Moonlighting: Non-Specialists in the News
Dershowitz V. Finkelstein
In this corner: Norman G. Finkelstein, an assistant professor of political science at Chicago's DePaul University. Finkelstein, who is Jewish, is a strident critic of Israel and claims that Jewish leaders have exploited the Holocaust for profit and to gloss over Israel's human-rights abuses.
In the opposing corner: Harvard Law School professor, prolific author and speaker Alan Dershowitz, who calls Finkelstein "an evil man" and "an overt anti-Semite with two Jewish parents," and who has long waged a public campaign against his fellow academic.
Now he is stepping up that campaign and has harsh words for the Chicago Jewish community for not becoming involved in it.
The two professors have been publicly and acrimoniously sparring for several years, ever since Finkelstein's 2005 book, "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History," criticized Dershowitz's pro-Israel stance and claimed that he plagiarized portions of his books.
Now the fight is no longer over abstract matters of ideology or scholarship, but rather focuses on a very practical matter: Will Finkelstein be granted tenure at DePaul, the nation's largest Catholic university with some 23,000 students?
At this point, there's very possibly only one person who knows the answer to that question: Father Dennis Holtschneider, the president of DePaul.
Here's the situation so far: Finkelstein, 53, who has taught at DePaul since 2001, is up for tenure. His department, Political Science, voted 9-3 in favor of granting it, according to internal documents obtained by and reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education in April. As the matter advanced along a preordained track, the College Personnel Committee then voted 5-0 in favor of tenure.
But Charles Suchar, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, recommend against it, writing in a memo that the "personal attacks" in many of Finkelstein's books "border on character assassination and, in my opinion ... embody a strategy clearly aimed at destroying the reputation of many who oppose his views," according to the Chronicle.
The memo went on to state that Finkelstein's record is "inconsistent with DePaul Vincentian values, most particularly our institutional commitment to respect the dignity of the individual and to respect the rights of others to hold and express different intellectual positions." (In an e-mail to Chicago Jewish News, Suchar wrote that he could not discuss the matter due to rules of confidentiality since the case is still undecided.)
Suchar's memo is currently being reviewed by a university-wide committee. The case, again by established protocol, will then work its way to Holtschneider. A decision is expected in the first two weeks of June, according to university spokesperson Denise Mattson.
"Tenure applicants are reviewed by their colleagues at the department level, the college level and the university level, then the president reviews all applications and makes the final decision in each case," Mattson said. "Standard procedures are being followed" and Finkelstein's tenure application is being treated like any other, she said.
But Finkelstein's case isn't like most other tenure reviews. For one thing, this professor's views (which he allegedly doesn't express as strongly in his classes as in his books and articles) are wildly controversial.
He has called Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel "the resident clown of the Holocaust circus" and "a wimp" and said that "The expression 'there's no business like Shoah-business' is literally coined for him."
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, in his words, has a "Dachau-meets-Disneyland" mentality and is known for "the successful use of sensationalistic scare tactics for fund-raising." He has criticized efforts by Holocaust victims to get compensation from Germany, calling them "a shakedown," and, quoting his mother, herself a Holocaust survivor, said that "If everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one, then who did Hitler kill?" Israel's human rights record, he has said, "is interchangeable with Iraq's" under Saddam Hussein.
Earlier this month, Finkelstein was honored by Not In My Name, the Chicago chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a left-wing organization that some mainstream Jews consider to be anti-Israel.
But Finkelstein's tenure case is also different from others because Dershowitz, one the most high-profile commentators on matters of law and defenders of Israel in the entire country, is involved.
And that just may be the most contentious aspect of the whole muddle. To his supporters, Dershowitz is the white knight galloping through the DePaul campus to save students from being subjected to the views of a rabidly anti-Semitic, anti-Israel professor.
To the administration and presumably some faculty members at DePaul, Dershowitz, looking down from his rarefied Ivy League vantage point, is meddling where he clearly doesn't belong.
Dershowitz himself now contends that Finkelstein "dragged" him into the matter, shrewdly using charges of "outside interference" to advance his case for tenure or, if tenure is denied, to use Dershowitz's involvement as the reason for the denial.
Dershowitz himself thinks the case will be resolved in Finkelstein's favor. "DePaul will probably capitulate to this threat of outside pressure," he said in a recent phone conversation with Chicago Jewish News.
(Finkelstein declined to be interviewed for this article because the tenure matter is still pending, but referred questions to his Web site, www.normanfinkelstein.com, where a number of articles about the tenure matter are posted.)
