Finkelstein at UCLA

May 30, 2006

In News


Despite the controversy leading up to Norman Finkelstein’s visit to campus because of his extremist views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Holocaust, the environment surrounding the event was subdued, provoking little visible opposition from students and faculty.

Finkelstein, who is a professor of history at DePaul University in Chicago and has published several books on Zionism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Holocaust, said in his speech Tuesday night that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a paradox – if one studies the history of the conflict, of the human rights situations and the diplomatic records, there is little controversy to be seen.

“But when you enter the public arena, there is a major conflict,” Finkelstein said, adding that he believes personal and religious sentiments have distorted the resolution that he said has already been designated by the United Nations.

The lecture was held as part of a week of events called “Israel and Palestine: Obstacles to Peace,” which is sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association, among others. Organizers call the week an attempt to provide students with perspective on the situation Palestinians are currently facing in Israel.

Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, said most of the origins of the conflict are “fabricated, contrived and fake,” used in order to divert attention from the written record and to solve any confusion about it.

As with all events supporting either Palestinians or Israelis, Finkelstein’s lecture was met with some opposition, with students passing out fliers criticizing Finkelstein’s extremist views and some audience members voicing concern over the accuracy of his remarks.

Judea Pearl, a computer science professor, quietly booed and showed his disapproval as the crowded auditorium began applauding and showing its support for Finkelstein’s statement that U.N. Resolution 242 had said all territories belonging to Israel should be returned to the Palestinians.

Pearl said though the resolution stated territory should be returned, it only included the territory Israel gained after 1967, not all territories.

Finkelstein also addressed various hypocrisies on the part of Israelis. Referring to the violence between Israel and Palestinians over the disputed territories, Finkelstein said Israel calls Palestinian attacks against Israelis terrorism, but does not abide by the same derogatory label for Israeli attacks against Palestinians.

Ghayth Adhami, a fourth-year biology student, said he enjoyed hearing a professor who is critical of Israeli policy but is Jewish, not Muslim or Arab.

Finkelstein’s comments on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians was consistent with a message event organizers have been presenting throughout the week.

“We’re trying to stand up for their human rights. Palestinians are living under occupation and they have to deal with the brutality of the Israeli army,” said Adhami, who was wearing a green “Free Palestine” shirt and an armband representing solidarity with Palestinians.

Negeen Rivani, a first-year undeclared student, said though she expected Finkelstein to be biased in his argument, she believed his views to be too extremist, even distorting and forgetting to mention parts of history that have contributed to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“In his speech he doesn’t mention the failed attempts of Israeli and Palestinian negotiations. He only mentioned what the Israelis haven’t been doing and he isn’t proposing a solution,” Rivani said.

Take the time to learn both sides

05.23.2006 | The Daily Bruin
By Uzma Kolsy

Year after year a group of students on campus hosts a week that is meant to raise awareness about what Palestinians have been facing for decades.

This week is meant to bring a conflict that takes place on the other side of the world to the heart of campus.

This year, the week titled “Israel and Palestine: Obstacles to Peace” will witness what it has traditionally witnessed year after year – heated debate, inflamed sensitivities and seemingly unavoidable confrontations.

But the tradition of a week to promote awareness persists, and this year, while the week might happen to don a new name, it is still an attempt to shed light on the commonly misconstrued – or often untold – side of the same story.

The Middle East has been, is still, and into the foreseeable future will continue to be rife with conflict and violence.

For being such a faraway dispute, the cries in the Middle East are heard incredibly close to home.

Whether we deem it important, the tension in the Holy Land affects our country, our campus and by extension affects us.

As members of one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the country, it is our responsibility to be fully aware of the differing opinions that come with issues.

This week serves as a perfect opportunity to be involved in this campus’s tradition of diversity.

As a responsible and caring citizen of the campus community, you should take part in the events of “Obstacles to Peace” week so you are able to formulate your own opinion on this highly contentious but crucial issue.

Events like Norman Finkelstein’s lecture tonight have and will spark disagreement among students, but what is this campus if not a breeding ground for opposing ideas and controversial views?

Some students went so far as to attempt to pass an Undergraduate Students Association Council resolution condemning the decision by the Muslim Students Association to bring Finkelstein to campus, attributing hate speech to him and aligning him with racist ideology.

But regardless of whether the resolution passed, or whether the claims were false, the issue poses a greater problem.

Where are we as a student body if attempting to deny students’ exposure to different viewpoints is acceptable?

What have we come to if we are resorting to petty actions to try to keep a student group from bringing a speaker to campus who they believe will have something of worth to say?

How can we disallow a speaker from imparting a well-researched and scholarly take on an issue that will be presented in an appropriate and academic manner?

