The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in the city of Halle sparked international criticism because the pro-Hezbollah and allegedly antisemitic activist Norman Finkelstein is slated to hold talks on academia and Gaza on Monday and later in January.
"Finkelstein is not a scholar or academic. He is a polemicist who misuses sources and violates accepted standards of academic integrity," Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "That is why he was fired ( or not renewed) at universities at which he taught. It would be scandalous for the Planck Institute to lend its academic imprimatur to so non-academic a person," he argued.
Dershowitz added:"Let me add that the Planck Institute would never seriously consider inviting an anti-Palestinian polemicist with a comparable lack of academic standing. He is invited because of his anti-Israel and borderline antisemitic polemics, not despite them."
Finkestlein told the Post that "DePaul University and I reached a private settlement of my tenure case. The joint statement issued after the settlement said that I was 'an excellent teacher and prolific scholar.'"
Max Privorozki, head of the small Jewish community in Halle, called on the MPI to cancel the lectures. He told the Post it is a "disgrace" that MPI is hosting the controversial activist.
"I am proud that our student organization has given a proper answer and showed thus that young people can be more clever and have more political 'Gefühl' [feeling] as MPI representatives," Privorozki said. "I hope only, that we do not do any advertising for Norman Finkelstein."
The Halle Jewish community, according to the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has 578 members as of 2015.
The MPI has not listed Finkelstein's talk on its website but a flyer states Finkelstein will talk about "Gaza; an inquest into its martyrdom."
Finkelstein is banned for ten years from entering the Jewish state because of his support for Hezbollah—a US and EU classified terrorist organization.
A University of Halle student council group, AG Antifa des Studierendenrates der Universität Halle, launched a protest campaign against MPI for its invitation of Finkelstein. Antifa is an abbreviation for anti-fascist.
"It is a scandal that the historical revisionist and Israel hostile positions will be given a podium at the Max-Planck-Institute", said Miriam Lopez from the Antifa. MPI's Halle institute is located in the state of Saxony-Anhalt.
The Antifa wrote on Friday that the Finkelstein lecture is a "denial of the antisemitic terror of Hamas."
The group said that MPI and Finkelstein will "demonize Israel's defense measures."
Antifa said Finkelstin compared Hezbollah's resistance with the resistance against the Nazis.
Marie-Claire Foblets, the managing director at the MPI's Department of Law & Anthropology, told the Post, "Norman Finkelstein's parents from Poland were persecuted and interned as Jews in the Third Reich. Both survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the mother also the concentration camp Majdanek, the father Auschwitz. All relatives, however, were killed. After the Second World War the Finkelsteins emigrated to the USA. To call Finkelstein antisemitic against this background, is absurd."
She added "It would be all but scientific to use one single definition of antisemitism in the contemporary world context, there is a lively discussion, not only among scholars but also in larger public circles and debates, on how to appropriately apprehend the phenomenon of contentious, deterministic thinking about identity, 'otherness' and religious, ethnic and cultural diversity, in the past and now."
She said MPI will host Finkelstein as a visiting scholar for the period of 16-30 January 2017.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post that the fact that "MPI trotted out Norman Finkelstein's parents biography to prove he is not an antisemite means you know they are on thin ice." He said Finkelstein "unfairly singles out Israel for criticism and that is a form of antisemitism."
He said The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted a modern definition of antisemitism and 31 countries, including Germany, adopted the criteria for contemporary antisemitism.
Zuroff noted that the MPI had close ties to the Nazi movement and was involved in war atrocities. The concern is that the MPI is breathing new life into an old lie and allowing antisemitism to flourish as a new form, he added.
Deidre Berger, the head of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee, also told the Post: "His one-sided and exaggerated positions pander to academic hostilities toward Israel and pave the path to antisemitic hatred."
"Mr. Finkelstein's extreme positions," she continued, "on the Mideast can only damage the ability of students to form balanced and reflective positions on German-Israeli relations today. It is incomprehensible that a serious academic institution would invite such a controversial speaker to allegedly discuss issues of social justice, knowing that Mr. Finkelstein's preferred topics are vicious and unqualified attacks on both the Jewish state of Israel and organized Jewry."
"Bringing Norman Finkelstein to a campus under the pretense of discussing free speech serves the sole purpose of fueling exaggerated criticism of Israel that all too often turns anti-Semitic," she added.
The executive director of the 40,000 member Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, told the Post it's ironic that MPI justifies their invitation to host Norman Finkelstein based on the fact that his parents were survivors.
"Clearly MPI has not done their homework. While Finkelstein's parents are indeed survivors, Finkelstein has made an entire career as a Jew who willingly collaborates with neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and antisemites."
"In fact, when The New York Times reviewed his book, titled "The Holocaust Industry," it described it as 'a novel variation on the antismitic forgery, 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.' [The Holocaust Industry] verges on paranoia and would serve antisemites around the world."'
Dr. Romirowsky also stressed Finkelstein's support for Hezbollah.
Finkelstein has written previously that "the honorable thing now is to show solidarity with Hezbollah, as the United States and Israel target it for liquidation. Indeed, looking back, my chief regret is that I wasn't even more forceful in publicly defending Hezbollah against terrorist intimidation and attack."
Christina Beck, the head of communications at MPI, said: "We know that Norman Finkelstein is a controversial scholar. He has many detractors, but also many supporters."
She cited Raul Hilberg, the founder and dean of Holocaust scholars, who said of Finkelstein: "I will say... that I am impressed by the analytical abilities of Finkelstein. He is, when all is said and done, a highly trained political scientist who was given a Ph.D. degree by a highly prestigious university... It takes an enormous amount of academic courage to speak the truth when no one else is out there to support him... I would say that his place in the whole history of writing is assured, and that those who in the end are proven right triumph, and he will be among those who will have triumphed, albeit, it so seems, at great cost."
Privorozki, the head the Halle Jewish community, said: "It is known that Norman Finkelstein's parents were Holocaust survivors. Does it mean automatically that their child is not antisemitic?"
He said "Prof. Foblet's answer includes no arguments. The question is: are Hezbollah and Hamas antisemitic? Do they try to kill Jews only because they fight for an independent Arabic state? Do they want to have an independent Arabic state near the state of Israel or instead of Israel? The controversial point of view is not a reason to invite somebody. With the same argumentation they could invite everybody."