On Thursday evening, November 29th, the University of Toronto hosted a lecture by former De Paul University assistant professor of political science, Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein, 53, is a controversial figure in the academic community, as he has assumed the position of chief apologist for Palestinian terrorism while espousing a hard line anti-Israel viewpoint, mixed with vociferous attacks on the legacy of the Holocaust, its victims and survivors. In June of 2007, Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University and charged with "unprofessional attacks". He was then placed on administrative leave for the 2007-2008 academic year, his single course having been cancelled. On September 5, 2007 he announced his resignation after coming to a settlement with the university on undisclosed terms.
Finkelstein is the author of seven books, receiving the most notices for his most recent books, "The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering" (September 2003) and "Beyond Chutzpah: on the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History" (August 2005). Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors, his mother having survived the Warsaw ghetto and the Majdanek concentration camp as well as two slave labor camps and his father having both survived the Warsaw ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. Finkelstein's underlying premise in both of his recent books is that Israel and Jewish organizations in America have exploited the Holocaust to deflect criticism from the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and he has alleged that these very same organizations have used the plight of Holocaust survivors to extort monumental sums of money from Swiss banks and the rest of the world.
Despite presenting what superficially appears to be painstaking support of his arguments, backed up by irrefutable documentation, nothing could be further from the truth. His ostensible facts and research have not been corroborated in the world of academia and many of his specious hypotheses have had gigantic holes punched through them by legitimate scholars of the Holocaust.
Invited to speak at the University of Toronto by the Canadian Palestinian Educational Exchange, Prof. Finkelstein packed the hall in which he spoke. 400 students, mostly of Islamic background and with political sympathies towards Hamas attended his two hour lecture. The thrust of his lecture dealt with the apathy and indifference of North American Jews towards the plight of Israel. He lauded this trend and called on all Jews and non-Jews to condemn Israel in the most unequivocal terms for the continued "occupation" of the "indigenous" Palestinian population and for "apartheid" like tactics being employed, such as the security wall built by Israel to prevent further Palestinian terrorist attacks.
Finkelstein made no mention of Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism and questioned the right of Israel to exist as a legitimate entity in the Middle East. He also did not speak about previous territorial concessions made by Israel in the name of peace, such as the 2005 Israeli evacuation of Gush Katif; nor did he mention the daily, incessant Kassam rocket attacks by Hamas in to Israel proper, namely the Israeli town of Sderot. He mentioned nothing of the nefarious and pernicious aims of Hamas and Hezbollah, namely the total eradication of Israel. Finkelstein also conveniently neglected to remark on the egregious human rights abuses that take place on a daily basis in Muslim countries. He did not touch upon Muslim on Muslim violence, internecine warfare, the honor killings of Muslim women and the executions of political and religious dissidents that are endemic to many Islamic societies.
He assigned blame squarely on the shoulders of Israel for all of the economic, political and social inequities allegedly faced by the Palestinians in what he termed the "occupied territories". His one sided, totally skewed version of the Israeli-Arab conflict was met with thunderous applause by the audience, many of whom were vocal in their support of Hamas. The notable exception came when several members of the Toronto based Jewish Defense League challenged Finkelstein's premise with some insightful and vexing questions.
Outside the hall, Finkelstein was met with opprobrium by Jewish student activists who organized protests to counter the lies, half truths and propaganda espoused by Finkelstein. Rafi Yablonsky and Ben Feferman led a stoic contingent from Hasbara Fellowships and Orna Hollander led the members of the Jabotinsky based, Betar/Tagar chapter in Toronto. Meir Weinstein, a veteran Jewish activist from the Toronto area, led a mighty force of Jewish Defense League members. The groups distributed information pertaining to Finkelstein's self-hating political track record and presented the Israeli side of the issue. The demonstrators carried signs saying "Hamas: Stop the Child Abuse" and "Stop the trafficking of women and children" as well as "Long live Israel: Israel is a Jewish State" and "No concessions for a false "peace"
Several JDL members were tossed out of the hall by local Toronto police when they refused to leave the building until Finkelstein answered their questions.