NY Newsday/AP articlepre-Columbia talk

March 8, 2006

In News

Editor’s note: complete coverage of Columbia talk here (video of event & articles)

Associated Press Writer

March 7, 2006, 3:21 PM EST

NEW YORK — Columbia University students including the College Conservatives and campus Democrats plan to protest a speech Wednesday by a professor who has written that Jewish organizations exploit the Holocaust to deflect criticism of Israel and to extort European banks and governments for compensation.

Norman Finkelstein, an assistant professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago, wrote in his 2000 book “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering” that some Jews have used the Holocaust as an “extortion racket” to get compensation payments, and he has referred to Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel as the “resident clown” of the “Holocaust circus.”

His most recent book, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History,” is largely an attack on lawyer Alan Dershowitz’s “The Case for Israel.” In it he argues that Israel uses the outcry over perceived anti-Semitism as a bully weapon to stifle criticism.

In a telephone interview, Finkelstein said he speaks about once or twice a week at campuses around the country, and while audiences don’t always agree with him, dissent is “usually nothing beyond a couple of hecklers.”

“On two out of three occasions I get a standing ovation,” he said.

But some Columbia student groups are planning a less friendly reception.

Chris Kulawik, president of the College Conservatives, said students are planning to leaflet the speech and then attend if possible and “ask tough questions.”

Asked if anyone would heckle Finkelstein or try to prevent him from speaking, Kulawik said, “There’s always a possibility that there are going to be some people who are going to be pretty angry about his coming to campus.”

Kulawik and College Democrats membership director Josh Lipsky denounced Finkelstein in the campus newspaper last week, calling him “an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-America Holocaust revisionist and terrorist sympathizer.”

A spokeswoman for Columbia did not return a call seeking comment about Finkelstein’s appearance.

The controversy comes a year after a committee investigated claims that Columbia professors made anti-Semitic statements to intimidate Jewish students in classes.

The group identified one instance in which a professor “exceeded commonly accepted bounds” of behavior when he angrily implied a student should leave his classroom after she defended Israel’s conduct toward Palestinians.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.