The following article is posted
with permission from Edward J. Carvalho and David B. Downing, eds.,
Freedom and Intellectual Activism in the Post-9/11 University. Works
26 February 2009.
version appears in Works
& Days, Special
Issue: Academic Freedom in the Post-9/11 University, Vols 26 & 27,
pp 307-322 (2009) ISSN 0886-2060
is Norman Finkelstein Not Allowed to Teach?
When I learned in June 2007 that respected author and political science
professor Norman Finkelstein had just been denied tenure at DePaul
University, I sent a letter of protest, in concert with hundreds of
other academics around the world, to the president of DePaul. I
had never met or spoken with Finkelstein, but I knew that he was a
leading scholar of the Israel-Palestine conflict. With a Ph.D. from
Princeton, he was the author of five books (with a sixth now in
progress) published in 46 foreign editions. At DePaul he was a
popular instructor, with a loyal student following and teaching
evaluations among the highest in the university. He was, and
continues to be, a regularly invited speaker to leading universities
Recognizing his accomplishments in scholarship and teaching,
Finkelstein's colleagues in the Political Science Department had voted
overwhelmingly in the Spring of 2007 to award him tenure and promotion.
This was followed by a unanimous vote in his favor by the college
personnel committee. The subsequent reversal by the DePaul
administration was made in the face of enormous outside pressure from
the Israel lobby, most especially from Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard
Law School (Grossman 2, Menetrez, Holtschneider).
Finkelstein was not denied tenure because of any shortcomings in
scholarship or teaching. Noam Chomsky had earlier described
Finkelstein's book Beyond Chutzpuh as "a very careful scholarly book"
and "the best compendium that now exists of human rights violations in
Israel" (Goodman, "Chomsky Accuses"). The late Raul Hilberg, widely
recognized as the founder of Holocaust studies, said of Finkelstein,
"his place in the whole history of writing history is assured," and
praised his "acuity of vision and analytical power." (Goodman, "It
There can be little doubt that Finkelstein was fired because of his
criticisms of Israel's human rights violations against the Palestinian
people, and for his fact-based criticisms of the Israel lobby. Raul
Hilberg warned at the time, "I have a sinking feeling about the damage
this will do to academic freedom" (Grossman). Even the DePaul
administration tacitly conceded that his firing was politically
motivated when it acknowledged Finkelstein as a "prolific scholar and
outstanding teacher'' in a later legal settlement (Finkelstein, "Joint
An unstated axiom for U.S. universities is that criticism of Israel by
untenured faculty members is not allowed. Academic freedom
protects critics of the national policies of the U.S., France, England,
and every other country in the world, save one: Israel. Norman
Finkelstein violated this axiom. Had he not been Jewish he would have
been vilified successfully as anti-Semitic, and that slur alone would
have isolated him from supporters. As it is, his detractors also smear
him as a "Holocaust denier," knowing full well that Finkelstein is the
son of two Holocaust survivors, and that the remainder of his family
died in the Nazi death camps. His first book includes a dedication "to
my beloved parents," ending with, "May I never forget what was done to
them" (Finkelstein, The Rise i, "Biography").
Following an exchange of emails, I asked Finkelstein on July 1, 2007 if
he had any job prospects. His reply was, "No job prospects.
None." So, that same day, I sent an email letter to the president and
the provost of my university, California State University, Northridge
(CSUN), where I am a math professor. I wrote, not as a
mathematician, but as a faculty member of the university in order to
make the case for a unique opportunity. I urged them to consider
hiring Finkelstein for a university wide faculty position, explaining
that his presence would catapult CSUN to the front ranks of
universities worldwide, in his areas of research. Such university
wide faculty appointments at CSUN had previously been offered, and
resulted in extended visits by outside scholars.
The provost, Harry Hellenbrand, wrote back indicating that he was
interested and was willing to look into it. Through the summer
months of 2007, we held informal meetings and colleagues from several
departments sent letters to the provost urging him to bring Finkelstein
Hellenbrand agreed to invite Finkelstein for a series of lectures
across a five-day visit. Such a visit, we reasoned, might kindle
greater interest among faculty and lead to an appointment. The natural
location for Finkelstein was the Political Science Department, and
Mehran Kamrava, a Middle East expert, a professor, and a former chair
of that department, had already written to the provost and to his own
department in support of bringing Finkelstein. Faculty members in
other departments related to Finkelstein's areas of expertise also
Finkelstein visited CSUN the week of February 11, 2008. In the
weeks preceding his arrival, the provost and president were lobbied
heavily by Jewish groups, Rabbis, and various individuals to disinvite
Finkelstein. He was denounced in the most degrading terms.
