein sees through all this and declared in the Times: “The great dramatist has the right to intervene in politics, just as anyone else has. But he doesn’t have the right to be taken seriously. Pinter simply has nothing interesting to say.” [16] Not so much chutzpah as gall there, but imagine writing that without it occurring to you that…well he’ll never get it really and he makes enough money out of not knowing and here Finkelstein is part of the pack mentality:

“This is the standard, Soviet-style assertion that critics of power are afflicted by psychological disorder, with the concocted ‘sins’ of power randomly selected as a focus for neurotic ire. To consider the robotically consistent nature of the smears — and how we find ourselves assuming that there must be something to them — reveals much about how freedom of expression is crushed in our society.” [17]

There is no exposure of the crimes of power in his work. But when widely celebrated talents choose to express political dissent for Finkelstein they then become idiots speaking beyond their competence.  If we were to put Finkelstein and Pinter on the scales it is Daniel who would be found abominably wanting.  Who will people be reading in the future?

Notes

[1] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,21129

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2004/jul/14/israel.middleeastthemedia

[3] Daniel Finkelstein The Times, 26 Jan 2005 this report seems to have vanished from the web.

[4] http://www.unitedjerusalem.org/index2.asp?id=59058

[5] http://www.cdn-friends-icej.ca/israeln/05oct01.html

[6] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,21129-1990872,00.html

[7] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,21129-1927480,00.html

[8] http://www.rotten.com/library/bio/crime/terrorists/ramzi-yousef/

[9] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0312.bergen.html

[10] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0312.bergen.html

[11] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/article413930.ece

[12] & [13] http://www.kurd.org/newsletters/20011029094223.html

[14] http://politics.guardian.co.uk/thinktanks/story/0,10538,1539926,00.html

[15] http://www.cipfa.org.uk/pt/pt_details_c.cfm?news_id=4717

[16] ‘Warning: what you are about to read is f****** poetic,’ The Times, March 9, 2005.

[17] http://www.coldtype.net/ David Edwards — brilliant fools unthinkable thoughts.

To see Finkelstein’s work in its proper context: http://www.brothersjudd.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/reviews.detail/book_id/416

Sourcewatch has a report on SMF’s lobby flogging at conferences.  A quid-pro-quo for sponsoring a talk is that a representative of the sponsor sits on the discussion panel.

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