Norman G. Finkelstein has been more controversial off his campus than on it. On his frequentspeaking tours to colleges, where he typically discusses Israel inhighly critical ways, Finkelstein draws protests and debates. When the University of California Press published Finkelstein’s critique of Alan Dershowitz and other defenders of Israelin 2005, a huge uproar ensued — with charges and countercharges abouthypocrisy, tolerance, fairness and censorship. But at DePaulUniversity, Finkelstein has taught political science largely without controversy, gaining a reputation as a popular teacher.
But the debate over Finkelstein is now hitting his home campus — and
in a way sure to create more national controversy. Finkelstein is up
for tenure. So far, his department has voted, 9-3, in favor of tenure
and a collegewide faculty panel voted 5-0 to back the bid. But
Finkelstein’s dean has just weighed in against Finkelstein.
Debates over scholars who take controversial views on the Middle East are, of course,
nothing new to academe. But Finkelstein’s case may be in a category all its own. He portrays
himself as a courageous scholar, bringing rationality to discussions of
the Holocaust and Israel — all the more bold for being Jewish and doing
so. While criticizing people who invoke the Holocaust to justify
political positions, he constantly identifies his parents as Holocaust
His supporters tend to characterize Finkelstein as the victim ofMuch of the criticism from the dean focuses on Finkelstein’s book The Holocaust Industry. The book argues that supporters of Israel use the Holocaust unreasonably to justify Israel’s policies. While the book does not deny that the Holocaust took place, it labels leading Holocaust scholars “hoaxters and huxters.” A review of the book in The New York Times called it full of contradictions (at one point he rejects the idea that the United States abandoned Europe’s Jews and then he later praises a book for which that idea was the central thesis) and full of “seething hatred” as he implies that Jews needed the Holocaust to justify Israel. The reviewer, Brown University’s Omer Bartov, a leading scholar of the Holocaust, described the book as "a novel variation on the nti-Semitic forgery, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’"
right-wing, pro-Israel forces — and there are plenty of conservative
supporters of Israel who despise Finkelstein. But among the groups he’s
currently sparring with is Progressive
magazine, a decidedly left-of-center publication that regularly
publishes pieces that are highly critical of Israel’s government.
Finkelstein and his supporters also say that criticisms of his tone are
an excuse for attacks on his political views — and that issue appears
to be key to the DePaul dean’s review.
By the way, have you noticed that, while Finkelstein constantly condemns others for citing their personal experiences of the Holocaust when debating political issues, he and his defenders frequently do just that with respect to his parents' status as survivors. (see Exclusive: Norman Finkelstein, DePaul Scholar and Son of Holocaust Survivors, Struggles for Tenure as an especially absurd example. The author wastes no time and gets it in the headline.)