Shelly Rubin of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) posted a memo to a JDL
Blog entitled, "Stinky Finky Coming to LA". In it Finkelstein's
email address was provided, and he was described as "a sick, disgusting
example of self-hatred" (Rubin). Readers were urged to contact
CSUN's president, Jolene Koester, to register their indignation. The
Pro-Israel advocacy group, Stand With Us, similarly lobbied the
administration against allowing Finkelstein to come, as did the
Jewish campus organization, Hillel, and faculty members and students in
the Jewish Studies Program at CSUN. A few letters called for the
removal of the provost, and some of the letter writers threatened never
to make financial donations to CSUN again. Hellenbrand received a
small number of death threats from out of state, which he ignored. The
chancellor of the 23 campus California State University system also
received some letters which he forwarded to the campus.
The provost estimated that he received some 200 letters from members of
Los Angeles Jewish organizations demanding that Finkelstein's
invitation to give talks on campus be withdrawn. Finkelstein was
accused of denying the Holocaust and working for the destruction of
Israel. Many of these letters argued that a presentation by
Finkelstein was like shouting "fire" in a movie theater, thereby
endangering the youth in attendance.
CSUN's campus newspaper, the Daily Sundial, featured an article about
Finkelstein in its Tuesday edition, the day of his first talk
(Aguilar). The article quoted Beth Cohen, Interim director of the
Jewish Studies program at CSUN, with, "Finkelstein's work on the
Holocaust is not regarded highly by other scholars in the field," which
of course is directly contradicted by the world's leading experts in
the field. Similarly, Jody Myers, Professor of Religious Studies
and Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Program at CSUN, chided, "We
believe our administration should be following its own stated mission
and only invite speakers who meet our high level of scholarship and who
exercise academic responsibility," adding, "he isn't a responsible
The provost responded to anti-Finkelstein lobbyists by offering to
invite speakers of their choosing. Hoping to diffuse the situation, he
did indeed invite many. However, these offers did little to
mollify the naysayers because they were not complaining about a
lack of opportunity to present their pro-Israel views. They
already had many avenues available for that purpose. Rather,
their goal was to prevent students and faculty from hearing
Finkelstein, since he might be persuasive. And indeed he was. Several
faculty members, including colleagues from the natural sciences, told
me that they were positively impressed by Finkelstein's soft-spoken,
"scientific style," his meticulous attention to facts, and his
encouragement to express disagreement during question and answer
The provost's introduction to Finkelstein's first of three talks,
"Civility and Academic Freedom," excerpted here, directly confronted
the arguments for censorship:
"America’s leading anti-Semite, grand
wizard of the KKK, leader of Hitler Youth, David Duke. In the
minds of many, Norman Finkelstein has become Hitchcock’s Norman Bates.
Hysteria and outright manipulation distort his record and thereby
divert discussion from his ideas to the bogey that people imagine.
People have written me that inviting a speaker like Norman Finkelstein
is like throwing a bomb in a darkened theater; it is like exposing the
vulnerable young to inexorable evil. I do not think so. A
university should be a well lit place where intelligent people
interrogate each other sharply but civilly. Such conduct is its
own protection, our only protection, really, against evil. Have we
reached the point where we fear ideas? ... As for yelling 'fire'
suddenly, surely, we all knew in advance that the speaker was coming.
As for trapping people in a theater, who has been forced to stay? As
for the dark, well, dialogue is enlightenment. So, I turn the question
back to you, sitting here. Are you the flash in the night?... If our
inability to manage lectures and discussions about controversial issues
forces us to leave them to the battling hacks on talk radio and the
networks, then the university indeed will become a dark theater,
occupied by know-nothings who receive their conclusions, pre-thought
and pre-packaged, from elsewhere. We will then concentrate on the
ice-capades of the intellect, the unthreatening but elegant analysis of
what we already agree to as objective, and the airing of voices that
sound like us and say what we would say. We will be the poorer
for that, though I am sure much more self-righteously content.
Here is a chance to show that we are better than that." (Hellenbrand,
Members of the JDL attended this talk, contributing much counterpoint
to both the speaker and the title of his talk. Three of them sat
together in the front row, just a few feet from the speaker. They
interrupted the provost's introduction, one of them shouting, "Good
one, Harry. The Nazi loves you." They hissed and jeered throughout.
They aimed cameras at the audience, panning from left to right focusing
their camera lenses on individuals throughout the meeting, so as to
document those in attendance as a form of intimidation. They issued a
steady stream of vitriol at Finkelstein, including: "You're a sick
puppy," "Don't call yourself a Jew," and "Holocaust
denier!" Finkelstein responded only to the last of these.
During the question and answer period, he shot back, "You have to
understand, it's a deeply offensive statement to say that I deny the
suffering that my parents endured." The JDL did not spare audience
members either. One young woman in attendance, a CSUN student
wearing a Palestinian scarf, was ordered, "Go hang yourself with your
The provost adeptly diffused the situation by speaking to JDL members
individually in the hallway outside the presentation room. In one
exchange, a JDL member repeatedly accused Finkelstein of being a
"Holocaust denier," and Hellenbrand calmly responded each time, "No, he
isn't" until the detractor finally asked, "He's not?"