The feud between the two men, Dershowitz wrote in a recent article in The New Republic, goes back to 2003, when he was invited to debate scholar and leftist thinker Noam Chomsky. When he got to the studio, he found that Chomsky couldn't make it and Finkelstein had been substituted.
During that debate, he wrote, Finkelstein accused him of not having written his 2003 book, "The Case for Israel" and charged that it had been written for him by Israeli agents. He also accused Dershowitz of plagiarizing material from Joan Peters' well-known 1984 book about Israel "From Time Immemorial."
That work, which has been both praised and criticized by Middle East scholars, was among the works Finkelstein has sought to discredit in his own books, which include "Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict," "The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A personal account of the intifada years" and "A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth." The latter work, published in 1998, is an attack on Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's book "Hitler's Willing Executioners," which discusses the German people's culpability in the Nazis' persecution of Jews.
Perhaps Finkelstein's most controversial book, though, is "The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering," published in 2001. It is also, to many Jews, his most perplexing, since he has stated that his parents were Holocaust survivors.
In a New York Times review of the book, Brown University Holocaust scholar Omer Bartov called Finkelstein "a lone ranger with a holy mission-to unmask an evil Judeo-Zionist conspiracy. ... The gist of his argument is simple: Had the Jews and the Zionists not had the Holocaust already, they would have had to invent it."
Bartov, echoing many other critics, summarizes the book as "an ideological fanatic's view of other people's opportunism ... Like any conspiracy theory, it contains several grains of truth; and like any such theory, it is both irrational and insidious. Finkelstein can now be said to have founded a Holocaust industry of his own." The book, he said, is "a novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.'"
Finkelstein's latest book is 2005's "Beyond Chutzpah," in which he makes allegations of plagiarism against Dershowitz and harshly criticizes other Jewish leaders and organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the World Jewish Congress.
Dershowitz contends that, as he wrote in a piece on the Web site of commentator David Horowitz, "Finkelstein didn't like the fact that ... my book got great reviews everywhere, so he started to spread the canard that I didn't write my book ... He went so far as to claim I didn't write any of my books."
He said he writes all his books by hand since he doesn't use a computer and sent his handwritten manuscript of "The Case for Israel" to the University of California Press, which, he said, forced Finkelstein to withdraw the allegation. Dershowitz also threatened legal action against the University of California Press if it published the book; publication went forward anyway.
As the attacks and counter-attacks flew, Dershowitz wrote that Finkelstein was fired by Brooklyn College and "several other schools" for incompetence and "mental instability." (Because of privacy rules, those assertions could not be verified. Finkelstein on his curriculum vitae states that he has taught at Brooklyn College, New York University and Hunter college. He holds a Ph.D. from the politics department at Princeton University.)
It was against this already contentious background that Dershowitz entered the fray over Finkelstein's tenure case. He did not do it of his own accord, he contends.
He said he was contacted by the former chairman of the political science department, Patrick Callahan, as well as other members of DePaul's faculty, student body and alumni "asking me to evaluate Finkelstein. I responded to the letter," he said in the telephone conversation. Finkelstein in effect "dragged me into it. I have no particular interest in this guy or in DePaul University. It's a decent university that's always had a good relationship with Jews," he said.
Callahan could not be reached for comment. The current chair of the department, Michael L. Budde, said he could not comment on the matter while the tenure decision is still pending.
Responding to the requests, last fall Dershowitz sent the political science and law school faculty at DePaul a packet of articles and citations that he called "a dossier of Norman Finkelstein's most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions. I hope that this will serve as an introduction and primer to the so-called scholarship that Finkelstein will present this term as he is considered for tenure."
The packet contains Dershowitz's answers to the charges Finkelstein has made against him as well as his responses to assertions Finkelstein has made about Israel, the Holocaust and Jewish leaders.
Also included were several lists supposedly compiled by "The Committee to Expose Norman Finkelstein's Close Connections to Neo-Nazism, Holocaust Denial, and His 'Big Lie" of an 'International Jewish Conspiracy.'" The lists included "The 10 Nuttiest Things 'The Nutty Assistant Professor' Has Said" and "The 10 Most Devastating Things People Have Said About Finkelstein." (Sample: "He's poison, he's a disgusting self-hating Jew, he's something you find under a rock," from Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic.)
Also in the packet was a cartoon published on the Web site indybay.com, along with an article by Finkelstein titled "Should Alan Dershowitz target himself for assassination?" The cartoon, with the title "Dershowitz Hard at Work" shows Dershowitz at an "Israel peep show" masturbating with a rapturous look on his face as he views live film from Beirut of dead Lebanese.
