Monday, April 09, 2007

War in Academe


SOME years ago a friend gave me a copy of Norman G.Finkelstein's "The Holocaust Industry". I found it informative and well-argued, showing how Israeli Zionists and others, including American Jewish organisations, had misused the suffering of Jews in the Nazi Holocaust for their own ends, and in the latter case those of US policy.

Though initially distrusting - why should a left-wing person and a Jew at that be concerned whether German interests and Swiss bankers had been unfairly treated? - I came to realise that those really robbed for the second time were the genuine Holocaust survivors, and in a wider sense, the Jewish people whose history has been abused the better to harness them.
(For Finkelstein's views see:
Understanding better where Finkelstein is coming from - his own mother and father were in the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi camps, Majdanek and Auschwitz respectively - and respecting the way he has used his scholarship to challenge the Zionist Establishment, I may retain reservations and criticism.
But even if I disagreed with everything he said, I would not see that as justifying a witch-hunt against the man, denying his rights and livelihood.
That is what seems to be happening. Professor Finkelstein is awaiting a decision in the next month or so on whether he is to have tenure at De Paul University. The professor's research is admired, his writing has been prolific, and his colleagues consider him an excellent teacher, apparently. But the dean at de Paul has apparently responded to complaints about the "tone" of Professor Finkelstein's articles. (We've been there. It's never about your views or the truth of what you say, but always supposedly your academic table-manners, and how well you cloak your meaning and affect detachment from normal human feelings).
Behind the polite pretence, the modern McCarthy who is pursuing the campaign against Finkelstein is no rough-shaven Wisconsin chicken farmer, mind, but a fellow-Jew, a Harvard law professor and one-time "liberal" who has dedicated himself to denouncing the enemies of Israel in American academic life and even in Israeli institutions.

Professor Alan Dershowitz has already engaged directly and through his lawyers with the publishers of Norman Finkelstein's latest book Beyond Chutzpah, which deals with the misuse of antisemitism and abuse of history.
Now, according to Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The highly public feud between Norman G. Finkelstein of DePaul University and Harvard Law School's Alan M. Dershowitz has taken an unusual procedural twist, with Mr. Dershowitz attempting to weigh in on Mr. Finkelstein's bid for tenure at DePaul.
They've taken adversarial stances on such issues as the Israel lobby, anti-Semitism, and what Mr. Finkelstein terms "the Holocaust industry." Mr. Dershowitz threatened to take legal action against the University of California Press if Mr. Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (2005) went to print with allegations that Mr. Dershowitz plagiarized portions of his 2003 book The Case for Israel (The Chronicle, July 22, 2005).

Last fall, with Mr. Finkelstein up for tenure, Mr. Dershowitz sent the DePaul law school faculty and members of the political-science department what he described, in a letter dated October 3, as a "dossier of Norman Finkelstein's most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions."

"I hope that this will serve as an introduction and primer to the so-called scholarship that Finkelstein will present this term as he is considered for tenure," Mr. Dershowitz wrote.

Mr. Finkelstein said in an interview on Monday that Mr. Dershowitz had embarked on "this frenetic and relentless campaign to deny me tenure."
"He sent to every member of the law school ... a dossier which came, I think, to about 50 pages, leveling or, I should say, recycling all of the allegations he's been putting forth for the past couple of years. And he sent a copy of that dossier to every member of my department."

Dershowitz's involvement has stirred serious concern among the DePaul faculty. The Liberal Arts and Sciences' Faculty Governance Council sent a letter to DePaul's president, Dennis H. Holtschneider, and the university's provost, Helmut P. Epp, along with the president of Harvard University and the dean of Harvard Law school expressing "the council's dismay at Professor Dershowitz's interference in Finkelstein's tenure and promotion case" and also to explain "that the sanctity of the tenure and promotion process is violated by Professor Dershowitz's emails." Members said that Dershowitz's intrusion which attacked the sovereignty of an academic institution to govern its own affairs.