The talk itself had nothing to do with the Middle East (until the
question and answer period), and was well received by most in
attendance. Finkelstein discussed the limits to which academic
freedom ought to apply in general, taking as a point of reference, the
1940 decision by the New York State Supreme Court to bar the eminent
philosopher Bertrand Russell from teaching at the City University of
New York, because of his criticisms of religion and advocacy of sexual
The subsequent talks, "The Coming Breakup of American Zionism" and "A
Critique of the Walt-Mearsheimer Thesis" included spirited exchanges,
but they were for the most part polite and not disrupted. During the
question and answer period for the final lecture, Finkelstein was
accused of promoting the destruction of Israel by members of the
audience, thereby echoing accusations received by the administration in
advance of his arrival. He responded by saying that the opposite
was true. He would consider it an enormous tragedy for Israel or
any nation to be destroyed. He pointed out, by way of
contrast, that opinion polls indicate that a large percentage of young
American Jews would not feel a sense of loss over the destruction of
Israel, a tendency that Finkelstein found appalling.
Letters of Support
After the February lectures, I again asked the provost to bring
Finkelstein for a longer stay. Hellenbrand's response was that this
might be a possibility, but to make it happen, he "would have to be
asked." So we continued to ask in writing.
Finkelstein's visit generated an outpouring of support, including from
students. Scores of CSUN faculty members wrote, including the chairs of
the departments of Physics, Chemistry, Journalism, Communication
Studies, and Pan African Studies. The entire department of Women's
Studies signed a joint letter of support. Individual faculty
members from a diversity of departments, ranging from art to
engineering, also wrote urging the administration to offer Finkelstein
a visiting position.
Several eminent scholars and experts in the field from outside the
university were contacted and asked to send letters of recommendation
to the president and provost. Brief but illuminating excerpts
from some (but not all) of these letters follow. Noam Chomsky,
Institute Professor at MIT, wrote:
"I understand that Norman Finkelstein
is being considered for a position as a university-wide visiting
scholar at CSUN, and am writing in that connection. In brief, I think
it would be an outstanding appointment at any university. . . As one
indication of my own evaluation, I published a very favorable review of
his Image and Reality in the Israel-Palestine Conflict and recommended
it as one of the three best books of the year on political and
international affairs, in a year-end survey of opinion by the London
Guardian. . . In general, his work is recognized to be outstanding in
the range of disciplines in which he has published. There is no
doubt in my mind that Finkelstein is a person of great
intelligence and insight, as well as unusual integrity, and that his
work is of remarkably high quality. . . In addition to his books,
Finkelstein has produced a series of fine critical and analytic essays
on developments in the Middle East, on political theory, and more
recently on international law, including reviews of studies by scholars
and of court decisions, and important contributions of his own on the
politics of the Middle East and international affairs more
generally. His work is invariably conducted with scrupulous
documentation, careful research, and thoughtful and judicious
evaluation and analysis. . . That he will have outstanding success in
teaching and direction of research I have no doubt. He is
unusually well qualified for the position of visiting scholar. It
would be a very strong appointment, in my judgment."
Khaled Abou El Fadl, Professor of Law at UCLA wrote:
"I have read every book that Professor
Finkelstein published, and I attended the lectures he delivered at
CSUN, and also the lectures he delivered this past year at UCLA.
To describe Professor Finkelstein as a towering intellectual
figure—masterful, brilliant, meticulously methodical, precise,
eloquent, and exceedingly gracious and polite—does not begin to
describe him as a writer and lecturer. . .Professor Finkelstein’s
entire categorical paradigm is that he honors the memory of the
Holocaust to such an extent that he rejects any effort to politicize,
or to opportunistically capitalize on its painful memory. Indeed
he is explicitly critical of any effort to deny human suffering, or to
in any way render human suffering subservient or secondary to any
functional political considerations. It is no surprise that
Professor Finkelstein’s list of admirers constitutes a virtual hall of
scholarly fame; he is very highly regarded not just by the most
accomplished intellectuals in the United States but around the
world. I cannot possibly emphasize the extent to which the fact
that Professor Finkelstein is not occupying a post in an academic
institution in the United States is a national embarrassment, and is a
fundamental and quintessential breakdown of our scholastic ideals. . .
Professor Finkelstein’s presence will not just accrue to the
substantial benefit of CSUN, but will also deeply enrich the
intellectual environment of Southern California and all its schools."
