To the Editor:
I was profoundly troubled by the recent announcement that the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies decided to join with Students for Justice in Palestine in sponsoring a talk by Professor Norman G. Finkelstein.
Finkelstein's position on the Holocaust and the role it plays in Israeli and American Jewish politics is well known. He is a harsh critic of Israel, Zionism, and everyone he considers beneficiaries, propagators and exploiters of what he deems the "Holocaust industry." I do not question Finkelstein's right to speak, or Students for Justice in Palestine's right to invite speakers whose political orientation coincides with theirs (provided they remain within the bounds of the university charter).
CCAS is not, however, a political organization, but rather an academic arm of the university and a federally-funded regional studies center. Finkelstein joins the chorus of CCAS-sponsored lecturers that have been overtly hostile to Israel, not only toward its government, but frequently toward its existence as a state. Just last week CCAS sponsored a talk by Professor Virginia Tilley, proposing the "one-state solution," a polite way of arguing for Israel's erasure. In no other regional studies center would it be conceivable for a visiting speaker to advocate the abolition of a state in the region without at least some attempt at balance from another perspective.
Tilley, at least, had bona fides in the field of Middle East studies, including an M.A. in Arab Studies conferred by CCAS. Her lecture might be considered to have value by adding some novel perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Finkelstein, however, is not a scholar of the Middle East but a pop-culture polemicist who debates other pop-culture figures, like Professor Alan Dershowitz.
Finkelstein's writings on the Middle East are entirely derived from secondary sources. He demonstrates no research ability in Arabic, Hebrew or any other regional language, and he has neither expertise nor repute in the field. The only value he adds to the roster of speakers CCAS has already invited is yet another one-sided political diatribe.
It was demeaning to Georgetown and to the field of Middle East studies for an internationally recognized center such as CCAS to offer itself as a soapbox for those with unabashed political agendas and little academic standing. There is certainly a place for political activism at Georgetown, but it should not come from the academic arms of the university.
Ariel I. Ahram
Department of Arab Studies & Government
Nov. 15, 2005