February 3, 2006
Editor’s note: Letters to the Editor & comments on article posted below Duke article.
by Neal SenGupta
Political and historical issues that emerged in full on Duke’s campus last year during the Palestine Solidarity Movement resurfaced Wednesday night when Norman Finkelstein, an author and professor at DePaul University, spoke on West Campus.
Finkelstein is a critic of pro-Zionist and pro-Israeli sentiments.
He has written about the abuse of the memories of the Holocaust and perceived anti-semitism by Jews for propaganda purposes in his book Beyond Chutzpuh—On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.
“If you look at historical records, there is no controversy,” said Finkelstein, noting that the United Nations World Court ruled that Israel does not have the right to former Palestinian lands.
“Israel has no title to one atom of the West Bank or Gaza,” he added.
The West Bank and the Gaza Strip have long been areas of conflict, as both Palestinian and Israeli leaders and citizens claim rightful ownership of the lands.
Finkelstein said the two areas legally belong to the Palestinians.
He also compared what he deems the destruction of the Palestinian population to ethnic cleansing, drawing parallels to the European Settlers and Native Americans.
He said he thinks there are two types of controversy regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The first is legitimate controversy, which he said is relatively small. The second controversy is “fake and concocted and meant to diverge people from real issues,” Finkelstein said.
He accused pro-Israeli forces of attempting to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more complicated than it really is.
“To make it seem like it is so complicated you would have to have the knowledge equivalent to rocket science to know what is going on,” he said.
He also accused pro-Israeli forces of playing “the Holocaust card.”
“People conscript the Holocaust as propaganda,” Finkelstein said. “They say that because the Jews have suffered uniquely in history they should not face the same moral standards as other nations.”
His main issue with pro-Israeli ideological forces, Finkelstein noted, is the spread of misinformation.
“The most depressing example [of pro-Israeli propaganda] is the massive proliferation of sheer fakery and fraud on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Finkelstein said.
After finishing his nearly two-hour lecture—which was co-sponsored by the Duke Progressive Alliance and the cultural anthropology department, among other groups—he asked for questions, requesting that those who disagreed with him speak first.
Some members of the audience asked questions before being selected to speak.
Many people made angry comments. Others, however, said the lecture and debate afterwards were productive.
After several questions, however, audience members began arguing among one other, and Finkelstein stood quietly at the podium.
“I think it is sad people can’t hear an opposing viewpoint with any sort of respect,” said Laura Atkinson, a member of computer support personnel for Perkins Library.
The audience of more than 100 people, including many Jewish students, offered various views on Finkelstein’s lecture after the question-and-answer session.
“It was very informative. The important thing is that it raises the issue to a higher level of visibility,” said Alvaro Reyes, a fourth-year graduate student in literature.
Others were vehement in criticizing Finkelstein.
“I was, as a conservative who supports Israel, appalled by the heinous distorting that characterized his address,” said Stephen Miller, a Duke Conservative Union executive and Chronicle columnist, after the lecture.
Senior Jeff Leibach, president of the Freeman Center for Jewish Life, said he was disappointed with Finkelstein’s speech and its overall message.
“I feel the lecture lacked perspective, lacked a significant amount of truth and was based on a series of assumptions and elimination of facts,” Leibach said.
Leibach added that he was also disappointed with the fact that Finkelstein concluded his speech by saying—in reference to supporters of Israel’s policies— “they have the money, they have power, and at every level, they are ruthless.”
Leibach said such a statement represented a case of stereotyping. “When he said ‘they,’ he used stereotypes that for many years have been used to demonize the Jewish people,” Leibach said. “We [at the Freeman Center] hope to highlight the positive aspects of our culture in order to combat such stereotyping.”
READERS’ COMMENTS POSTED ON http://www.chronicle.duke.edu:
Norman Finkelstein, should be regarded with some doubt. He has never had a paper published in an academic journal, nor is he considered a scholar, in terms of the Holocaust. He is a man, who has many problems, and should not be taken seriously. He should not even be sent to the campus to discuss the issues, as he is so blinded with self hatred, that his analysis of what happen is blurred by his pathos of self hate. Hopefully, DUKE, will allow a more balanced and stable speaker to come, and clean up the mess Norman left.
— Allyson Rowen Taylor, 02.02.2006
Letters to the Editor:
Finkelstein’s accusations detract from debate
The Freeman Center for Jewish Life continues to explore the complexities of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict through respectful and thorough debate. Wednesday night, Norman Finkelstein did not contribute to a helpful dialogue, but rather he attacked the credibility of those with differing viewpoints. I would be interested in contradicting Mr. Finkelstein’s gross oversimplification of an intensely complex issue, his flawed and incomplete argument against Israel and pro-Israel lobbyists or his lack of evidence supporting several of his claims. However, I must respond first to his hurtful accusations that invoke negative Jewish stereotypes.