Professor Irene Gendzier of Boston University wrote:
"I write in support of this remarkable
scholar and intellectual who is a committed believer in what the
university represents and, to judge by his teaching record, is an
exceptional teacher... His vilification in recent months for spurious
reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of his work, has
served to expose the grave limits of academic freedom in the United
States, particularly where the study of the Middle East is
concerned. . . Prof. Finkelstein is an internationally recognized
scholar who has won exceptional acclaim for studies he has published on
crucial aspects of modern European as well as Middle Eastern history. I
refer to his studies of the Holocaust and Israeli policy in the context
of the Israel-Palestine conflict. His work in these areas has
been marked by a critical level of erudition, a scrupulous
documentation, and a persistent moral integrity. In exposing the
exploitation of the Holocaust, and in documenting the origins of
Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians before, during and after the
creation of the state, he has addressed questions of history,
memory and responsibility, and above all, of justice. The results form
an essential body of knowledge for those seeking to understand the
origins and persistence of the Israel-Palestine conflict, a subject of
overwhelming importance in the United States and, indeed, in the world
Sara Roy, Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern
Studies, Harvard University, wrote:
"I, like Norman, am a child of
Holocaust survivors engaged in research on the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict. Because of our shared background I feel that I can
speak about him from a position others cannot. . . Norman’s scholarship
is exceptional both for its brilliance and rigor. In the fields
of Middle Eastern studies and political science his work is considered
seminal and there is no doubt that both disciplines would be
intellectually weaker without it. Norman’s power and value,
however, do not emanate only from his scholarship but from his
character. His life’s work, shaped largely but not entirely by his
experience as a child of survivors has been and continues to be
informed by a profound concern with human dignity and the danger of
dehumanization. Unlike many in the academy, including some of his most
vociferous detractors, Norman has always remained faithful to his
principles even when such consistency demanded great personal and
Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations at the University of
"Dr Finkelstein’s work straddles
political theory, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and American policy
towards the Middle East. His work in this field is immensely thorough,
original, and penetrating. There are many scholars in the United States
working on this area, but Dr Finkelstein stands out as one of the most
able, most erudite, and most critical. His articles all display a
number of admirable qualities: intellectual vigour, intellectual
integrity, a capacity to get to the heart of the matter, and a tendency
to subject the conventional wisdom to searching scrutiny... I recommend
him very strongly and without any reservations for a tenured position
in any American university."
John Trumpbour, Research Director of Labor and Worklife Program,
Harvard Law School, wrote:
"Norman Finkelstein has undoubtedly
been one of the most provocative thinkers on these sensitive subjects,
and he challenges all of us to raise the quality of our work.
Even when I have had a different point of view, he has pushed me to be
a better intellectual by his relentless pursuit of logic, reason, and
evidence. . . As Research Director of a major program at Harvard Law
School, I am well aware that Norman Finkelstein has generated hostility
from one of HLS’s most famous faculty members, the Felix Frankfurter
Professor of Law Alan Dershowitz. And yet, I can testify that
Norman Finkelstein conducted himself with great dignity the various
times he has spoken at Harvard. He always allows his opponents
plenty of opportunity to criticize him. . . Finkelstein’s works have
been translated into many languages around the world. I have
received my share of communications from overseas scholars who have
expressed disappointment with U.S. universities for timidity when it
comes to welcoming such a major voice of intellectual engagement and
During the last week of February 2008, a retired faculty member,
inspired by Finkelstein's lectures, offered $30,000 toward an endowed
chair at CSUN for Finkelstein. He indicated that he might be
willing to offer an even larger figure. The provost declined the email
offer on the grounds that university regulations prevented the creation
of an endowed chair for any specific individual. Curiously, the
administration showed no interest in meeting with this erstwhile donor
to discuss alternate ways in which he might contribute toward bringing
Finkelstein to CSUN, or even toward more general university projects.
Despite compelling letters of recommendation, and substantial faculty
lobbying, we faced a formidable barrier in March. We were told by
the administration that because of faculty union regulations, the
university could no longer hire any university wide visiting
scholars. Instead, all hires would have to originate from
academic departments. This broadly anti-intellectual restriction
put a freeze on potential future visitors with interdisciplinary
interests, and it appeared to undo our effort to bring Finkelstein to
CSUN. (The Political Science Department seemed to want to have nothing
to do with him. Mehran Kamrava had accepted an academic position in
December at another university, and none of the remaining CSUN
political science faculty members even attended Finkelstein's
However, our effort was resuscitated during the final week of April,
when the Chair of Journalism asked the provost to bring Finkelstein as
a visiting professor to his department. This was a good fit.
Finkelstein would make an excellent resource for faculty members
interested in the important area of Middle East affairs. He was
also more than capable of directing research projects for students, and
contributing seminars, lectures, and class visits for a range of
courses. To proceed the Journalism Chair was instructed by the
provost to make a formal request to his college dean, which he
did. He submitted the necessary paperwork, but from May to
mid-June, almost nothing happened. Many of us had worked for much
of the preceding year to bring Finkelstein to CSUN, and we were
anxiously waiting for the formal offer to go out.
The coup de grace came from
the campus president, but it came
discreetly. The provost informed me on 26 June 2008 that the
had made a policy decision not to award visiting positions, even when
they originate within a department. That policy decision put an
end to our project. It was a sharp departure from past practice,
and an extraordinary bow to the Israel Lobby, as the university had
hosted departmental visiting professors in recent years.
