Skip to content

The Savaging of Norman Finkelstein

June 10, 2007

The Savaging of Norman Finkelstein

I read on the internet this evening that Norman Finkelstein, the progressive Jewish scholar from De Paul University in Chicago was denied tenure. Finkelstein, a very careful and thoughtful critic of Zionism – most specifically how Zionism has misused the Holocaust as a kind of rationale for Israel’s oppressive treatment of the Palestinians – had been in the public eye for some time. He had been targeted by Harvard Law Professor, Alan Deshowitz, and what I can only describe as a `bonkers Zionist’ for some time. The controversy had gotten public and ugly. Deshowitz did not hesitate to use his influence and position at Harvard to attack Finkelstein, to publicly and most vociferously call for his academic head, and to pressure the De Paul administration to deny tenure, which they did this weekend.

Finkelstein enjoys considerable support in the peace community here in the US, but that support was not strong enough to counter Deshowitz’s high profile pressure campaign.

Finkelstein gave a talk in Boulder about 5 weeks ago. It seemed to me that he was already somewhat emotionally fried from the tenure battle, and had no idea that he talked for a full two hours to a packed house. His talk was one of the best, clearest exposes I have heard in a long time – yet while the critique was radical, the solution – was moderate – a 2 state solution, Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and a dismantling of the settlements. I listened carefully to his remarks. Never have I heard my own views so clearly and and systematically articulated. But beyond that was something else – his moral and political courage, it was a courage for which he has payed a price and while, as he himself admits, losing tenure is not like being tortured or imprisioned on a death camp, let us not belittle his situation. He was the victim of a purge, a political and character assassination. He was savaged and academically let to hang out to dry by a cowardly – but typical – university administration at De Paul that capitulated to all the outside pressure.

I must admit that I only added to Finkelstein’s woes. Asked to drive him back to Denver, I took him to the wrong motel near the airport, and we had an hour or so of searching vainly for another place while he was exhausted. I somehow misread the instructions I was given. Five weeks later I’m still embarrassed that I could have done something so sloppy and stupid…

In the end Norman Finkelstein was attacked for his uncompromising, careful expose of Zionism, most especially the manner in which the Zionist movement has misused the Holocaust to justify their oppressive treatment of the Palestinians. His analysis is accurate and fair, his research of excellent quality. While his research is sound, indeed, impressive, it is actually another quality that I want to underline: his profound moral courage….and that courage will, be hopefully, a beacon to the rest of us – to show the same tenacity in the face of all the slander and bullying. My sense is, from my brief exchange with him, that this struggle took its toll. Now it’s time for some of the rest of us to take the baton and do our share. … and to continue to build a movement so that these kind of purges can’t happen.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: