Moonlighting: Non-Specialists in the News
The Finkelstein Affair [on former DePaul professor Norman Finkelstein]
by David Bernstein
I keep getting emails asking what I think about DePaul University's denial of tenure to Norman Finkelstein. The short answer is that while I certainly haven't tortured myself by reading everything Finkelstein has written, I've read enough to broadly agree with Cathy Young's assessment, which you can find here.
What I find irritating about the Finkelstein controversy it's almost always portrayed as a lightning rod for controversy because he is "anti-Israel." He certainly is anti-Israel, but the reason he attracts such enmity is that he uses rhetoric that is unmistakably anti-Semitic, including in contexts only tangentially related to Israel. Whether he's actually anti-Semitic (yes, I know he's ethnically Jewish; so?) or just uses anti-Semitism as a rhetorical prop in an attempt to stir the masses against the Jewish establishment in the hopes that this will ultimately weaken Israel, I don't know.
By now some of you are thinking, "there goes Bernstein conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism." No, I'm conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Semitism. Writing that leading American Jewish activists "resemble stereotypes straight out of [Nazi newspaper] Der Sturmer" has nothing to do with criticizing Israel. Neither does claiming that American "Jewish elites" have "a mindset of Jewish superiority." If Pat Robertson had made these remarks instead of Finkelstein, is there any doubt that many of Finkelstein's staunchest allies would not hesitate to proclaim them anti-Semitic?
Both of these quotes can be found in his book, Beyond Chutzpah. But what about context? Here's the context for the first quote:
And heres the context of the second quote:
If anything, the context of these quotes makes them look worse!
Those so inclined can turn Finkelstein into a free speech martyr if they wish. But, putting aside the merits of his claim to tenure, it's fundamentally dishonest to suggest that he attracted notoriety and criticism simply because he's a critic of Israel. I'm waiting for the first, honest, defender of Finkelstein to say, "yes, he's guilty of anti-Semitism, and that anti-Semitism is directly related to the work on which his tenure relied, but I think DePaul should have granted him tenure anyway." It's certainly plausible to argue that the fact that one's work on Jews and the so-called "Holocaust Industry" is tainted by anti-Semitism should not be a barrier to tenure if the work otherwise makes a significant contribution to the literature, but I'm waiting for someone to forthrightly make the case.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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