Anticipating a possible presidential veto, I had sent an email letter
previously, on June 19, to President Koester that included this
The stifling of academic discussion and
criticism of Israel has reached
such absurd proportions that the phalanx of orthodoxy is beginning to
crack. CSUN has a chance to play a positive role in this regard,
and at the same time to catapult itself up to the first rank among
universities worldwide in Dr. Finkelstein's areas of expertise.
As you know, the CSUN Journalism Department has requested that Dr.
Finkelstein be invited to come to CSUN as a visiting professor starting
spring semester. Please allow that invitation to move
forward. Thank you for reading this.
The following reply on behalf of the president came June 23, also
before I learned the final decision:
Dear Dr. Klein:
Thank you for your email below. The President asked me to respond on
As you know, the President is not directly involved in the hiring of
faculty. Such appointments fall under the purview of Academic Affairs.
We noticed you have copied both the Provost and the College Dean; I'm
sure they appreciate your comments.
Executive Assistant to the President
After learning the president's policy decision not to hire visiting
professors, effectively vetoing Finkelstein's appointment, I sent
another message on June 27 to the president:
Dear President Koester,
I understand from Provost Hellenbrand that you have just made a policy
decision not to hire visiting faculty at CSUN, even if a request to do
so originates at the department level. This decision was made
just as the administrative process to bring Dr. Finkelstein to CSUN as
a visiting scholar was nearing completion. I would like to ask
you if I understand correctly that CSUN will, from this point on, not
permit the hiring of any visiting faculty to any department. I would
also appreciate it if you would confirm that this decision was not a
form of censorship on your part to prevent criticisms of Israel's human
rights record from our campus. If I misunderstood your policy
decision, I apologize. Thank you for clarifying.
Professor of Mathematics
Her reply, dated July 1, 2008 put an end to the exchange.
I understand the Provost has explained to you the university's
practices regarding the appointment of visiting professors.
If you have further questions or wish additional clarification, I
encourage you to direct your concerns about these practices to the
President Koester's note above may be compared to the penultimate
sentence in the June 8, 2007 letter of denial of tenure and promotion
to Norman Finkelstein from Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, President of
DePaul University. President Holtschneider wrote,
"If you wish to discuss this decision,
you are free to speak with the Provost, Helumt P. Epp."
Academic Freedom and the Israel Lobby
Academic freedom, as an abstract principle, is universally applauded by
university administrators. Any American university president,
with occasion to talk about it, will exalt Galileo and decry Pope Urban
VIII for sentencing the astronomer to house arrest. Yet,
presidents and their subordinates slide easily to the other side of the
fence when confronted with the closely analogous cases involving Norman
Finkelstein, and other scholars critical of U.S. Middle East policy.
Finkelstein is only one of many targets of academic censorship, and the
presidents of DePaul University and CSUN are far from alone in heeding
the ideological directives of the Israel lobby. A high mark in
subservience was achieved by Fr. Dennis Dease, President of the
University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, when he withdrew an
invitation to Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at his university. The
episode was reported in a series of articles starting in October 2007
(Snyders, Jaschik, Shellman, Furst).
In April 2007, members of the Justice and Peace Studies program at St.
Thomas succeeded in booking the Nobel laureate for a campus speaking
engagement for the following spring. But the Zionist Organization of
America opposed the invitation, and Julie Swiler, a spokeswoman for the
Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas,
informed the university that, "In a 2002 speech in Boston, [Tutu] made
some comments that were especially hurtful" (Snyders). In that speech
Tutu criticized Israel for human rights violations against
Palestinians. After consultation with members of the Jewish
community, President Dease announced that Tutu would not be allowed to
speak on campus.
Following the president's decision, the chair of the Justice and Peace
Studies program, Cris Toffolo, sent Tutu a letter informing him of the
administration's decision and expressing disagreement with it.
When they also received a copy, St. Thomas administrators removed her
as chair of the program.
Dease was denounced by faculty and students within the university, and
became the focus of international criticism. A National Book
Award-winning poet, Lucille Clifton, canceled her visit to St. Thomas
protest. Even more alarming, Abraham Foxman, national director of the
Anti-Defamation League, sent a letter to Dease in which he wrote,
"While Archbishop Tutu is not a friend
of Israel, we do not believe he is an anti-Semite. As you rightly
point out in your letter, his words have often stung the Jewish
community. However, while he may at times have crossed the line,
we believe that he should have been permitted to speak on your campus."
Contradictory directives from leading Jewish organizations put
President Dease in an awkward position. He reversed his decision
and re-invited Tutu to St. Thomas. However, Tutu made acceptance of the
offer conditional on Toffolo's reinstatement as chair of the Justice
and Peace Studies program. But while the world-renowned peace
activist, Desmond Tutu, may have been too prominent a target, Toffolo
was not. The administration did not reinstate her as chair, and
true to his word, Tutu declined the second invitation.
Although Toffolo was already tenured and was not stripped of her rank
of associate professor, her treatment by St. Thomas, to some degree,
parallels DePaul University's treatment of Mehrene Larudee.