This campus is being quickly robbed of its academic freedom, and as students who have the right to be informed we do not have the right to deprive anyone else of this right.

It is in this spirit that students should participate in this week.

We are amazingly lucky to have a campus that caters to all sorts of opinions and ideas, and as an institution that prides itself on tradition, we must carry on the tradition that affords us this marketplace of different beliefs and opinions.

While the Muslim Students Association and other groups affiliated with this week might be slammed with accusations of anti-Semitism, we must realize and remember that this week is about awareness and understanding of the Palestinian struggle and that anti-Zionism must not be equated with anti-Semitism.

In this academic sphere, these political issues should be handled with scholarly debate and logical arguments, rather than name-calling and unfounded assertions.

Out of respect for the credibility of our peers, the dignity of our tradition of diversity, and the attempt at fostering understanding of a controversial and sensitive issue, we should see what “Obstacles to Peace” week has to offer.

And what is this campus good for anyway if not a little bit of political debate and some good old-fashioned controversy?Kolsy is a fourth-year political science student.

A different take on Middle East
Speaker to share controversial views of Israeli-Palestinian conflict tonight

05.23.2006 | The Daily Bruin

A scheduled visit to campus by Norman Finkelstein today has sparked strong responses from some student organizations based on his controversial views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Finkelstein, a professor of history at DePaul University in Chicago, has published several books on Zionism, the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which present different positions than those of many mainstream scholars.

He plans to speak at UCLA as a part of a week of events called “Israel and Palestine: Obstacles to Peace,” which is being sponsored collectively by Students for Justice in Palestine, Muslim Student Association, United Arab Society, MEChA de UCLA and Raza Graduate Student Association.

Among his contentions, Finkelstein has questioned the estimated number of Jews that died in the Holocaust – asserting that the number was less than the widely accepted estimates of 6 million. In his two most recent books – “The Holocaust Industry” and “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” – Finkelstein, himself the son of Holocaust survivors, argues that Jews and Israel supporters have exploited the Holocaust to promote their cause and justify the existence of the state Israel.

Finkelstein’s book “Beyond Chutzpah” also addresses what he calls “Israel’s horrendous human rights record” and the situation for Palestinians living in “the occupied territories.”

While some academics and members of the larger Jewish community say Finkelstein’s version of Holocaust and Middle Eastern history is inflammatory and believe some of his views are inaccurate, organizers believe that he has something important to say to the campus.

Adam Elsayed, vice president of the Muslim Students Association, said organizers hope Finkelstein can give students a different perspective on various issues than they usually receive.

Elsayed said he believes having a speaker like Finkelstein is important to provide a diversity of opinions and clarify long-standing misconceptions on the nature of the conflict. He also said he believes many Jewish groups are quick to classify those who criticize Israel as anti-Semites which causes them to avoid a discussion of the issues.

“(Finkelstein) is concerned with Israeli policy (and) he has the facts to back up his opinion,” Elsayed said.

But other groups take issue with Finkelstein’s views.

Daniela Karlin, a vice president of Bruins for Israel, considers the idea that Jews would use the Holocaust for personal gain to be without basis.

“There are sometimes just falsities people spread and there are people who would like to believe that,” Karlin said.

Karlin said she believes the notion that Israelis would use the Holocaust for personal gain is deeply offensive, calling Finkelstein’s views “half-truths (and) manipulation.”

In addition, three members of the Undergraduate Students Association Council have proposed passing a resolution against Finkelstein coming to campus, saying his visit “cannot serve any legitimate academic purpose and only serves to spread hatred and encourage violence” and that USAC “disapproves in the strongest possible terms” inviting him to speak. The council plans to vote on the resolution at tonight’s meeting.

In a phone interview, Finkelstein said he will be addressing the history of the current Israeli-Palestinian situation and potential diplomatic resolutions of the conflict during his talk.

He said he believes the situation in Israel is simpler than it often seems, and he plans to address his beliefs on the origin of the controversy surrounding the conflict as part of his presentation.

“Most of the controversy surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict is contrived by Israel in order to deflect attention from the documentary record,” he said.

Though some critics, including some UCLA students, say they believe Finkelstein’s opinions amount to Holocaust revisionism – the idea among a small group of historians that the reports of the Holocaust have been fabricated or exaggerated – Finkelstein himself firmly denies this assertion.

“I hear the claim but I am yet to see the evidence,” Finkelstein said. “Provide the evidence.”

History Professor James Gelvin, who specializes in Middle Eastern history, said he believes Finkelstein’s views are more nuanced than they are widely perceived.

“What he does is look at the meaning of the Holocaust and the way in which that meaning has been used by various people to advance agendas that are different from the notion of the tragedy,” Gelvin said.