To the Editor:
I would like to comment briefly on the recent article and letter concerning Prof. Norman Finkelstein's lecture ("Political Agenda Out of Place," THE HOYA, Nov. 18, 2005, A2; "Finkelstein Condemns Israeli Policies," THE HOYA, Nov. 18, 2005, A1)
The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies co-sponsored this event because we believed that Finkelstein had a serious contribution to make on an issue of importance to us, namely, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. We were not disappointed. We felt the lecture was intellectually stimulating, even if one might not agree with his interpretations. My impression afterwards was that the audience overwhelmingly felt the same way. Finkelstein recently has written an important book entitled "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History." It was thoroughly peer-reviewed and accepted by one of the leading academic publishers, the University of California Press.
We thought that the subject of Israel's occupation practices also might be of interest, if not concern, to the Program for Jewish Civilization. That is why we asked the PJC to cosponsor the event. They declined.
Certainly we were aware that Finkelstein, a professor at DePaul University, is a controversial figure to some people. That is why we offered the opportunity for those who might be opposed to his views to be discussants. We invited two professors associated with the PJC to comment; unfortunately, they both declined. The student who wrote the letter criticizing CCAS had every opportunity to debate Finkelstein but he did not do so, and in fact I don't believe he even attended the lecture.
Finkelstein has been defamed and blacklisted by some national Jewish organizations, and there are people on this campus who would like to preempt the Georgetown community from hearing the views of such a stigmatized person. Defamation and blacklisting are particularly ugly and ominous in an academic environment where free speech should be cherished. We have no objection at all to criticism of what Finkelstein has said but we do not automatically accept others' negative characterizations of Finkelstein as a person. Nor do we think it is appropriate for a faculty member representing PJC to barge angrily into the CCAS office (as happened on Nov. 15) and announce that the PJC – to punish CCAS for inviting Finkelstein – will take actions that could significantly weaken all the Middle East studies programs at Georgetown (not just Arab studies).
We respectfully suggest that intellectual disputates take place with civility and respect. CCAS has been badly treated in this respect in this matter. We would like to continue to work with PJC as we have in the past, but a little more maturity and civility on the part of its leadership would be helpful.
Michael C. Hudson
Director, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies
Nov. 20, 2005
To the Editor:
Ariel Ahram, in his letter to THE HOYA ("Political Agenda Out of Place," Nov. 18, 2005, A2), attacks two recent lectures sponsored by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. His poorly argued, ad hominem attacks on Norman Finkelstein — a professor of political science and author of five books (the most recent with the University of California Press) — simply do not merit comment. His comments on the talk by Virginia Tilley, however, repeat a common bit of highly effective propaganda which has obscured rational discussion of the political situation in Palestine.
Ahram claims that to advocate a "one-state solution" is "a polite way of arguing for Israel's erasure, the abolition of a state." In reality, to call for a "one-state solution" is no more and no less than to call for a democratic state of Israel with equal rights for all people under the control of the Israeli government. If one defines Israel along racist or religiously exclusivist lines — a state for Jews — then this solution would involve a radical transformation of Israel.
By the same token, if one defines the United States as a state for white, male Christians, a call to allow blacks and women to vote could be termed "a polite way of arguing for the United States' erasure." Some white South Africans might have termed the anti-apartheid movement "a polite way of arguing for South Africa's erasure." No doubt Muslim militias in Darfur see themselves as resisting the abolition of the Sudan.
Israel is one of the few states in the world which explicitly claims the right to define citizenship and civil rights along religious grounds while it permanently confines non-Jews in walled-off Bantustans in the West Bank and Gaza and denies the right of other non-Jews to return to family homes stolen for the use of Jews. A call for a democratic or bi-national state in all of Palestine is nothing more than a call for equal rights and citizenship.
Of course one can reasonably argue on political grounds for a continuation of the current religiously defined Israel alongside a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Perhaps matters of practicality justify such a compromise on the simple idea that a state is a state for all its citizens, but to suggest that the more principled position in any way runs contrary to mainstream moral principles is absurd.
Professor of Philosophy