Friday, June 15, 2007

Voices for Finkelstein

THE decision of De Paul University at Chicago to deny tenure to Professor Norman Finkelstein - plainly in response to outside complaints about his political views rather than any problem with his teaching or scholarship - has aroused numerous protests to the university authorities.

De Paul is a Roman Catholic university, but the anti-Finkelstein campaign came from Zionists such as Harvard lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who resented Norman Finkelstein's criticisms of Israel and the use it makes of the Nazi Holocaust. Professor Finkelstein's immediate colleagues had voted in favour of tenure but were overruled.

As reported, students at De Paul have occupied the university's administrative offices. People are also writing to De Paul's president, Reverend Fr. Dennis H. Holtschneider. Here are a few of the letters I have seen.

President Holtschneider
DePaul University
1 E. Jackson Boulevard.,
United States of America Thursday, 14 June 2007

Dear President Holtschneider:

Re: Denial of tenure to Dr Norman Finkelstein

I am deeply shocked and disturbed by the decision, unjust and unjustified, by your institution to deny tenure to Dr. Norman Finkelstein, one of the brightest, most original intellectuals in the US academia. But of course, you do not need me to tell you that - after all, as his direct employer, you must be well aware of this yourself. That the tenure was denied after a vicious and aggresive campaign against Dr. Finkelstein, by one of the better-known lawyers in the US, famous for his defence of an even more famous murder 'suspect', is making your decision a political, non-academic and non-scientific act - a mere surrender to the loudest voice in the neighbourhood.

May I say that as a Jew and Israeli, whose family was destroyed in the Holocaust, one who greatly values Finkelstein's work for its originality and courage, I am ashamed for you. I am ashamed that a president of a catholic university finds it possible to punish a Jewish intellectual of sterling quality for publishing original and highly necessary research on the nature of the Holocaust and its ideological use/abuse in the past decades. I would have thought that it behoves a catholic institution to be much more circumspect and professional on this issue, and not to capitulate to crude and aggressive Zionist propaganda of the kind voiced against Dr. Finkelstein.

I hope that the shock which your decision has created, may jolt the De Paul University into a realisation that a severe error has been committed, an error which needs addressing and correcting. I am sure that the academic community would be appreciative if you found the courage to admit your mistake, and revoke this decision without delay.

I am appealing to you to so do.

Prof. Haim Bresheeth
Chair of Cultural and Media Studies
University of East London

Dear President Holtschneider:

At the end of the day, evil is not about meaning it. Hanna Arendt, in her historical study of the Eichman trial, has taught us that evil is really quite banal. It is not about running evil campaigns. Rather, it is about following, blindly, the technicalities of a system without stopping for a minute to think about its meaning. And so, meaning it or not, it results in perpetrating and enforcing it. In Hebrew, which happens to be my native language, it has come to be known as 'small head'. It is the attitude many Israeli citizens and soldiers have explicitly adopted in the face of illegal and immoral system and orders. It consists of the approach that "we will do, thoughtlessly, that which is expected, literally, and we will refuse to let it touch us, thereby hoping that we will not be morally culpable."
They are, however, morally culpable. As is De Paul University and you as its president.
By denying Professor Finkelstein tenure, you have refused to face the central issue with any degree of moral courage, and opted, instead, to succumb to pressure masquerading as following technicalities, hoping that it will enable you to thereby assuage both responsibility and culpability. You have avoided none. You are responsible and you are culpable. What De Paul University, and you as its president, have done, will be neither forgotten, nor forgiven by history. We all know, academicians and others, that a precedent has been set which officially initiates the curtailing of academic freedoms and the freedom of speech so essential for academe in particular and for society in general. The purging of universities of any species of dissenting views has been the first step taken by dictatorial and undemocratic regimes throughout the 20th century, as well as prior to that, and history will hold you, personally, responsible for having carried it into the 21th .
By any and all criteria acceptable in US academe, Professor Finkelstein deserves to get tenure. Your statement, that you "find no compelling reasons here to overturn the University Board on Promotion and Tenure decision" is at the same time craven and contemptible. There is little for people like me to do or say, short of pointing this out, in the hope that this act alone will at least contribute to the emergence of the moral opposition which your actions deserve.

