Letters to the Harvard Law Record

November 21, 2005

In News

Editor’s note: Response letters from Justice for Palestine and others here.

Letters to the Editor, Part I
The Record | Issue date: 11/10/05 | Section: Opinion

To the Editor:

The Jewish Law Students Association is committed to providing a place on campus where all Jewish students can feel comfortable. Given the broad array of opinions in our community we, as an organization, generally avoid becoming involved in political questions. We will not, however, refrain from commenting when speakers who demean Holocaust survivors, minimize the effects of Shoah, and promote the existence of Jewish conspiracy theories are invited to speak on campus.

I am writing to express JLSA’s extreme disappointment in Justice For Palestine’s recent event featuring Norman Finkelstein. While the subject of his talk was ostensibly the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, during the course of his speech, Finkelstein denied that anti-Semitism exists on college campuses (when presented with specific incidences at Harvard, he changed the subject) and accused “Jewish organizations” of drumming up fear about anti-Semitism (without addressing the increase of anti-Semitism in many parts of the world). With Finkelstein’s unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Jewish power in the media, academia, politics, and the business world, this was not an event worthy of being held at an institution of higher learning, but one better suited for a beer hall in 1930s Europe.

There are many qualified individuals who can represent a pro-Palestinian platform; that JFP chose Norman Finkelstein, given his poor credentials and shameful remarks, demonstrates less an interest in constructive dialogue on the part of JFP than a desire to further divide two communities.

It is of interest to note that on the same day that Finkelstein spoke, memorials were being held for the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Instead of sponsoring a remembrance for Rabin – a man who ultimately gave his life trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians together – and trying to foster dialogue and peace, JFP invited Norman Finkelstein to campus. The Co-Chairman of JFP noted that he “thought [Finkelstein] would bring a fresh voice to the Harvard Law campus.” A voice? Yes. A constructive one? Definitely not.

JLSA has requested a meeting with JFP to discuss their decision to invite someone with Finkelstein’s views to campus. We look forward to sharing our concerns with JFP.

Very Respectfully,

Michael Masters
President, Jewish Law Students Association


To the Editor:

As a board member of HLS Alliance for Israel, a pro-Israel student advocacy organization, I was disappointed by the invitation that the Justice for Palestine group extended to Norman Finkelstein to speak on campus. Although the case against Finkelstein was made quite eloquently in these pages two weeks ago and needs no further repetition, I believe that the letters in support of Finkelstein last week made the point even more strongly.

One supporter called Israel a “racist ethnocratic tyrann[y]” and urged that it be “dismantle[d]”. On that score, he seems to have a lot in common with the Iranian President, who was recently criticized by leaders across the globe for similar statements.

Another supporter said that Jews “inspire anti-Semitism” and are trying to “destroy everything America stands for,” calling Harvard’s Jewish student organization a “racist … supremacist organization”.

These are the types of people who take Finkelstein seriously and cheer him on. Finkelstein’s own irrational paranoia and boundless animosity toward Israel and Jews is reflected in these letters from his supporters. I recall Finkelstein’s appearance at York University, my undergraduate university, where the audience consisted in no small part of local skinheads.

It is unfortunate that Justice for Palestine has been driven to such extremes. The HLS Alliance for Israel would love to have a mainstream pro-Palestinian organization on campus with whom to engage in spirited debate about the important issues affecting the Middle East. It is truly a shame that the legitimate concerns of Palestinians have been commandeered on this campus by an organization that clearly is not interested in moderate, forward-looking discourse.

Ironically, the Palestinian Authority, which under the autocratic rule of Yasser Arafat was for decades a front for terrorist activity and had no interest whatsoever in working toward a principled resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict, has recently shown some signs of moving slowly toward being a more productive and representative institution of government. It seems that at the same time, Justice for Palestine at HLS is moving in precisely the opposite – and wrong – direction.

Yaakov Roth, 2L
Treasurer, HLS Alliance for Israel


To the Editor:

I believe that Justice for Palestine had the right to host Norman Finkelstein. We are an institution that prides itself on allowing unpopular and even unreasonable viewpoints to be presented. However, I firmly feel that it was a horrible mistake for JFP to choose to bring Finkelstein to Harvard Law School.

