Finkelstein Speech Contributes to Debate

November 22, 2005

In News

To the Editor:

I would like to comment briefly on the recent article and letter concerning Prof. Norman Finkelstein’s lecture (“Political Agenda Out of Place,” THE HOYA, Nov. 18, 2005, A2; “Finkelstein Condemns Israeli Policies,” THE HOYA, Nov. 18, 2005, A1)

The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies co-sponsored this event because we believed that Finkelstein had a serious contribution to make on an issue of importance to us, namely, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. We were not disappointed. We felt the lecture was intellectually stimulating, even if one might not agree with his interpretations. My impression afterwards was that the audience overwhelmingly felt the same way. Finkelstein recently has written an important book entitled “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.” It was thoroughly peer-reviewed and accepted by one of the leading academic publishers, the University of California Press.

We thought that the subject of Israel’s occupation practices also might be of interest, if not concern, to the Program for Jewish Civilization. That is why we asked the PJC to cosponsor the event. They declined.

Certainly we were aware that Finkelstein, a professor at DePaul University, is a controversial figure to some people. That is why we offered the opportunity for those who might be opposed to his views to be discussants. We invited two professors associated with the PJC to comment; unfortunately, they both declined. The student who wrote the letter criticizing CCAS had every opportunity to debate Finkelstein but he did not do so, and in fact I don’t believe he even attended the lecture.

Finkelstein has been defamed and blacklisted by some national Jewish organizations, and there are people on this campus who would like to preempt the Georgetown community from hearing the views of such a stigmatized person. Defamation and blacklisting are particularly ugly and ominous in an academic environment where free speech should be cherished. We have no objection at all to criticism of what Finkelstein has said but we do not automatically accept others’ negative characterizations of Finkelstein as a person. Nor do we think it is appropriate for a faculty member representing PJC to barge angrily into the CCAS office (as happened on Nov. 15) and announce that the PJC – to punish CCAS for inviting Finkelstein – will take actions that could significantly weaken all the Middle East studies programs at Georgetown (not just Arab studies).

We respectfully suggest that intellectual disputates take place with civility and respect. CCAS has been badly treated in this respect in this matter. We would like to continue to work with PJC as we have in the past, but a little more maturity and civility on the part of its leadership would be helpful.

Michael C. Hudson
Director, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies

Nov. 20, 2005

To the Editor:

Ariel Ahram, in his letter to THE HOYA (“Political Agenda Out of Place,” Nov. 18, 2005, A2), attacks two recent lectures sponsored by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. His poorly argued, ad hominem attacks on Norman Finkelstein — a professor of political science and author of five books (the most recent with the University of California Press) — simply do not merit comment. His comments on the talk by Virginia Tilley, however, repeat a common bit of highly effective propaganda which has obscured rational discussion of the political situation in Palestine.

Ahram claims that to advocate a “one-state solution” is “a polite way of arguing for Israel’s erasure, the abolition of a state.” In reality, to call for a “one-state solution” is no more and no less than to call for a democratic state of Israel with equal rights for all people under the control of the Israeli government. If one defines Israel along racist or religiously exclusivist lines — a state for Jews — then this solution would involve a radical transformation of Israel.

By the same token, if one defines the United States as a state for white, male Christians, a call to allow blacks and women to vote could be termed “a polite way of arguing for the United States’ erasure.” Some white South Africans might have termed the anti-apartheid movement “a polite way of arguing for South Africa’s erasure.” No doubt Muslim militias in Darfur see themselves as resisting the abolition of the Sudan.

Israel is one of the few states in the world which explicitly claims the right to define citizenship and civil rights along religious grounds while it permanently confines non-Jews in walled-off Bantustans in the West Bank and Gaza and denies the right of other non-Jews to return to family homes stolen for the use of Jews. A call for a democratic or bi-national state in all of Palestine is nothing more than a call for equal rights and citizenship.

Of course one can reasonably argue on political grounds for a continuation of the current religiously defined Israel alongside a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Perhaps matters of practicality justify such a compromise on the simple idea that a state is a state for all its citizens, but to suggest that the more principled position in any way runs contrary to mainstream moral principles is absurd.