Hagit Borer
Professor of Linguistics, University of Southern California

Re: Denial of tenure to Dr Norman Finkelstein

It is rare indeed that individuals have an opportunity to make a difference and even rarer for someone in a position of power to stand up for principle.

By your own admission, as in your letter to Dr Finkelstein, it is accepted that he is a fine scholar and teacher. That should have been the end of the matter. Tenure granted. Instead you and the relevant committee succumbed to the pressure put upon you by Prof. Dershowitz and his cohorts. All the talk about Vincentian codes, collegiality etc. disguise one simple fact. That when it came to the crunch you took the path of least resistance.

As someone who is Jewish I am well aware that during the period about which Dr Finkelstein writes, i.e. the Holocaust, the Catholic Church remained silent about what was happening except for coded references in the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge. Nowhere, not once, was there an explicit condemnation of either anti-Semitism or luminaries of the church such as Cardonal Tiso. I am, of course, also aware of the hostility of the Catholic Church traditionally to free thought and expression, of which the Galileo affair was the most notable.

You had the opportunity to stand up for all these ideals, to reject the voices of McCarthyism which are prevalent in the United States today. Instead you hid behind bureaucratic excuses and a divided committee and acted as a functionary rather than the head of an academic institution.

I hope that even at this late hour you will reflect on your decision and decide to stand up for truth and justice rather than basking in the approval of those for whom truth is a matter of political convenience

Yours sincerely,

Tony Greenstein
Brighton, England.

It had occurred to me that in calling upon a Catholic institution to repress a Jewish scholar, the anti-Finkelstein campaigners had followed a historical precedent, albeit not a proud one. In the 13th century the Jewish authorities in Montpelier called upon the Christian authorities to ban and destroy the writings of Moses Maimonides (Moshe ben Maimon).
"From Moses unto Moses, there is none like unto Moses", so the latter's admirers have said, and I don't suggest Norman would claim such status, even if his persecutors do remind us of Medieval superstition and intolerance. But another writer has come up with a yet more exalted comparison.

Dear President Holtschneider:

I am an Israeli Jew. Your action in denying tenure to Dr Finkelstein has reminded me of another decision, made long ago regarding a compatriot of mine, Yeshua of Nazareth. Intervening in an inter-Jewish dispute, Pontius Pilate, acting out of cowardice, succumbed to the pressure of the more powerful Jewish faction against the powerless dissident Jew. Now you have done the same. Go, wash your hands.-

That one is from Professor Moshe Machover, of London University), and before either he or I find ourselves drawn into theological arguments, about what really happened at Easter, I should stress we are both atheists. But I think Moshe(another of the blighters) has found a witty and succinct way of piercing the bureaucratic armour of a Christian Catholic academic gentleman, if that's possible.

Finally, I wondered whether those proponents of "academic freedom" who strongly oppose any poposal to boycott Israeli institutions would raise their voices for Professor Finkelstein (and incidentally let's not forget his colleague Mehrene Larudee, less of a celebrity perhaps, but whom De Paul has also denied tenure). I said I was not holding my breath. Well, in all fairness, one of them, Professor Norman Geras, a stalwart of the Engage fraternity and not one of my favourites, has done so:

"The president of DePaul may be satisfied that 'academic freedom is alive and well' at his university, but it needs to demonstrate that its decision in this case hasn't betrayed that principle. You don't have either to agree with or to warm to Norman Finkelstein to find the decision suspect, at best".

Fair enough. And thanks to fellow-blogger Mark Elf, of Jews Sans Frontieres, who was fair enough to bring this to our attention.


AND NOW, CONCERNING THAT OTHER BOYCOTT.... the London Jewish Chronicle today has a


Top news stories: Named: boycott ringleaders

THE JC today identifies the key players in the escalating British campaign to boycott Israel. Our investigation shows that many are Jewish or Israeli, and that they justify their stance as part of the struggle for Palestinian rights and ending Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.

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