When I first heard that JFP had chosen to invite Finkelstein, I simply did not believe it. We are at a point in history where there is a real chance for a peaceful coexistence for Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, and on campus there seemed to be more prevailing discussions geared towards peace rather than blame. When I learned that Finkelstein was actually coming at JFP’s request, and that it was not some terrible rumor, I was genuinely hurt. I was hurt not because of what he would say or what minds he would change, but because of the message that was being sent by the decision to bring him in and the possible divide that it could cause.

Finkelstein is known around the country for a variety of controversial views. The views that he is best known for are that Jews exaggerate and seek to profit from the Holocaust, and that anti-Semitism is non-existent and is merely a convenient device that Jews employ. Any objective, rational person could see how such comments, whether or not you believe anything he has to offer, are clearly very hurtful to individuals whose family members were murdered in the Holocaust and to anyone who has experienced anti-Semitism.

The mere message that is sent by bringing someone to speak at HLS with these hateful views is the real danger. I was certain that no one was going to be persuaded to deny the existence of the Holocaust or the dangers of anti-Semitism by Finkelstein as a result of attending his talk. No one in any sort of the mainstream takes him seriously and never did I actually consider his actual speech to be the real danger of his arrival. The real threat is the message of acceptance of Finkelstein’s views, perceived or real, that a group sends in extending an invitation to a man who spews such hate.

After attending the event, I was surprised to see that he was an entirely ineffective public speaker. He was in no way dynamic, overly intelligent, or charismatic. The words as delivered by Finkelstein himself were and remain of no concern to me. The entire speech consisted of Finkelstein praising himself, explaining how he is smart enough to see how all of the experts and historians have been duped, and he is able to effortlessly spot problems in the work of others that no other expert can. He additionally said that it was the rudest crowd to which he had ever spoken. However, insulting those who do not agree with him at his speeches is a commonality for Finkelstein. A short time ago he spoke at Yale and said the same about the New Haveners, except he added that they were also imbeciles.

It is beyond absurd to say there has not been pain inflicted, caused, and borne by both sides of the conflict. Those who think otherwise are fools. Israel is not going anywhere, despite the recent comments of the Iranian President, and some individuals in the Israeli Knesset need to recognize that the Palestinians need and will have a homeland. Finally, reasonable individuals on both sides of the debate are coming to the realization that both Jews and Palestinians have the right to their own state. Finkelstein’s message of hate and conspiracy sets back progression towards this shared understanding.

There are clear losers and winners as a result of Finkelstein being brought to HLS. The losers are you and I if we allow the message sent by bringing this hate-filled man to HLS to cloud our minds. If we are unable to overcome the very real emotions of the conflict and work towards a meaningful and just peace, it is a loss for everyone. The very real winners are the enemies of peace, who seek to further the divide between the sides by filling that void with hatred and name-calling that arrived with Finkelstein and remained after he left.

The other winner is none other than Norman Finkelstein. He makes his livelihood attacking Alan Dershowitz and to be able to do it here, where Prof. Dershowitz calls home, will only help him sell books and feel important. As a side point, I worked for Prof. Dershowitz as a Research Assistant as a 1L. I can say with 100% certainty that never in my experience did Prof. Dershowitz plagiarize or use the work of others without citation. It would be unfair of me not to mention that he was as, if not more, scrupulous in his research and writing as any other professor I have ever worked for. The unsubstantiated and outlandish attacks made towards Prof. Dershowitz, and many others, in Finkelstein’s speech last week, illustrate Finkelstein’s bizarre and jealous infatuation with men and women of achievement.

So why did Justice for Palestine choose to invite Norman Finkelstein to HLS in the face of immense criticism and campus-wide disapproval? I feel that there are two very real possibilities. The first is that they were fooled by Finkelstein and used by him to help sell books, realizing only later the horrible message and hurt caused by bringing him to campus. I have been told that there was a divide within JFP. Many within the group were concerned about the future in having their names connected with a man who advocates such hatred. I truly suspect that thoughtlessness and an incomplete understanding of the ramifications of their actions were the primary reasons that Finkelstein was here last week.

The second possible reason that Finkelstein was brought in was because of hate. Unadulterated hate that cares nothing for decency, peace, meaningful understanding, or healing between the two groups. This hate does not notice, or even care, about the horrible pain that arrives with Finkelstein for those with memories of concentration camps and tattooed numbers. Those tattooed numbers may fade, but they should never be forgotten.

I am left only with the hope that it was the former reason that hate came to HLS last week, and I am scared for our future if the latter played a role. I truly hope for the sake of all of us that JFP was fooled by Finkelstein and not fooled by their hate.

Bill Gray