"Politics is not about changing public opinion. Politics is about trying to get people to act on what they already know is wrong," said Activist Norman Finkelstein on Wednesday during a lecture about the Israel-Palestine conflict at Morse Auditorium.
Finkelstein and Palestinian expert Mouin Rabbani spoke to a crowd of more than 80 students about "Solving the Israel-Palestine Conflict," sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine.
The lecture included a YouTube video, where photographs and videos of Palestinian protestors were juxtaposed with those of African-Americans during the Civil Rights movements in the U.S.
Students signed a petition on Change.org against hate speech, specifically against letting Finkelstein speak at Boston University because of previous statements he has made about the Holocaust. As of Wednesday night, 426 people had signed the petition.
"We are deeply troubled by the "Anti-Semitic rhetoric and ideology held by Mr. Finkelstein," the petition states.
"The petition is against all hate speech," said College of Communication freshman Leora Kaufman. "And Finkelstein is a prime example of someone who speaks hatred toward Israel. A lot of the things he said are lies, and I don't think it should be tolerated."
Kaufman said that the "lies" Finkelstein has told include him calling the Holocaust an "industry" and naming professor Ellie Wiesel its "clown."
A number of students left the audience after the video screening before the speakers began. One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said she walked out because the video's portrayal of the Israeli people angered her.
Finkelstein said he believed that public opinion was on the side of Palestine, which made the present environment a good time for Palestine to act, and that not acting, or acting too rashly, could have consequences.
"If you miss a historical moment," he said, "then you miss a huge historic possibility."
Rabbani, a longtime advocate for Palestine, said that in order for Palestine to achieve its statehood, the Palestinian leadership would need to come up with a clear plan
"A coherent strategy requires preparation, discipline, commitment and most importantly mobilization," he said.
Ian Chinich, a third year post-doctorate student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said the message Finkelstein represented with his support of Palestinian interests was a positive one.
"We need to strive for social justice and not support and violent and oppressive state," Chinich said.
Some students, including College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Matt Goldberg, disagreed.
"The only reason my fellow students and I were disturbed by Finkelstein [visiting BU is that] he is an anti-Semite and not his views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Goldberg said. "While it's vital that we allow a multitude of views on our campus, we should not invite speakers who have an unacceptable track record of making any members of any community feel unsafe on their campus."
Jarib, a CAS senior who asked to keep his last name anonymous, said a lot of misinformation and propaganda exists surrounding Finkelstein.
He said that many believed "The Holocaust Industry," one of Finkelstein's books, show Finkelstein to be an anti-Semitic and a Holocaust denier, accusations that he called unfounded.
"To call it a [Holocaust] denial is absurd, like calling the Earth flat," he said.
The book, he said, focuses on how some people and institutions that have not suffered directly from the Holocaust have "exploited the memory of the Holocaust for their own benefit" or defended Israel's crimes against Palestine.
Jarib and other members of the group also pointed out that both of Finkelstein's parents were Holocaust survivors – his mother was held in Majdanek and his father in Auschwitz.