Larudee was 19 days shy of becoming the director of DePaul's program in
international studies when she learned she had been denied tenure,
despite unanimous decisions in her favor by faculty committees and her
dean. Her firing in 2007 was widely perceived as retribution for
her public support of Norman Finkelstein.
Harvard University has also disinvited speakers for their criticisms of
Israel. J. Lorand Matory, a professor of anthropology and of
African and African-American studies at Harvard describes three such
incidents. In 2002,
"Harvard’s Department of English
invited Tom Paulin – Oxford professor and one of the finest living
British poets – to speak, but promptly disinvited him after
then-University President Lawrence H. Summers expressed disapproval of
Paulin’s criticisms of Israel. Though the Department later voted to
reverse the disinvitation, Paulin has never come to campus."
Also disinvited was Norman Finkelstein in 2005, who was previously
invited to speak at the campus bookstore. Then in 2007, Rutgers
biologist Robert L. Trivers was invited to speak in honor of his
receipt of the prestigious Crafoord Prize in biosciences from the Royal
Swedish Academy of Sciences. But just hours before his scheduled
speech, the invitation was abruptly rescinded. His erstwhile campus
host said that he was ordered to do so by someone he would not name.
"Also according to Trivers, Jeffrey Epstein later admitted ordering the
cancellation and said that he had done so under pressure from
Dershowitz. Epstein, a legal client of Dershowitz, had donated the
funds used to establish [the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics] which,
according to other sources, depends for its future effectiveness on
further funding from him" (Matory). Thus, at Harvard (and
elsewhere) free speech by critics of Israel is for sale, and campus
administrators protect it up to the level of its cash value.
Even faculty members who meticulously avoid publicity are not immune
from attack if their scholarship deviates from a Zionist-approved
agenda. A case in point is the ordeal of Nadia Abu El-Haj, an
anthropologist at Barnard College. Hundreds of alumni funneled their
potential for monetary donations into the service of censorship,
demanding in 2007 that the assistant professor not receive tenure.
Nearly 2000 people signed a petition to the campus president demanding
her expulsion. Dr. Abu El-Haj was guilty of writing a book
entitled, "Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial
Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society," that "looked at the role of
archeology in what was essentially a political project: the Biblical
validation for Jewish claims in what is now Israel" (Kramer
50). She was eventually awarded tenure, but not before
receiving hate mail in bulk, being the target of denunciations, and
enduring mischaracterizations of her statements and beliefs. As
with Finkelstein, the principal (but baseless) argument was that tenure
should be denied on account of low quality of scholarship. The
actual ideological motivations would have been less effective on
account of the need of university administrators to at least pantomime
support for the academic freedom for their professors. In this
rare instance, the presidents of Barnard and Columbia deserve mild
praise for not caving in to the mob.
Noam Chomsky informed me by email of this example of intimidation:
"In the 1980s I was invited to a major
US university for a week of lectures on philosophy, and of course added
many other talks and meetings, in those days mostly on Central
America. A tenured professor (who taught part time at Tel Aviv)
invited me to give a talk on the Middle East. The next day I got
a call from campus police asking if I would agree to have uniformed
police with me the entire time I was on campus. I refused, but
was accompanied by undercover armed police the whole time – walking
from the faculty club to a phil seminar, for example. After I
left there was a huge campaign of vilification, and an effort to remove
tenure from the prof who invited me."
Tenure protected that professor, but it did not protect Sami Al-Arian,
an associate professor of computer science at the University of South
Florida. He was suspended by the campus president after Fox TV's
Bill O'Reilly accused him of having terrorist connections, two weeks
after the 9/11 attack, and eventually fired. In a December 19,
2001 statement by University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft,
posted on the university web site, the president followed rhetorical
norms when she wrote,
"Academic freedom is revered at USF . .
. we respect the right of faculty to express their personal views on
controversial subjects, with the understanding that it must be clear
they are speaking for themselves and not for the University. In this
case, I have recognized my great responsibility to fully consider both
the welfare of the University Community and Dr. Al-Arian's rights of
Moving past the fanfare, the point of the memorandum was this: "I have
instructed our Office of Academic Affairs to notify Dr. Al-Arian of the
University's intent to terminate his employment." No proof of guilt of
anything, real or imagined, was offered, and academic freedom was
tossed out the window.
Two years later in 2003, the Bush administration filed 17 trumped up
charges against Al-Arian. Then after years of imprisonment, and
in spite of the government's best legal efforts, he was fully acquitted
of eight of the charges, and the jury deadlocked on the rest, voting
for acquittal by 10 to 2. The verdict was a major defeat for the
Bush administration, but Al-Arian's brutal treatment by his university
and especially the government can only be regarded as a successful
assault on First Amendment rights for Middle East activists and
By way of contrast, university administrations see no problem in
retaining professors like John Yoo, Henry Kissinger, and many others
who in a more just world might be tried for war crimes, or even crimes
against humanity. In such cases the principle of academic freedom
is steadfastly upheld by campus presidents.
