Marketplace of Ideas at Harvard Law

October 24, 2005

In News

The Record Editorial

We recently learned that Harvard Law School’s student organization Justice for Palestine has invited Norman Finkelstein to speak on campus on November 3. We urge the group to reconsider.

Third-year students may remember Finkelstein as the man who, back in 2003, accused Professor Dershowitz of signing his name to books written by the Israeli Mossad. (More on that shortly.) But there’s much more to Norman Finkelstein than batty conspiracy theories about Alan Dershowitz. Finkelstein advances batty conspiracy theories about lots of people, and especially about one particular type of people – that is, Jews.
Norman Finkelstein, a political science professor at DePaul University, has earned notoriety for his three main positions.

First, Finkelstein accuses Jews – individually and as a group – of being greedy money-grubbing “shakedown artists” who have “finagled,” “blackmail[ed]” and “exploited” innocent Europeans. Finkelstein’s big break came in 2000 with his book, The Holocaust Industry, which purported to document the Jewish “shakedown” of European governments and companies complicit in the Holocaust. Jews, according to Finkelstein, only care about the Holocaust for the sake of “power and profit” and “Jewish aggrandizement.” Brown University Professor Omer Bartov, reviewing The Holocaust Industry for The New York Times, called Finkelstein’s book a “conspiracy theory,” “verg[ing] on paranoia” that amounted to “a novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.'” The Washington Post wrote, “Norman Finkelstein [is] a writer celebrated by neo-Nazi groups for his Holocaust revisionism and comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany.”

Which brings us to Finkelstein’s second line of writing. Along with his Holocaust/ Shakedown pieces, Finkelstein writes books whose primary object is to analogize Israelis to Nazis. A sample Finkelstein witticism: “I can’t understand why Israel’s apologists would be offended by a comparison with the Gestapo. I would think that, for them, it is like Lee Iacocca being told that Chrysler is using Toyota tactics.”

Third, Finkelstein makes a point of attacking the personal and academic integrity of just about every prominent Jew who dares speak out in favor of the rather mild propositions that (1) the Holocaust ought be remembered or (2) that Israel has as much a right to exist as any other country. Among the more famous and noteworthy Jews whom Finkelstein has called “fakes,” “frauds,” “plagiarists,” “clowns,” “hoaxers,” and “hucksters” are Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, author Leon Uris, author Joan Peters, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, civil rights lawyer Burt Neuborne, historian Daniel Goldhagen, Carter Administration official Stuart Eizenstadt, and former Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban. One wonders whether any Jewish public figure may make public note of Holocaust atrocities or the benefits of there being a single Jewish State without finding his or her integrity maligned by Finkelstein. (Dean Kagan, beware. Your stature and ethnicity make you an attractive target.)

Closer to home, Finkelstein has made Alan Dershowitz his personal obsession. Upon publication of The Case for Israel, Finkelstein claimed that Dershowitz was not the author. Finkelstein even went so far to claim that Dershowitz does not write any of his books. “[I]t’s sort of like a Hallmark line for Nazis….[T]hey churn them out so fast that he has now reached a point where he doesn’t even read them.” Sadly for Finkelstein, Dershowitz writes his books longhand. When Dershowitz produced his hand-written manuscript, Finkelstein promptly changed his story. Suddenly Dershowitz had plagiarized his book. (Though wanting in honesty, decency, and judgment, Finkelstein is certainly a man of great perseverance.) The essence of Finkelstein’s plagiarism charge is that Dershowitz had cited some of his quotations to their original sources, instead of to the secondary sources in which he found them. The former president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences found that, not only is Dershowitz’s Case for Israel citation method decidedly not plagiarism; it is actually preferred by the Chicago Manual of Style. Professor Charles Fried called Finkelstein’s allegations “stupid, unfair and ridiculous,” and the chief librarian at HLS wrote that Dershowitz’s citation method was “certainly correct.” The New York Times dismissed the charges in a similarly summary fashion. Apparently what Finkelstein calls “plagiarism” the rest of us call “sound research” and “good scholarship.”

Finkelstein’s most recent book, Beyond Chutzpah, which he has been invited to discuss at the Law School, takes as one of its theses the proposition that “American Jewish elites” are “the main fomenters of anti-Semitism in the world today…. They need to be stopped.” Though mindful that Finkelstein will probably accuse us of being beholden to the International Hebrew Conspiracy to Control the Media (or as those on the take call it, “IHCCM”), we at The Record find Finkelstein’s position, well, less than kosher.

The law school community would protest a speaker who lectures on the resolution that gays are responsible for homophobia, that African-Americans are responsible for the Klan, or that black leaders who support slavery reparations are shakedown artists to blame for anti-black bigotry. In other words, this is not a matter of free speech, but of maintaining a consistent standard of decency and tolerance across racial and ethnic lines. Finkelstein is free to speak wherever he likes, and in fact we believe he would fit quite nicely with Lyndon LaRouche supporters down by the Harvard Square T stop.

But Justice for Palestine is better than Norman Finkelstein.

JFP is rightly proud of its history as a responsible advocacy organization committed to promoting a compromise two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that slandering and vilifying Jews is no way to go about promoting the worthy cause of Palestinian self-determination.

We ask Justice for Palestine to uninvite Norman Finkelstein.