Norman Finkelstein's impending lecture at Bryn Mawr and recent lecture at Penn have spawned a series of articles and blog entries on the internet from persons and organizations both supporting and opposing Finkelstein.
A March 28 article by Asaf Romirowsky of JewishExponent.com titled "Countering Voices of Hate" appeared on www.frontpagemagzine.com. Romirowsky argues against allowing Finkelstein to speak on campus, stating "Today, those who are anti-Israel insist that they are not anti-Semitic -- only anti-Zionist. That's the message that [he] helps fuel. Students must recognize that there is never justice in terrorism. It is unacceptable that some should even speak of eliminating a living and breathing state like Israel. However, you would be surprised how pervasive such statements have become on campus. These advocates are the ones that should be on the defensive, not those working hard for the good of the Jewish state."
In a Daily Pennsylvanian Letter to the Editor Susan Landau of the Philadelphia Chapter Jewish Voice for Peace, offered the opposite opinion. "Norman Finkelstein is indeed irreverent. He dares to counter Dershowitz's slant with factual records of Israel's human rights reports from Amnesty International, B'Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and others. Finkelstein's work is absent stale hot air. His aggressive arguments are well grounded, thoroughly researched, meticulously documented. Those who fear real academic freedom ought to sound the alarms."
She went on to argue that Dershowitz doesn't represent mainstream Jewish opinion, stating, "there is no consensus regarding the state of Israel. Many Jews of conscience advocate that security for Jews and the state of Israel are best served by policies that uphold human rights and international law. Traditional Jewish ethics make a strong incontrovertible case for honest education, fair and accurate reporting, and academic freedom. Certainly these are the mainstay of first amendment rights, civil society, and democratic principles."
Alan Dershowitz, the object of Landau's criticism and a well-known Harvard Law Professor, mentioned Bryn Mawr, along with several other colleges bringing Finkelstein to speak, in a post on Blogcentral.jpost.com. Dershowitz wrote that "Many of the people extending the invitations [to Finkelstein] are unaware that by inviting this person on their behalf, they are becoming complicit with neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, and anti-Semites. Some of the invitees were all too aware of what kind of person they were inviting."
This statement was the target of criticism from a Ph.D. Penn student, Matthew Richman, who argued that "Israel's purported defenders in the United States, such as Dershowitz, have attempted to eliminate discussion of Israel and Zionism by labeling critical viewpoints as ‘anti-Semitic.' This is tragic, because the inability freely discuss Israel's history and current policies prolongs reaching a just solution for Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
"Dershowitz's facile conflation of Zionism and Israel-a political ideology and a state-with Jews as a religious or ethnic group also holds potentially dangerous consequences for Jews. Not only does it impose political positions on Jews who may not be Zionists, but Dershowitz's formulation lends credence to the anti-Semitic canard that ‘Jews' and ‘Israel' may be used interchangeably, which renders the world's Jews responsible for Israel's crimes. And by labeling any criticism of Israel or Zionism as anti-Semitic, it hinders our ability to fight anti-Semitism when it really occurs."
Matthew Richman concluded by saying that "Dershowitz and other opponents of debate on Israel and Zionism have engendered a climate of fear on campuses and elsewhere." Dershowitz and Romirowsky, if agreeing that Finkelstein is a negative influence, differ on the subject of bringing Finkelstein to campus. "No college should prevent him from speaking." Dershowitz writes, "He can get a soapbox and fulminate the way other bigots do. That is his free speech right. But no university or group that would not invite David Duke should lend its imprimatur to Finkelstein's poison. [They] are opposite sides of the same hateful coin."
David Duke, a former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, was a candidate in presidential primaries for both the Democratic and Republican parties, and a former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Dershowitz continues, saying that although students have the right to bring Finkelstein to campus continues, "…people should be judged by the bigots they invite."
In an article on David Duke's website, Duke's staff members note that "obviously, Finkelstein and Duke have strongly differing views on many subjects," but went on to speak in support of Finkelstein, saying, "we at www.Davidduke.com know why they don't want David Duke or Norman Finkelstein to speak. It is because what David Duke has to say is so convincing and so documented that they can't afford for him to be heard. The same thing is true for Norman Finkelstein."
The flurry of conversation Norman Finkelstein's recent speaking circuit caused has pulled Bryn Mawr into a great debate. What remains to be seen is how his talk "Palestine & Israel: Roots of Conflict, Prospects for Peace" will impact the political dynamics of the Bryn Mawr campus itself. Finkelstein will be speaking tomorrow evening at 8 PM in Thomas Great Hall.