Troubles in Virginia

October 27, 2005

In News

By Andy Mullan, Cavalier Daily Staff Writer

Today marks the beginning of the University’s first Palestine Week sponsored by the Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine, an event that will feature a speech by a controversial DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein.

“We are sponsoring a number of events aimed at promoting a better understanding of an underrepresented culture, including speakers, political demonstrations and charitable events,” SPJP President Tarek Ismail said.

A history professor and Author of “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the abuse of History,” Finkelstein is slated to speak Tuesday evening.

The event’s organizers said that they are bringing a number of speakers representing many positions and that they hope these speakers will foster discussion.

“We are bringing Finkelstein to Grounds not because we all espouse his beliefs, but because we hope it will spark discussion because we need everyone’s input,” Ismail said.

Leaders of University Jewish groups said they are critical of Finkelstein’s visit because they perceive him to be anti-Semitic.

“Finkelstein has a career predicated on the demonization of Jewish culture,” said former Hoos for Israel President Michael Wain. “The speaker is not in line with the values of the University.”

The professor’s views on the Holocaust are especially concerning to some.

“He says that Holocaust survivors exploit the Holocaust for financial gain and likens Israelis to Nazis,” Wain said.

Ismail said he is sensitive to these concerns.

“The Holocaust is a sensitive subject, and anytime it’s referred to people react sensitively, understandably,” Ismail said. “I hope people will come because so many misconstrue what he has written.”

Finkelstein is Jewish and is the son of two Holocaust survivors, and appreciates the historical significance to Jews of his subject matter, according to Ismail.

“He recognizes the Holocaust and its atrocities,” he said.

A dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians should be based on mutual respect and a desire for peace, Wain said, adding that Finkelstein associates with the terrorist organization Hezbollah.

“Bringing Norman Finkelstein to Grounds is comparable to bringing the KKK to U.Va. to further dialogue with African-Americans,” Wain said.

Third-year College student Michal Duvdevani, an Israeli University student and member of Hoos for Israel, said Finkelstein’s research is focused on Jewish people and not specifically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This hurts people that are Israeli and support Palestine,” Duvdevani said.

His research is about how Israel uses the Holocaust to justify its policies toward Palestine, said SPJP secretary Tori Crandell, who added that his work is not confined to Jews.

“Controversy can be healthy and get people to think about issues,” Middle-Eastern politics Prof. William B. Quandt said. “Speakers should be allowed to say whatever they like provided they don’t inspire violence, and anyone that doesn’t like it is free to disagree.”

Some students said they recognize the group’s right to choose its speakers, but expressed disappointment with Finkelstein in particular.

“They are also bringing Hanan Ashrawi this week,” said Samantha Klein, an officer of the Hillel Jewish Student Union. “She is a legitimate and well respected figure in support of the Palestinian cause, but Finkelstein is an illegitimate conspiracy theorist.”

Palestine Week is sponsored by the Arts & Sciences Council, and the History and Politics Departments, among others.

Organizers said they hope Finkelstein’s speech won’t become a distraction to the overall week’s events.

“We are aware that he is a controversial and polemical figure, but I hope that his controversy does not overshadow the goals of the SPJP and Palestine Week,” Crandell said.