Local press, post-Columbia talk

March 9, 2006

In News

Editor’s note: 3 articles below from NYT, JTA, Daily News & Columbia Spectator. Complete coverage of Columbia talk here (video of event & articles)

Latest: Dershowitz promotes free speach at Columbia (03.28.2006).

Finkelstein Rethinks Israel-Palestine
Columbia Spectator
By Lisa Hirschmann
Spectator Senior Writer

Speaker Addresses Packed Roone Arledge Auditorium

March 09, 2006

DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein addressed Columbians in Roone Arledge Auditorium Wednesday night on what he deemed a “contrived and fabricated controversy” surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hundreds of students, professors, administrators, and non-affiliates poured into the auditorium to hear the controversial author’s speech, titled “Israel and Palestine: Misuse of Anti-Semitism, Abuse of History.” The event was sponsored by a coalition of student groups led by the Muslim Students Association.

Finkelstein criticized Israel’s human rights record and concluded that “regardless of intent, Israel is in effect guilty of state terrorism,” exacting applause from sections of the auditorium. Finkelstein further alleged that the “only difference between Israel terrorism and Hamas terrorism is that Israeli terrorism is three times as lethal.”

The speech marked a period of rising tensions on campus, which has become manifest through the proliferation of fliers and the publication of conflicting student opinions in Spectator.

According to MSA president emeritus and event coordinator Sakib Khan, SEAS ’07, the group wanted “to create honest open dialogue on the Israel-Palestine issue,” especially in the wake of last year’s controversy concerning the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department.

Allegations of anti-Israel intimidation of students in the MEALAC department emerged in October 2004, leading to the creation of an ad hoc committee to investigate the claims and months of mounted tensions and taboos surrounding discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on campus.

While discussing tactics employed by fabricators of controversy—such as discouraging comparison of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with South African apartheid—Finkelstein criticized University President Lee C. Bollinger’s statements in response to a 2002 faculty petition calling for the University’s divestment from firms dealings with the Israeli military.

“As president of Columbia … I want to state clearly that I will not lend any support to this proposal. The petition alleges human rights abuses and compares Israel to South Africa at the time of apartheid, an analogy I believe is both grotesque and offensive,” Bollinger wrote.

In response to Bollinger’s remarks, Finkelstein declared, “I think it’s a sorry truth when the president of… [Columbia] subordinates the pursuit of truth to the pursuit of fundraising.”

Additionally, Finkelstein labeled Bollinger’s denunciation of the apartheid analogy “intellectual terrorism.”

Finkelstein also voiced his belief that claims about a “new anti-Semitism” are little more than attempts to silence criticism of Israel.

He also criticized the scholarship of his academic rival Havard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, alleging that Dershowitz plagiarized large portions of his book The Case for Israel from Joan Peters’ 1984 work From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine. Earlier in the evening, Finkelstein alleged that as a Princeton graduate student writing his doctoral thesis, he had thoroughly examined Peters’ footnotes and discovered she forged statistics to support her conclusions.

Audience reaction to the address was mixed. Loudly cheered in some parts of the crowd, Finkelstein was met only by silence and shaking heads in other sections. Members of student groups such as LionPac and Pro-Israel Progressives wore signs into the auditorium reading, “Norman Finkelstein, your hate is not welcome on our campus.” Students also held up denunciatory signs periodically throughout the speech, despite repeated written warnings in the days before the event that signs would not be allowed.

Finkelstein is best known for his writings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what he alleges is the exploitation of the Holocaust by certain European groups. In 2000, he published The Holocaust Industry, in which he refers to efforts by Jewish elites to obtain financial reparations for the Holocaust in Europe as an “outright extortion racket.” Finkelstein is the son of two Holocaust survivors.

Students protest scholar’s speech
Jewish Telegraphic Agency | 03.09.2006

Jewish students at Columbia University protested a speech by a scholar critical of Holocaust restitution groups and Israel.
Some of the dozens of protesters at Norman Finkelstein’s speech in New York City on Wednesday evening held up two-sided red signs showing a picture of his face with a red heart, followed by the word “Hezbollah.” Others wore white T-shirts with signs reading “Norman Finkelstein: Your Hatred Is Not Wanted at Columbia.”

Finkelstein, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago, argues that Israel and Jewish organizations have exploited the memory of the Holocaust for financial and political gain. Critics say Finkelstein, the son of survivors, minimizes the memory of the genocide.

** Watch the video of the event and decide for yourself: were there 600 protesters or is the Daily News reporter on drugs?

Protest at Columbia
NY Daily News | March 9, 2006

A controversial professor provoked fury among Jewish students with a Columbia University speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last night.

Norman Finkelstein, a DePaul University professor and author whose writings on the Holocaust and comments about Jewish conspiracies have drawn wide condemnation, spoke about what he called the contrived controversy around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s use of the Holocaust as a political tool.

Jewish students held placards and wore signs decrying the academic as a messenger of hate.

“Israel is in effect guilty of state terrorism,” Finkelstein said. “The only difference between Israeli and Hamas terrorism is that Israeli terrorism, judging by the numbers, is three times as lethal.”

The event, which was billed by sponsoring campus Muslim groups as promoting dialogue about the Middle East, found pro-Israel students on one side of the room silently raising placards saying Finkelstein supported Hezbollah and his supporters cheering on the other side of the room. “It feels like a real slap in the face,” said Bari Weiss, 21, a junior from Pittsburgh who was one of about 600 protesters.

Sakib Khan, the former president of the Muslim Students Association and the event’s principal coordinator, hailed it as a “model of democracy” and welcomed the opposition. “We wanted to have a very direct and honest dialogue on Israel and Palestine,” the 21-year-old junior said.

New York Times | 03.09.2006

A historian who argues that Jewish organizations exploit the Holocaust to deflect criticism from Israel drew dozens of student protesters last night during his lecture at Columbia University. Norman Finkelstein, a DePaul University professor who is the son of Holocaust survivors, gave a talk titled “Israel and Palestine: Misuse of Anti-Semitism, Abuse of History.” Some students in attendance quietly held up two-sided red signs that showed a picture of his face with a red heart, followed by the word “Hezbollah.” They also handed out fliers outside. “We’re angry because a lot of what Norman Finkelstein says is repugnant and is based in Jewish conspiracy theories that easily spin out of control into anti-Semitism,” said Avery Katz, the vice president of LionPAC, a pro-Israel student group that helped coordinate the protest. The lecture was sponsored by 10 student groups. “I feel very glad that students who oppose the event are voicing their opposition and engaging in the dialogue,” said Sakib Khan, 21, a Muslim Students Organization member who helped arrange the lecture. He said he hoped the event would stimulate conversation that had been stifled by last year’s disputes between pro-Israel students and pro-Palestinian professors. JENNIFER 8. LEE (NYT)