Dershowitz said of the cartoon that "I have absolute proof without any doubt that (Finkelstein) commissioned it" from a cartoonist who calls himself Latuff. The cartoonist is "a well-known anti-Semite" who has entered his work in Iran's notorious contest for Holocaust denial cartoons, he said.
Dershowitz now claims that Finkelstein is using his opposition to strengthen his own bid for tenure by claiming that "outside influences" are pressuring the university to deny him something to which he is entitled.
"It is F (Finkelstein), not me, who is using outside pressure," Dershowitz wrote in an e-mail to Chicago Jewish News. "I was asked to send a letter. F has leaked internal documents, started an outside petition drive, threatened law suits-even leaked my letter. They (those who claim Dershowitz is putting pressure on the university) have it exactly backwards. He started the media war after the dean recommended against tenure. I wasn't even aware of the dean's decision," he wrote.
Nevertheless, Dershowitz said in the phone conversation that he would not let up in his efforts to keep Finkelstein from obtaining tenure.
"I'm not going to be coerced into keeping quiet," he said. "This is an evil man who wants a bully pulpit, and I will not be silent in the face of evil. I won't be silenced by threats or intimidation. I've gotten anonymous death threats" after Finkelstein posted the article asking whether Dershowitz "should be targeted for assassination."
Dershowitz harshly criticized Chicago's Jewish community for its lack of involvement in the Finkelstein case.
"I think the Jewish community in Chicago has been irresponsibly silent, and please quote me on that," he said. "The students have been doing a great job but the adults have not, the Jewish organizations have not. This is a Chicago problem. It's not a DePaul matter, it's an international matter and it's of great concern for the Jewish community. DePaul will become a center for hate and anti-Semitism (if Finkelstein gets tenure), and we have a stake in that as a Jewish community.
"My big complaint is with the Jewish community of Chicago, the major Jewish organizations in Chicago and the DePaul Hillel," he said. "This case reflects what I wrote in 'Chutzpah.' Jews won't speak out. They think working behind the scenes is effective. It's not. It is a failure of the Jewish community to assert its power to speak out, to demand that we be treated equally and fairly." If someone made the same types of statements about African-Americans that Finkelstein has made about Jews, "there would be marches and demonstrations and the African-American community would succeed," he said.
Later in the conversation he reiterated, "the most important point I want to make is the failure of the Chicago Jewish community to stand up to this bigotry. (They say) this is a DePaul problem. This is not a DePaul problem, this is a national problem and a Jewish problem."
Not everyone feels the same. Denise Mattson, the university spokesperson, when questioned about Dershowitz's involvement said, "The tenure review process is an internal review process. It will not be influenced by outsiders. DePaul doesn't welcome outside input. We have a longstanding process, and that's what we're following."
Even a scholar who has been highly critical of much of Finkelstein's writing is also critical of Dershowitz's involvement and accuses him of misrepresenting some of Finkelstein's statements.
Peter Novick is a retired University of Chicago professor and the author of a generally well-received book, "The Holocaust in American Life," which makes some of the same assertions about the "Holocaust industry" but in a much more balanced way than Finkelstein's. Finkelstein has said that the book was the inspiration for his own.
Last year Novick, like Dershowitz, was asked by Callahan, the then-chair of DePaul's Political Science Department, to evaluate Finkelstein's work and specifically to give "the most egregious instances" of Finkelstein's "academic misconduct," Novick wrote in an e-mail to Chicago Jewish News. He said he first thought the request to solicit "the dirt" on Finkelstein was improper, but later decided that since Dershowitz was offering his opinion, he was also obliged to do so.
Novick had written a piece for a German magazine several years ago when Finkelstein's "Holocaust Industry" was published in Germany. In that article, Novick wrote that "it is hard to know what there is in 'The Holocaust Industry' that is 'debatable.' Finkelstein's assertion that in negotiations with Swiss banks and German industrial corporations inflated numbers were often tossed around by claimants is hardly 'debatable.' It is simply a fact (italics the author's) that this was the case."
In the same review, however, he disputes other assertions by Finkelstein as well as his main thesis-that 'American Jewish elites' use the Holocaust "to line their own pockets and to facilitate their entry into the inner sanctums of American power."
"I had not thought that (apart from the disreputable fringe) there were Germans who would take seriously this twenty-first century updating of the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion.' I was mistaken," he wrote.
Novick said in a recent phone conversation that he didn't feel he could comment on Finkelstein's tenure battle because of the differences between DePaul and the University of Chicago, where he spent most of his academic life, and because his field is history, not political science. But he was highly critical of Dershowitz's intervention.