What accounts for the lack of courage and principle by those who
preside over the academy, when it comes to the Middle East?
Clearly, it is the influence of the Israel Lobby, a small but powerful
rightwing group that purports to speak for all Jews, and yet persecutes
those Jews who dare to criticize the policies of Israel.
The crackdown on dissent, obediently carried out by American university
presidents exposes "the grave limits of academic freedom in the United
States," as Professor Gendzier put it. And it is not merely
individual professors like Norman Finkelstein who pay the price for
censorship. The quality and stature of U.S. universities, as a
whole, is compromised by the political Lysenkoism that muzzles critics
of Israel. Perhaps lowering the stature of American
universities through censorship, and the consequent upending of
the lives of heretical scholars, is a price that university presidents
are willing to pay in order to appease the Lobby, but there may be
other unintended consequences to the stifling of debate about
The Lobby succeeds in stifling criticisms of Israel by labeling critics
as anti-Semites. In the case of Jewish critics, the labels
include "self-hating Jew," "Holocaust denier," and worse.
According to this propaganda, Jews who raise serious criticisms of
Israel for the mistreatment of Palestinians, Jews such as Norman
Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, Sara Roy, and many others, are, in short,
"Bad Jews." It is left to the "Good Jews" to neutralize such
criticisms of Israel by tarring critics with these labels, thereby
ending their employment, blocking speaking engagements, or generally
attempting to destroy their credibility with the public – and with
university presidents. In this taxonomy, it is the "Good Jews"
who claim to speak for Jews collectively.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is fundamentally about land.
Throughout its history, the land area of Israel has expanded, while the
land area for Palestinians has contracted. If Israeli
expansionism in pursuit of a Greater Israel is ultimately to succeed,
it will be necessary to impose negative growth on the Palestinian
population over an extended period of time, either through exodus or
gradual genocide. Consistent with this purpose, Israel has
inflicted misery through humiliation, the wholesale use of torture,
demolition of homes, deprivation of water, power, and food, and through
direct assassinations and indiscriminate attacks.
It is no longer possible to hide the darker side of Israeli policy, and
mainstream voices have expressed concerns. John Mearsheimer of
the University of Chicago, and Stephan Walt of Harvard's John F.
Kennedy School of Government raised doubts about the value of the
U.S.-Israel alliance in their book, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign
Policy." Former President and Nobel laureate, Jimmy Carter, pressed
forward moral questions about Israel's behavior in his book,
"Palestine: Peace not Apartheid." Predictably, all three authors
were denounced by the Israel Lobby, but it is becoming increasingly
difficult to marginalize all of Israel's critics.
As the realities of the Israel-Palestine conflict enter public
discourse with increasing weight, what will be the perception toward
Jews by the rest of the population? If the Israel Lobby's
"Good Jews" continue to represent all Jews, and "Good Jews" defend
Israel's every action, all the while working to suspend academic
freedom in universities, what ultimately will be the
A far more enlightened path would be for universities to permit open
discourse about the Middle East. Excluding Norman Finkelstein,
and others like him, from America's universities is misguided in the
I thank Khaled Abou El Fadl, Noam Chomsky, Irene Gendzier, Harry
Hellenbrand, Sara Roy, Avi Shlaim, and John Trumpbour for permission to
use the quoted material attributed to them. I am also indebted to
Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Irene Gendzier, Sara Roy, and John
Trumpbour for helpful comments and suggestions; to Laila Al-Arian for
information about her father; and to Edie Pistolesi and others unnamed
for critical readings and corrections. Finally, I would like to thank
Edward Carvalho for his help in finding and organizing approrpriate
Abou, El Fadl, Khaled. Letter to President Jolene Koester, 26 Feb. 2008.
Abu El-Haj, Nadia. Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice
and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society. Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 2001.
Aguilar, Mercedes. "Visiting lecturer causes stir in Jewish studies
program" Daily Sundial California State University, Northridge. 12 Feb.
Carter, Jimmy. Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. New York: Simon &
Chomsky, Noam. Letter to President Jolene Koester and Provost Harry
Hellenbrand, 21 Feb. 2008.
_____. "permission to quote" E-mail to David Klein. 22 July 2008.
Finkelstein, Norman G. Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism
and the Abuse of History. Berkeley: U of California P, 2005.
_____. "Biography." Official Web site of Norman G. Finkelstein. 2008.
01 Aug. 2008 <http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/content.php?pg=5>.
_____. "Civility and Academic Freedom." California State University,
Northridge, CA. 12 Feb. 2008.
_____. "The Coming Breakup of American Zionism." California State
University, Northridge, CA. 13 Feb. 2008.
_____."A Critique of the Walt-Mearsheimer Thesis." California State
University, Northridge, CA. 14 Feb. 2008.
_____. Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. London and
New York: Verso, 1995.
_____. "Joint statement of Norman Finkelstein and DePaul University on
their tenure controversy and its resolution" Official Web Site of
Norman G. Finkelstein. 5 Sept. 2007 <http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=11&ar=1207>.
