A small victory for Truth

September 26, 2015

In Blog News

Missed opportunity: A canceled speaker deserved to be heard at Pitt

September 26, 2015 12:00 AM

What’s the real reason that controversial scholar Norman Finkelstein did not speak as planned at the University of Pittsburgh on Thursday? The truth may not become public, but whoever made the decision sacrificed the ideals of higher education on the altar of expediency.

Mr. Finkelstein, a well-known critic of Israel, was to be a panelist at Pitt’s inaugural National Security Symposium, but his invitation was revoked last week. This resulted in a public castigation by Mr. Finkelstein, who said the university administration has “the moral integrity of a slot machine,” followed by a flurry of finger-pointing on campus.

Dean of students Kenyon R. Bonner released a statement that the decision was made by a student organizing committee. Others said the organizers ran short of money or that Mr. Finkelstein had not returned his contract in time. But the voice mail message in which Mr. Finkelstein was uninvited, left by visiting professor Luke Peterson on Sept. 16, said an “office” — a specific one was identified, but was inaudible on the message — “refused to sign off on your contract” and “raised a number of issues involving your presence.”

The issues surely involve Mr. Finkelstein’s polemical views. He is banned from visiting Israel because of his support for Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, but decries the BDS movement, which urges boycotts, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to withdraw from Palestinian land. Though Mr. Finkelstein is Jewish and the son of Holocaust survivors, he has accused Israel of creating a “Holocaust industry.”

Such views evoke strong reaction — which is why Pitt should have had Mr. Finkelstein appear as planned. Speakers who invite controversy give students a chance to examine their worldviews and challenge those of others. Norman Finkelstein spoke at the University of Connecticut and Yale University this month. Pitt students, too, should have had the opportunity to hear him.