Finkelstein is worried that his university may be susceptible to outside pressure just now. "DePaul is in a growth mode, and they see me as an albatross because they're getting all this negative publicity because of me. And they want to get rid of me. And now the question is, what's going to prevail? The principles of fairness, the principles of academic freedom, or power and money in the form of a mailed fist?"
Dershowitz and his allies dispute the defence of Prof.Finkelstein's scholarship and teaching abilities by his academic colleagues, claiming the anti-Zionist professor's work consists of "lies" (e.g. about Israeli torture of Palestinians) and "personal attacks" (e.g. on Dershowitz). What about Dershowitz's own record then? A supporter of what he calls "pre-emptive military action", such as the 1967 Israeli Six Day War and more recent action in Lebanon, he has accused Human Rights Watch of biased reporting because it failed to carry accusations that Hizbollah had sheltered behind civilian targets. Denying that he supports torture, he says "I would like to see its use minimized".
Dershowitz encourages students around America to send him reports on "biased" anti-Israel teachers, and his website prominently features two lists "These lists were prepared by students: The 10 cruelest things Norman Finkelstein has said…; The 10 silliest things Finkelstein has said…; " , all consisting of short quotes devoid of context, a highly academic way of dealing seriously with the views of an opponent.
Besides the site he pens a column in the right-wing Jerusalem Post in which he has smeared Finkelstein by imaginary association with a Brazilian antisemite who apparently produced a rude cartoon of er...Dershowitz. He has also denounced Ben Gurion University professor Neve Gordon who, he says has "defamed the nation of Israel" and what's more, also"defamed" Dershowitz.
He also has a blog, in which he has called for the break-up of the US Justice Department, denounced ex-president Jimmy Carter as a "liar", and recently complained that Norman Finkelstein had been invited to speak at several universities. "Many of the people extending the invitations are unaware that by inviting this person on their behalf, they are becoming complicit with neo-Nazis... "
What with all this valiant struggle, as well as his law practice and academic duties, Alan M. Dershowitz must be a very busy man, and though he still invites devotees to send copies of his books to his office at Harvard law school if they want them autographs, he warns us to "allow several weeks for signing. We try to accommodate requests for special occasions, but I am sometimes not in the office for weeks or months at a time".
I wonder whether anyone has considered questioning Professor Dershowitz's academic tenure? Perhaps America's oldest and most prestigious university should be considering its own reputation. Not that I expect there'll be any pressure in that direction.
Perhaps some of the academics who were concerned that calls for a boycott of Israeli institutions might lead to attacks on academic freedom and witch-hunts will add their voices to those of Norman Finkelstein's supporters in protest against moves to take away his livelihood and freedom?
All who are opposed to the witch-hunt against Norman Finkelstein are being urged to write to the authorities at De Paul University, as in these two letters:
The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D.
President De Paul University
Office: 55 East Jackson Boulevard, 22nd Floor
Phone: 312/362-8000
Fax: 312/362-6822


I write with regard to the question of tenure for Prof Norman Finkelstein of the department of Political Science. I understand that despite approval by own department and that of the College Personnel Committee, Dean Suchar has written to oppose granting tenure, although admitting Prof Finkelstein's proficiency as a teacher and although his productivity is beyond question.
Working in a contentious area, Prof Finkelstein's methodical use of conservative and widely accepted scholarly tools has allowed him to fearlessly advance controversial theses. Dean Suchar's main objection is therefore not the soundness of Prof Finkelstein's scholarship, but his "tone," yet no academic rule forbids a vigorous polemic, especially one that, on Finkelstein's part, is careful not to exceed the facts and documentation underpinning it. I should add that, having attended a Finkelstein lecture myself, his ability to lucidly present an argument and his steady demeanor in the face of aggressive questioning are most impressive.
From the point of view of academic freedom, I cannot imagine that Prof Finkelstein's work would not have the university's support, but I would further suggest that faculty members sufficiently intrepid to study controversial areas in this manner should be considered valuable assets rather than denied tenure.

Miriam M. Reik, PhD
New York, NY

The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D.
President De Paul University

Dear Sir,

I have read with great surprise and disappointment that there is opposition to granting tenure for Professor Norman Finkelstein in the Department of Political Science of DePaul University despite approval by his own department.

Professor Finkelstein's books, all of which I have read, are examples of good scholarship, excellent research and total honesty. The last published book, "Beyond Chutzpah - On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History", has been highly commended by Baruch Kimmerling, Avi Shlaim, Sara Roy, Noam Chomsky, Mouin Rabbani and Daniel Boyarin on its cover, not to mention many other reputable scholars. Thus, there can be no other reason for the denial of tenure to Professor Finkelstein than the fact that he dares to write and speak openly about a subject which most intellectuals, politicians and even anti-war activists in the United States are in denial about - the question of Israel and its countless human rights violations and contravention of international law.

One can only assume that DePaul University has succombed to pressure to deny tenure to Professor Finkelstein. As an American who has been living abroad for a number of years, who grew up believing the United States was in possession of a great gift denied in many countries of the world, freedom of speech, I am shocked that this is no longer the case. More and more intellectuals in the United States are being denied the right to speak frankly about, or even question, Middle East policy and the unlimited U.S. support for Israel. When freedom of speech is denied in the universities of the United States a dangerous threshhold has been reached.

DePaul University should be proud to give Professor Finkelstein tenure and to have someone of his courage and honest on its faculty, qualities which are unfortunately becoming rarer and rarer these days.

Yours sincerely,

Paula Abrams-Hourani
Jewish Voice for a Just Peace (Austria)

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At 5:46 AM, Blogger Frank Partisan said...

The debates between Finkelstein and Dershowitz are classic.

Thank you for the informative post.

Earlier this month, I posted about what Deutscher called "The Non Jewish Jew", or the anti-Zionist, internationalist Jew.

At 2:48 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

There is an online petition now asking for fair tenure for Norman Finkelstein, it is at:


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