It is with bittersweet irony that Norman Finkelstein critics at Columbia would viciously attack Finkelstein, a noted Jewish professor and human rights activist, not to mention son of Holocaust survivors, as a "terrorist sympathizing, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, Holocaust revisionist," given his latest book, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. Indeed, these types of abusive charges against Finkelstein lend increased credibility to the book's central thesis on the misuse of anti-Semitism and abuse of the Holocaust's legacy to stifle any critical analysis of Israeli policies. With this in mind, we seek to debunk certain vicious inaccuracies in arguments made by Finkelstein critics, so as to render this debate slightly more civil and decent, and in order that a dignified guest of Columbia might not be met by hordes of hostile victims of this kind of misinformation.
On the issue of academic integrity, which Finkelstein critics accuse him of lacking, we might note that apart from a Princeton Ph.D., our guest has the enthusiastic support of myriad highly reputable scholars in the field, albeit mostly those who are already critical of Israeli policy. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University commented, "Finkelstein does a great service for those who long for a better Israel, with the conclusion that the only way of putting an end to the violations of Palestinian rights is by ending the occupation." MIT linguist and liberal icon Noam Chomsky, on the same topic notes that "Norman Finkelstein provides extensive details and analysis, with considerable historical depth and expert research, of a wide range of issues concerning Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S."
Like other common attacks made by Finkelstein critics, charging Finkelstein as a "terrorist sympathizer" is not simply inaccurate but irresponsible and tantamount to libel. On the topic of terrorism, Finkelstein unambiguously denounces terrorism as "morally unacceptable." He does argue that Palestinians possess "the right to use force against occupation" under international law. His support for the Palestinian right to self-determination and to resist occupation could in no way be construed as an endorsement of terrorism. Nor does he assent to the principles of Osama bin Laden as is gestured toward in the "Hate Comes to Columbia" (March 1) op-ed piece that was published in Spectator. The full quote continues, "One of the things that [bin Laden] said on that last tape was that 'until [Muslims and Arabs] live in security, you're not going to live in security,' and there is a certain amount of rightness in that." Finkelstein's point of agreement with bin Laden-that Americans should look toward understanding root causes for the poverty and instability in Muslim countries-is actually shared by the Bush administration with all of its recent initiatives to promote a better understanding of the region as a means to promote international security.
Finkelstein's critics, most notably Alan Dershowitz, charge Finkelstein with anti-Semitism precisely because of his criticism of Zionism, i.e. criticism of the Israeli occupation and Israeli state-sponsored human rights abuses committed against Palestinians. This isn't the first time that a reputable scholar has been typecast as anti-Semitic for critical views against Israeli policies (see David Horowitz's The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America). Undoubtedly, anti-Semitism is an ugly, appalling form of bigotry that deserves universal condemnation. However, Zionism is a political ideology and must never be confused with the Jewish religion, culture, or population. Contrary to the anti-American label commonly placed on Finkelstein, his critique of political Zionism is precisely the type of controversial political discourse that is characteristically American and is analogous to the College Democrats' stimulating debate on the Bush administration.
Finkelstein is often met with accusations of Holocaust revisionism, generally associated with Holocaust denial. Finkelstein's book The Holocaust Industry is actually a critique of Holocaust revisionist arguments that privilege the Holocaust as exceptional in the historiography of genocide. Far from the Anti-Defamation League's claims that Finkelstein is a Holocaust denier, his proof is an unambiguous affirmation that the Holocaust did occur-his parents are living proof of its horrors!-noting that the tragedy of the Holocaust has since been ruthlessly exploited and commercialized into what Finkelstein outlines as an industry to promote Zionist interests.
We wish to set the record straight and publicly condemn these flagrantly false claims against Finkelstein, and to underscore the danger of misusing the label of anti-Semitism and abusing the Holocaust legacy to stifle critical debate on Israeli policies. For the sake of free speech, hopefully a value which those who accuse Finkelstein of bringing "hate" to campus can join us in upholding, Columbia students will welcome rather than denigrate visitors like Finkelstein, upon whom we can rely upon to challenge our understanding of the relationship between anti-Semitism and Zionism and, at the very least, stimulate lively debate and critical inquiry on campus.
Maryum Saifee is a Master of International Affairs candidate at the School of International and Public Affairs. Athar Abdul-Quader is a Columbia College sophomore.