_____. The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the
Intifada Years. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P: 1996.
Foxman, Abraham H. “ADL Troubled By Implications Of Cancellation Of
Tutu Speech” adl.org. 10 Oct. 2007. <http://www.adl.org/PresRele/Education_01/5146_01.htm>.
Furst, Randy. “Tutu-St. Thomas dustup isn’t over.” StarTribune.com.
22 Oct. 2007. 01 Aug. 2008 <http://www.startribune.com/local/
Gendzier, Irene. Letter to President Jolene Koester and Provost Harry
Hellenbrand, 23 Feb. 2008.
Genshaft, Judy. "Statement of University of South Florida President
Judy Genshaft." Office of Media Relations’ USF News & Online Guide
Goodman, Amy. "'It Takes an Enormous Amount of Courage to Speak the
Truth When No One Else is Out There'—World-Renowned Holocaust, Israel
Scholars Defend DePaul Professor Norman Finkelstein as He Fights for
Tenure." DemocracyNow.org. 9 May
_____. "Noam Chomsky Accuses Alan Dershowitz of Launching a 'Jihad' to
Block Norman Finkelstein From Getting Tenure at DePaul University."
Democracy Now.org. 17 Apr. 2007 <http://www.democracynow.org/shows/2007/4/17>.
Grossman, Ron. "Controversial professor denied tenure at DePaul"
Chicago Tribune10 June 2007. Metro Section 2.
Hellenbrand, Harry. "Introductory Remarks for Norman G. Finkelstein's
'Civility and Academic Freedom'." California State University ,
Northridge, CA. 12 Feb. 2008.
Holtschneider, Dennis. Letter denying tenure and promotion to Norman
Finkelstein, 8 June 2007. Copy posted on Official Website of Norman G.
Jaschik, Scott. “Desmond Tutu, Persona Non Grata.” Inside Higher
Ed.com. 4 Oct. 2007 <http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/04/tutu>.
Klein, David. "Re: Letter to Holtschneider on denial of tenure to
Finkelstein:" E-mail to Norman G. Finkelstein. 1 July 2007.
_____. "suggestion: institute professor" E-mail to Jolene Koester. 1
_____. "Norman Finkelstein" E-mail to Jolene Koester. 19 June 2008.
_____. "visiting professor positions and Norman Finkelstein" E-mail to
Jolene Koester. 27 June 2008.
Koester, Jolene. "Re: visiting professor positions and Norman
Finkelstein:" E-mail to David Klein. 1 July 2008.
Kramer, Jane. "The Petition: Israel, Palestine, and a tenure battle at
Barnard" The New Yorker 14 Apr. 2008: 50–59.
Matory, Lorand J. "What Do Critics of Israel Have to Fear?" 5 June
2008 The Harvard Crimson <http://aaas.fas.harvard.edu/pdf/Critics%20of%20Israel%20-%20Matory%206-5-2008.pdf>.
Mearsheimer, John J. and Stephen M. Walt. The Israel Lobby and U.S.
Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007.
Menetrez, Frank. "Dershowitz v. Finkelstein: Who’s Right and Who’s
Wrong?" Counterpunch.org. 30 Apr. 2007 <http://www.counterpunch.org/menetrez04302007.html>.
Reynaldo, Randy. "Re: Norman Finkelstein"E-mail to David Klein. 23 June
Roy, Sara. Letter to President Jolene Koester and Provost Harry
Hellenbrand, 28 Feb. 2008.
Rubin, Shelley. "Stinky Finky Coming to LA" Geeklog: The Official
Jewish Defense League Blog. 7 Feb. 2007.
Shellman, Jeff. "Oct. 10: About-face: Tutu gets St. Thomas invite"
StarTribune.com [Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN] 22 Oct. 2007 <http://www.startribune.com/local/11606811.html>;
"Desmond Tutu rejects St. Thomas' invitation" StarTribune.com
[Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN] 27 Mar. 2007 <http://www.startribune.com/local/stpaul/17071661.html>
Shlaim, Avi. Letter to President Jolene Koester and Provost Harry
Hellenbrand, 25 Feb. 2008.
Snyders, Matt. "Banning Desmond Tutu." Citypages.com. 3 Oct. 2007 01
Aug. 2008 <http://www.citypages.com/2007-10-03/news/banning-desmond-tutu/>.
Trumpbour, John. Letter to President Jolene Koester and Provost Harry
Hellenbrand, 28 Feb. 2008.
Finkelstein's Official Website
of Acceptable Truths, University of Toronto
Norman Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism
and the Abuse of History, reviewed by Matthew Abraham
Legacy at DePaul, by Matthew Abraham, Counterpunch, September 8/9,
Finkelstein Lobby Gets Clobbered Again, by Steven Plaut,
FrontPageMagazine.com, 18 Sept. 2008
College Professor Says Political Views Influenced Her Tenure Denial,
by Robin Wilson, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 24 Sept. 2008
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