Moonlighting: Non-Specialists in the News
Tenure or trouble? [on Norman Finkelstein]
It seems unlikely the late martial artist Bruce Lee ever weighed in publicly on the crisis in the Middle East or reparations for Holocaust victims, but clips from his movies now appear prominently on a Web site that is at the center of those debates.
That Web site, run by DePaul assistant political science Professor Norman Finkelstein, features clips of Lee kicking and punching interspersed with less lively clips of a debate between Finkelstein and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.
Finkelstein -- the son of Holocaust survivors -- has accused some prominent Jews of exploiting their suffering to blunt criticism of Jews and the state of Israel. He also accuses some survivors of conducting a "shakedown" to get payments from Germany. Dershowitz, author of The Case for Israel, says Finkelstein's writings are full of distortions about Jews in general and himself in particular, and says Finkelstein's scholarship is full of insults but little substance.
While no punches have been thrown in the debate, the fight in one arena appears to be coming to a head.
Dershowitz has written DePaul leaders, imploring them to reject Finkelstein's tenure bid. Keeping Finkelstein "will turn DePaul University" -- the largest Catholic school in the nation -- "into a hotbed of anti-Semitism," Dershowitz said at a speech at Northwestern University on Thursday.
In turn, anti-Israel groups and academic freedom advocates have started their own letter-writing campaigns urging DePaul not to give in to outside pressure. The battle has raged on the Internet, with several Web sites hosting petitions for or against his tenure. Even YouTube features a Fox News report on the tenure debate and includes a clip of a Finkelstein speech last year in which he says a victory for the terrorist group Hezbollah in its battle with Israel is a "victory for liberty and freedom."
Other top scholars have weighed in: University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer, who became a target himself after criticizing the Israeli lobby's influence on American foreign policy, "strongly recommended" Finkelstein for tenure as an official outside evaluator of his case. Meanwhile, his colleague in Hyde Park, history Professor Emeritus Peter Novick -- who also wrote a book on the Holocaust -- says many of Finkelstein's assertions are not based on fact but on "pure invention."
DePaul officials say this is the most attention the school has ever received on what is normally a closed-door process. And they don't like it: "DePaul doesn't welcome unsolicited outside input," said spokeswoman Denise Mattson.
Mattson assured the attention won't affect the school's decision, but some are not so sure.
Earlier this year, DePaul's political science faculty voted 9 to 3 in favor of his tenure bid after a committee said it found Dershowitz's charges unsubstantiated. In one case singled out by the civil rights lawyer, the committee said Finkelstein wasn't guilty of academic misconduct but of merely advancing an argument that "may be more appropriately seen as weak or overstated."
But more recently, DePaul College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean Charles Suchar wrote a letter opposing Finkelstein's bid, saying Finkelstein's books were full of "personal attacks" that border on "character assassination." That is inconsistent with DePaul's Vincentian values, he wrote.
Still, Finkelstein defender Macy Newman, a visiting professor of American studies at the American University of Beirut, suspects Suchar was swayed by Dershowitz's analysis. She notes that the dean -- like Dershowitz -- misquotes Finkelstein by saying he called some Jewish figures "huxters." (Finkelstein actually says the Jews are "hucksters.") Suchar did not return a call seeking comment.
The defenders also note that Dershowitz claims in an article in the Wall Street Journal that DePaul Islamic Studies Professor Aminah McCloud helped Finkelstein get hired back in 2001. Dershowitz tells the Sun-Times a "source within the university" assured him it was true. But McCloud denied that and said in an interview that she has never met Finkelstein.
What will happen to Finkelstein's bid?
Finkelstein -- who didn't respond to several calls or e-mails -- has said he expects to get the ax.
"They see me as an albatross, because they're getting all this negative publicity because of me," he told the Chronicle of Higher Education last month.
The final decision rests with DePaul's president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, who is expected to decide by mid-June.Note: Articles listed under "Moonlighting: Non-Specialists in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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