Finkelstein at U of Maryland

April 13, 2009

In News

By Jack Harlow

Controversial political scientist Norman Finkelstein spoke last night in Tydings Hall on the decades-long conflict between Palestine and Israel and the potential peace between the two.

The political scientist is known for his extensive research on the Palestinian-Israeli territorial struggle, as well as for his harsh criticism of several pro-Israeli books and DePaul University’s refusal to grant him tenure in 2007. Finkelstein spoke to a crowded lecture hall in Tydings in an event that was a continuation of last month’s Palestinian Awareness Week, student organizers said.

A news release on the Muslim Student Associations’ website says organizers tried to change the date of the event because of Passover, but Finkelstein could not reschedule.

Despite the perception of an “intergalactic conflict,” Finkelstein said the Palestinian-Israeli conflict might not be as complicated as it may seem.

“The conflict between Israel and Palestine is the most susceptible to resolution in the world today, that’s a fact,” Finkelstein said, but linked Israel’s refusal to sign the “two-state solution” in recent years as the reason a settlement hasn’t been reached. “We should be doing everything we can to work toward a peaceful resolution.”

Finkelstein reflected on events in Gaza from Dec. 27 last year to Jan. 18, when Israel bombed Gaza, killing 1,450 Palestinians. Finkelstein said 83 percent of those casualties were civilians – but there are conflicting reports on that number, including from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights – and said the bombing can’t be called a war where two sides fire at each other, but a massacre, with one side firing and the other being fired upon.

He also talked about the idea of “deterrence capacity” as the cause for Israel embarking on the “massacre” in Gaza. He said Israel attacked Gaza because the Palestinians are not as afraid as they used to be or should be and they needed to reassert the “fear of us.”

Finkelstein, 55, the son of two Holocaust survivors, received his master’s degree in political science in 1980 and, eight years later, his doctorate in political studies from Princeton University. He is the author of five books, including A Farewell to Israel: The Coming Break-Up of American Zionism, which is scheduled to be published later this year.

Finkelstein has experienced significant criticism throughout his career for his negative comments on Israel. His book, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, claims Israel has sought to benefit monetarily from the Holocaust and has been labeled by opponents as “trash” and a quick appeal to anti-Semites.

But students who attended the lecture, which was sponsored by a number of student groups including the Muslim Students Association, the Organization of Arab Students, Muslim Women of Maryland and Community Roots, said they found the event enlightening and came away with a different outlook on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Reem Dughly, a senior biology and Spanish major and a member of the Muslim Women at Maryland, said she knew Finkelstein was provocative in some ways, but admitted it was interesting to gain such a unique perspective.

“I really enjoyed that he provided a good historical context,” Dughly said. “He gave a full history of the conflict and brought us into how that affects us today.”

Ridwanur Rahman, a senior criminology and criminal justice major and MSA president, agreed with Dughly and said the event was important in educating the public on the Palestinian side of the story.

“One thing I really appreciate is that he brought in facts and statistics into the speech,” Rahman said.

And Abdul Saboor Khan, a senior genetics and cell biology major and vice president of the Muslim Students Association, said she was impressed by how Finkelstein emphasized the humanitarian issue in his speech.

“Finkelstein’s main goal is to show the struggle of the common man, whether Palestinian or Israeli, and the troubles they face,” Khan said.