"I'm really very distressed at what I can only call bullying by Dershowitz. He really is a bully," he said. "He throws his weight around" as he did when he "made vague threats to the University of California Press when they were going to publish (Finkelstein's) book. This kind of abuse of power, whatever is wrong with (Finkelstein), and I think there's a lot wrong with him, but throwing your weight around at some relatively weak powerless figure just seems awful to me."
In addition, he said Dershowitz was responsible for a "despicable misrepresentation" of something Finkelstein had written about his mother. In the article in question, Finkelstein wrote that he had asked his mother whether, during the Holocaust, "she had done anything of which she was ashamed." Dershowitz wrote in an article in FrontPageMagazine.com that Finkelstein's "parents were even Holocaust survivors, though he suspects his mother of having been a kapo." Novick said that "suspicion" is nowhere in Finkelstein's writing.
Novick said "it is extremely uncommon" for someone to intervene in a private university matter as Dershowitz has and "quite justifiably enrages people at DePaul. It's clear that this has happened."
Rabbi Roy Furman, a member of DePaul's Department of Ministry and a teaching associate in the religious studies department, is among that number. "I think it's a university issue," he said of Finkelstein's tenure case. "The university system as I have seen it operate over 18 years has seemed to be a fair one and my expectation is that it will be the same here. It's a question of how (Finkelstein) is evaluated by the department, the college and the university."
Of Dershowitz's involvement, he said, "I think Professor Dershowitz has no business being involved in what's happening. Finkelstein's writings on the Holocaust will be evaluated academically by the people in his department. I'm saddened this has become a big thing. This is an internal university affair in a fair university that does things in an open, even-handed manner."
Emily Briskman, head of the DePaul Hillel, said she could not comment on the Finkelstein matter. Student officers of the Hillel did not respond to calls or e-mails seeking comment.
On April 13, some 40 students demonstrated to show their support for Finkelstein as he met with the university's tenure review board, according to the university newspaper, the DePaulia. Some held signs that said "Listen to DePaul, not Dershowitz," according to the newspaper's account. In addition, according to a campus Web site, some students passed around a petition supporting Finkelstein's tenure bid. "He is easily one of the most popular teachers on campus," according to the Web site.
In an April, 2007 article in the DePaulia titled "Inspiration Under Attack (on Norman Finkelstein)," undergraduate student Claire Sherman wrote that she had taken one class with Finkelstein and was currently taking another, and that "none (of her other professors) have inspired me as much as professor Norm Finkelstein." Calling him "entertaining and captivating" in the classroom, Sherman wrote that "rarely has a professor inspired me to think critically, work and analyze more than Professor Finkelstein. ... I hear the same thing from other students. In other words, I am one of the many Norm Finkelstein fans. His supporters come from all walks of life and political backgrounds."
Dershowitz, meanwhile, continues his campaign against Finkelstein but believes it "very likely" that he will get tenure. One of the reasons, he said, is because Finkelstein is Jewish. "If he were Catholic and making the same anti-Semitic statements, he wouldn't have a chance in a million," he said.
He also brought up the case of Thomas Klocek, a part-time DePaul faculty member who was fired after an altercation with Muslim students in which he defended Israel and argued with the students over their pro-Palestinian views. The Klocek case has become a cause celebre among some pro-Israel and right-wing groups. Dershowitz said he is "sympathetic" to Klocek and said that "the two cases together form an absurd contradiction.
"DePaul might capitulate and decide to have them both there, but that's no answer," he said. "Klocek should be there and Finkelstein should not." Giving Finkelstein tenure "would be like giving Don Imus tenure, giving David Duke tenure, giving Ann Coulter tenure. Where's the beef? Show us the scholarship. It's not there, and I've read everything he ever wrote. If I were a pro-Palestinian person, I would be against Finkelstein. He's not a very good representative of their point of view," he said.
If Finkelstein does get tenure, "I will continue to be involved," Dershowitz said. "I will urge students not to go to DePaul University. Right now I'm exposing Finkelstein; if he becomes a tenured faculty member at DePaul, I will expose DePaul."
The consensus among most observers is that Finkelstein will receive tenure, perhaps partially because, as Novick, the Holocaust scholar, wrote, "Dershowitz's highly publicized intervention has, it seems to me, made it impossible for DePaul to reject Finkelstein's bid for tenure without everyone concluding that DePaul had capitulated to Dershowitz's bullying."
Novick also makes a sly but telling point about the similarities between the two opponents. "There are those who relish the adversarial role, who delight in combat, whose greatest joy is in advancing a cause-and vanquishing an opponent of that cause. Such people are often inclined to stretch evidence to the breaking point (and occasionally beyond) in the service of their arguments," he writes. "Professor Finkelstein seems to be of that number, as does Professor Dershowitz. They are, in this respect, true soulmates."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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