Moonlighting: Non-Specialists in the News
Letters to the Editor: [on Norman Finkelstein, Alan Dershowitz, Avery Goldstein]
by Susan Landau, et al.
To the Editor:
It's not surprising that when Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz spoke at Annenberg, University of Pennsylvania on March 14, he seized his opportunity to grandstand in polemics against renowned political scientist Norman Finkelstein.
Presuming to address the Israel-Palestine conflict and peace process, Dershowitz is on the war path. His dark arsenal against Norman Finkelstein is well stocked with a reliable age-old weapon against truth - charges of anti-Semitism. Armored in the foundational mythology of the state of Israel, Dershowitz deploys precise missiles -caches of expedient self-serving fiction which proclaims Jewish suffering as sacred text. This predictable hysteria results in the mass destruction of academic freedom.
Norman Finkelstein is indeed irreverent. He dares to counter Dershowitz slant with factual records of Israel's human rights reports from Amnesty International, B'Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and others. Norman Finkelstein's work is absent stale hot air. His aggressive arguments are well grounded, thoroughly researched, meticulously documented. Those who fear real academic freedom ought to sound the alarms.
While Dershowitz's inflammatory rhetoric may by familiar in mainstream discourse, it does not reflect the views of many within the Jewish community, where there is no consensus regarding the state of Israel. Many Jews of conscience advocate that security for Jews and the state of Israel are best served by policies that uphold human rights and international law. Traditional Jewish ethics make a strong incontrovertible case for honest education, fair and accurate reporting, and academic freedom. Certainly these are the mainstay of first amendment rights, civil society, and democratic principles.
To the Editor:
On March 14th a lecture was given by Harvard Professor Alan Dershowtiz and Rabbi Malcolm Hoenleie about the shocking threat of radical Islam.
The day after Dershowtiz' talk, a comprehensive article by Julie Cohn of the DP, emphasized Dershowtiz concern about the rising of "anti-Semitism", especially on US university campuses. However, what was perplexing and extremely surprising about the DP's coverage, and students' reactions after the event is that there was no mention of the racist anti-Arab comment made by Rabbi Malcolm Hoenleie during Q&A.
In a response to the question: What should we do about terrorism? Hoenleie expressed his concern about the presence of Arab Students on US university campuses. Hoenleie suggested that if Arab students are to be admitted to US universities their studies should be confined to "Liberal Arts, not physics and nuclear science".
This comment surely qualifies as racist, as it rallies the exclusion of students of a certain race from prestigious education, and the pursuit of academic freedom. It is disappointing that this inappropriate comment is not condemned. What is more worrying is that this comment was forgotten, and failed to get any attention from those who attended the talk.
What Hoenleie said attempts to confirm the careless and unjustifiable association of Arabs with terrorism. Such comments have encouraged intolerance and verbal violence against Arab students on US university campuses, as they imply that Arabs should not be welcomed in US academic institutions.
Aysha El Shamayleh
Culture of fear
To the Editor:
An October 9, 2006 article in The Washington Post declared that the charges of "Holocaust denier" against scholar Norman Finkelstein "have proved baseless." So why have Israel's uncritical defenders, like Alan Dershowitz in a "guest opinion" in yesterday's DP, continued to smear Finkelstein, a child of a Holocaust survivor, as anti-Semitic and a Holocaust denier?
Israel's purported defenders in the United States, such as Dershowitz, have attempted to eliminate discussion of Israel and Zionism by labeling critical viewpoints as "anti-Semitic." This is tragic, because the inability freely discuss Israel's history and current policies prolongs reaching a just solution for Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Dershowitz's facile conflation of Zionism and Israel-a political ideology and a state-with Jews as a religious or ethnic group also holds potentially dangerous consequences for Jews. Not only does it impose political positions on Jews who may not be Zionists, but Dershowitz's formulation lends credence to the anti-Semitic canard that "Jews" and "Israel" may be used interchangeably, which renders the world's Jews responsible for Israel's crimes. And by labeling any criticism of Israel or Zionism as anti-Semitic, it hinders our ability to fight anti-Semitism when it really occurs.
Dershowitz and other opponents of debate on Israel and Zionism have engendered a climate of fear on campuses and elsewhere.
Based in research
To the Editor:
As two moderates on the Israel-Palestine issue who attended the Finkelstein event on Tuesday, we are very disappointed in your coverage.
The main piece fails to mention that the majority of Finkelstein's talk was devoted to a review of recent scholarship by respected Israeli historians - Benny Morris, Tom Segev, Baruch Kimmerling, and others - who have mined Israeli archives and challenged, even overturned, many of the nation's dominant nationalist narratives. It also fails to note that he based his claims about Israel's human rights record on an exhaustive review of reports by both Israeli and non-Israeli mainstream human rights agencies like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and B'Tselem.
Finkelstein surveyed this literature in a temperate and thorough manner, and we only wish that he had maintained this tone when criticizing Alan Dershowitz, whom he needlessly called a "clown" and "fraud" without as much elaboration as he could have provided.
Most important, perhaps, the article did not mention that a student interrupted the Q&A session by asking Finkelstein, "Are you constipated or is your voice always like that?" before calling him someone whom "the Fuhrer would have loved." Disruptive tactics like these hinder the ability of reasonable people to consider a speaker's substantive arguments, and it is unfortunate that people of all persuasions have taken to such spectacles instead of serious discussions.
Merlin Chowkwanyun & Robert Goldberg
To the Editor:
The March 21 issue of the DP is particularly distressing in regard to the importance placed on scholarly credibility by students and faculty. On the front page, one reads that, "He [Avery Goldstein] said that the department does not make an evaluation on the overall quality of a speaker's work."
I assume that Professor Goldstein was misquoted, as he explains at length in his own column that his department believes Finkelstein's work does merit legitimate evaluation.
However, since the DP pinion Board appears to believe that "[e]ncouraging this kind of dialogue alone made Finkelstein a worthy speaker," many students on campus are evidently satisfied with speakers who simply stir up controversy, rather than scholars who have published academically rigorous material and have earned a credible reputation in their respective fields.
Again, since Professor Goldstein affirms Finkelstein's legitimacy as a scholar, this is good enough for me; but it is appalling that many at this university apparently do not feel as though scholarly credibility should play a role in determining who speaks here.
The most telling passage in today's DP seems to me this striking display of inconsistency: "Many have questioned the credibility of Finkelstein's research�but to use this as a reason to withdraw sponsorship would have threatened the future ability of departments to bring in other scholars who represent minority, or even radical, fields of research."
This statement blurs any boundary between an objective evaluation of scholarly work by one's peers and a subjective disagreement with another's views. To merely disagree with a scholar's attitudes is indeed dangerous to intellectual freedom, but academic credibility should be the sole determining factor in choosing a speaker: there is indeed a distinction between the two, which many at our school seem not to comprehend.
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