Freedom of speech is one of the most important civil rights in a university because it allows for open debates on important issues. Columbia's Muslim Students Association has every right to host Norman Finkelstein, but I have to wonder: what are they are trying to accomplish by having him speak? Instead of sparking a productive debate, he will end up creating the same kind of divisive controversy that swept the campus last year in the wake of the firestorm concerning the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department-and will end up being every bit as ineffective in creating dialogue or progress.
Last week, Spectator published an op-ed submission ("Hate Comes to Columbia," March 1) in which the authors, Chris Kulawik and Josh Lipsky, referred to Finkelstein as a "Holocaust revisionist." Two years ago, Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher used the same term to describe Finkelstein. In response, Finkelstein threatened to sue the Washington Post. Fisher's next column included the following: "In Tuesday's column about academic freedom, I mentioned writer Norman Finkelstein, who lectured recently at Georgetown University. Although neo-Nazi groups have cited his work in support of their theories, Finkelstein has never denied the existence of the Holocaust, and I did not intend to suggest that."
Finkelstein took similar offense to the term used in the Spectator op-ed piece. Two days later, its editors ran a clarification akin to the one in the Washington Post. But Finkelstein is infamous for comments such as the one that appeared in his book The Holocaust Industry, "If everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one,' my mother used to exclaim, 'who did Hitler kill then?'" Many of those who call Finkelstein a "Holocaust revisionist" use this and similar survivor-bashing comments as justifications for their claim.
As someone who is supposedly concerned with being able to speak his mind without being silenced or labeled, Finkelstein certainly seems hypocritical in trying to intimidate students for expressing their views.
Finkelstein is also infamous for having said, "The honorable thing now is to show solidarity with Hezbollah as the U.S. and Israel target it for liquidation." Hezbollah murdered 241 American Marines in Beirut and is designated as a terrorist group by the State Department. That sounds like terrorist sympathy to me.
Contrary to what another Spectator op-ed submission ("In Defense of Professor Finkelstein," March 6) said, calling Finkelstein anti-Semitic does not "lend increased credibility to ... [his] 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." The claim that Finkelstein is anti-Semitic is not based on his criticism of Israeli policies, but on his perpetuation of outrageous conspiracy theories that have plagued Jews for millennia. He once said "All opinion-leaders, from the left to the right, are Jews. ... The Silence around my book in the U.S.-if this is not a conspiracy, then what is one?"
Finkelstein's appearance will represent the polar opposite of the respectful and productive debate that Columbia needs and that the pro-Israel community on campus has tried to foster. The last thing I want is to stifle criticism an open debate about the Arab-Israeli conflict or of Israel's policies. I simply want to speak respectfully and academically. It seems to me that Norman Finkelstein was not invited to call attention to an important issue, but to divide and polarize the campus with his attention-grabbing hate speech. The next time there is an opportunity to discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict, I hope to see more civility and integrity.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore. He is the president and founder of Pro-Israel Progressives.