Mark Lance
Professor of Philosophy

Finkelstein Reflects Poorly on GU Campus
by Robert Lieber
The Hoya | December 2, 2005

This item is available on the Campus Watch website, at

I would like to respond to a letter from the Director of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies Michael Hudson in THE HOYA (“Finkelstein Speech Contributes to Debate,” Nov. 22, 2005, A2). As chair of the Program for Jewish Civilization Executive Committee, I believe it will be useful to clarify a number of key points. Prof. Yossi Shain, who directs the Program for Jewish Civilization has been out of the country and can speak later to previous personal exchanges with CCAS and Prof. Hudson.

I have no wish to deconstruct the words and writings of Norman Finkelstein. Those who want to do so can read for themselves the hyperbole, ad hominem denunciations and polemical references in which Holocaust and Nazi imagery are connected to Jewish leaders and Israel. It will suffice here to quote from a thoughtful letter on behalf of the Board of the Jewish Law Students Association, published in GU Law Weekly’s Nov. 22-28 issue. They note, for example, Finkelstein’s previous references to Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel as a “resident clown” who “unerringly articulates” Holocaust “dogma,” and is responsible for creating a “meaningless version of the Nazi Holocaust.” (Note that Georgetown has twice honored Wiesel in recent years and rightly aspires to create an honorary chair in his name). And they point out that Finkelstein’s current book, “Beyond Chutzpah,” purports to be about the misuse of anti-Semitism in current discourse, specifically in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but is little more than a diatribe against Abraham Foxman — who is a Holocaust survivor — and the Anti-Defamation League. Finkelstein refers to Foxman as a “Grand Wizard” — words commonly used to denote a Ku Klux Klan leader. Elsewhere in “Beyond Chutzpah,” Finkelstein claims that Jewish leaders such as Foxman and Edgar Bronfman “resemble stereotypes straight out of Der Sturmer,” a Nazi newspaper.

Unfortunately, the Finkelstein event did not occur in a vacuum, but as the latest in a series of issues that have arisen over the years concerning CCAS sponsorship and programming. Indeed, in March 2003, Provost James J. O’Donnell chaired a meeting at which such concerns were expressed. The provost asked that all parties seek in the future to find ways of respectful collaboration. Yet the fact that CCAS could co-sponsor a campus appearance by Finkelstein for the second time in three years is, alas, indicative of an underlying problem.

An especially troubling aspect of this controversy is that the leadership of CCAS could view Finkelstein’s work as serious and scholarly. This in itself speaks volumes about the center. And, the fact that the book was published by University of California Press — a once respectable university press — is further testimony to the sorry state of Middle East studies in today’s academia.(Indeed, according to press reports, the publisher had to delete passages in the book prior to publication because of concern about possible legal issues concerning the author’s references to the distinguished Harvard legal authority and author Alan Dershowitz).

It is revealing to compare events. In the space of five days, PJC hosted an address by His Eminence Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who spoke to a large interfaith audience in Copley Formal Lounge, where he delivered an inspiring address about brotherhood between Catholics and Jews and widened the talk to encompass understanding among Jews, Christians and Muslims. By contrast, just a few days later CCAS co-sponsored Finkelstein. The contrast speaks for itself, in particular about which GU program conducts itself in a way consistent with the best traditions of Georgetown University and of scholarly discourse.

Finally, Prof. Hudson’s letter seems to suggest that PJC is trying to censor what can be said on campus. That is not the issue. The student group, Students for Justice in Palestine, was and is free to bring in speakers as they choose, and — for that matter — so is CCAS. But when the leaders of the Arab Studies Center invite someone of Finkelstein’s sort, it reveals something lamentable about such judgments and how they define their academic mission. Instead, the heart of the matter is whether by co-sponsoring a speaker whose writing and speaking are deeply offensive to many, if not most, Jews and to those who wish to seriously and thoughtfully address the issues of our time, cooperation with CCAS itself is possible. The Center is free to co-sponsor whomever it wishes. But by the same token, the PJC is free to decide whether it wants to be associated in any way with such a center and thereby to convey the appearance of sincere cooperation when the CCAS’s own activities constitute a lamentable obstacle to such collaboration. It is a subject our executive committee will be addressing when it meets in the coming days.

Robert Lieber is a professor of government and international affairs and is chair of the Executive Committee of the Program for Jewish Civilization.