Although it seemed likely last week that controversial Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein would speak on campus next month, his visit is up in the air now after two campus groups withdrew their support.
The Radical Student Alliance and the Arab Culture Club are no longer co-sponsoring the event, and members of the RSA-which now calls itself Students for a Democratic Society-said they in fact never gave their consent to sponsor Finkelstein's visit.
"This just fell in our lap," Daniel Duffy '07, an RSA leader, said. "We have our own issues we're going through right now, like an anti-war campaign. [The Finkelstein visit] has just been an annoyance."
Kevin Conway '09, an RSA?member who invited Finkelstein said his group had committed to co-sponsoring the event scheduled for April 24 in the International Lounge. "Every relevant body on campus was on board," he said. "My colleagues in the RSA just jumped ship."
Conway still hopes to bring Finkelstein to campus because the money and room are still available. "We got everything except for the sponsor," he said. "I've been working on this since January. I'm not giving up, but the odds are against it.
Finkelstein, a political-science professor at DePaul University, is best known for his 2002 book, The Holocaust Industry, which describes the ways in which the Jewish community has exploited the memory of the Holocaust to strengthen Israel.
"I think it's regrettable that the intellectual atmosphere at Brandeis isn't able to accommodate a point of view that many other schools have accommodated," Finkelstein said Monday, adding that he typically speaks at 30 college campuses every year without incident.
Duffy said his group's withdrawal has nothing to do with Finkelstein's ideology. Rather, club procedure dictates that the whole group has to approve a speaker before extending an invitation. Conway presented the event on behalf of the club to the Union's Finance Board to receive funding.
According to F-board policy, only groups-not individuals-can receive money to host such events. The board allocated around $970 to the event.
Duffy said he gave Conway tentative permission to use RSA's name as co-sponsor if needed before the F-board.
"I gave him my personal and temporary blessing," Duffy said.
After the RSA decided that it didn't support the visit, the Arab Culture Club followed suit.
"It wasn't our idea in the first place," Farrah Bdour '07, the club's president, said. "If we would be the only sponsor to this event, it might seem like we were the brainstormers behind it."
Bdour said her club supports Finkelstein's right to visit campus, but does not necessarily support his ideas. She said they would be willing to co-sponsor the event if another club extended an invitation. Finkelstein said he would still speak on campus if invited. "The problem isn't me. The problem is Brandeis," he said.
Prof. Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) questioned the academic value of Finkelstein's visit.
"I don't really know anybody in the field of Jewish studies that would use [his work] as a serious contribution," he said. "This is polemics, not academics. Sarna also said that by bringing Finkelstein, the University would be abdicating its responsibility to bring "real experts" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Otherwise there is no quality, and we are in many ways destroying what a university should be about."