Rather than pointing out faults in their arguments, Mr. Finkelstein chose to criticize mainstream Jewish organizations that support Israel by saying “they have money, they have power, and at every level, they are ruthless.” He charged one prominent Jewish supporter of Israel with having “Nazi moral judgment.” He accused Jews of “playing the holocaust card” to support Israel. He characterized most pro-Israel arguments as “fake, fabricated, contrived and concocted.” He accused several individuals, media organizations and universities including Duke University, of contributing to what he calls “The Cause,” defined as the collaboration of individuals and organizations that propagate “despicable lies” used to support Israel. This idea of “The Cause” seems to be significantly similar to the historic charge of a “Jewish Conspiracy.” Each of these comments, as well as several others, detracts from a meaningful debate on substantial issues by attacking the character and moral fiber of Jews and supporters of Israel. There is no room for Mr. Finkelstein’s negative accusations in a respectful discussion on the issues.
I am disappointed that Hiwar, the Progressive Alliance, the Department of Cultural Anthropology and the Institute for Critical U.S. Studies legitimize Mr. Finkelstein’s spurious and incendiary claims under the guise of academic freedom. The next time these organizations and academic departments choose to host a speaker, I hope they choose someone who respectfully promotes debate. I hope they do not choose someone who supplements his faulty arguments with hurtful, negative and false accusations that prevent a fruitful and fact-based debate from taking place.
President- Freeman Center for Jewish Life
RESPONSE TO LEIBACH:
“Finkelstein’s accusations detract from debate”
Jeff Leibach, President- Freeman Center for Jewish Life, says, “there is no room for Mr. Finkelstein’s negative accusations in a respectful discussion on the issues.”
No room indeed! That is exactly right, thanks to the likes of Campus Watch and Mr. Leibach himself , who move heaven and earth to effect an embargo on criticism of Likud Israel. No room because any gentile critic is labelled an anti-semite, and any Jewish critic is accused of self-hating.
And now there is no room for Norman Finkelstein either, because he has accused the Sharonista of doing what they do every day: exploit the memory of the Holocaust to insulate themselves against criticism.
Israel-Palestine Conflict Analyzed
Book author speaks on campus on real factors of peace tensions
BY NOREEN TARAR
thepolypost.com | 2006-01-31
Norman Finkelstein, author of “Beyond Chutzpah,” spoke about the Israel-Palestine conflict at Ursa Minor in the Bronco Student Center on Wednesday. His speech was based on the book and what he believes to be the contrived controversy surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“The purpose of this controversy is to divert peoples attention from the actual scholarly documentary on the subject,” Finkelstein said. “The purpose is to sew confusion about what the real issues are. Its purpose is to deflect attention from the issues.”
Finkelstein believes that the Israel-Palestine problem is over-exaggerated. He said there are two types of fake controversy. The first being the attempt to mystify the Israel-Palestine conflict and the second being “the dragging in of the Nazi holocaust.”
He continued on to say that the conflict is simply not as complicated as it seems. He says that the records show that the entire international community has agreed for at least 20 years how to resolve the conflict: by the two state settlement. Support for this plan has remained consistent. He also believes the holocaust has been exploited by Israel’s apologists to confuse the issue.
Over the years Finkelstein has received a lot of criticism for his views. He has been accused of being an “anti-Semite” and a “self hating Jew.”
Finkelstein’s viewpoints sparked the interest of Cal Poly students. Amir Mertaban, a senior business and marketing student reacted to the speech.
“This speech was the best I’ve heard about American Israelis pushing this type of agenda,” he said. “It’s great to get that caliber of speaker. He is gutsy and amazing.”
The Israel-Palestine clash has been a big controversy over the course of many years. The Israeli-Palestinian struggle is not a simple two-sided conflict with all Israelis sharing one point of view and all Palestinians another.
In both communities, some individuals and groups want total territorial removal of the other community.
Others want a two state solution and some want a bi-national solution of a single secular state encompassing present day Israel, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Finkelstein currently teaches political theory at DePaul University in Chicago. He has been studying the Israel Palestine conflict for more than twenty years. “Beyond Chutzpah” is a sequel to his book “Holocaust Industry,” which is an international bestseller.
Noreen Tarar can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (909) 869-3747.