A controversy is brewing at Princeton University in the wake of an event at the Ivy League institution earlier this month that featured a prominent and outspoken critic of Israel whose fiery rhetoric is often labeled anti-Semitic.
Author and scholar Norman Finkelstein was a member of the Oct. 10 panel "Fighting for Justice, From Gaza to Ferguson: Black and Palestinian Solidarity," hosted by the Princeton Committee on Palestine and co-sponsored by the African American Studies Department, Alliance for Jewish Progressives, Princeton Young Democratic Socialists, and other groups.
During the event, Finkelstein reportedly said that Israelis "are biped bloodhounds drinking the blood of one million [Palestinian] children," declined to condemn Hezbollah and Hamas, and called Gaza a concentration camp, reports the Daily Princetonian.
And during one moment that has especially upset some on campus, he called Princeton student Jacob Katz, who has served in the Israeli army, a "concentration camp guard," according to the The Princeton Tory.
Katz, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, told The Princetonian after the event: "I don't care that [Finkelstein is] Jewish. He's anti-Semitic. That's just a fact."
Finkelstein, himself the son of Holocaust survivors from Poland, has made a name for himself over the years for being an outspoken critic of Israel. He was also denied tenure at DePaul University in 2007.
"Finkelstein is noted — some would say, notorious — for the heated rhetoric of his books and public appearances. He has called leaders of American-Jewish organizations 'Holocaust mongers.' In his book 'The Holocaust Industry,' he portrayed legal efforts to get compensation for World War II slave laborers as an extortion," the Chicago Tribune reported at the time, but added his students have praised Finkelstein for allowing open debate regardless of his stances.
As for Finkelstein's recent appearance at Princeton, the publisher of The Princeton Tory sent The College Fix a seven-minute video of an exchange between Finkelstein and Katz. However, much of the audio is indecipherable due to background noise.
The interaction shown in the video takes place after a large number of the audience has left, during a question and answer period.
But at one point in the video the issue of rocketfire was brought up, to which Finkelstein can be discernibly heard saying that the rockets fired from Gaza into Israel are "fireworks." Attendees can be seen and heard clapping in response to Finkelstein's comments at various points.
The Princetonian subsequently published an op-ed by Finkelstein in the aftermath of their coverage that accused the student newspaper of "a sustained libel against me," calling the reporting one-sided.
Finkelstein criticized the Princetonian for not soliciting a comment from him for their article, and blasted the student publication for making "its sole concern" the "alleged hurt feelings of an Israel soldier in the audience who announced that he was one of the guards along the perimeter fence of this concentration camp caging in one million children."
"The 'Prince' accuses me of anti-Semitism," Finkelstein wrote. "It would appear, however, that not only is the messenger being vilified for his discomfiting message, but the delivery of that message is being tagged as anti-Semitic so as to silence future messengers."
The Princeton Tory, a conservative campus news outlet at Princeton, published its own op-ed by assistant editor Adam Hoffman which sharply criticized Finkelstein for anti-Semitism, calling him "a noxious and malignant purveyor of prejudice."
" ... Jew-hatred didn't just crash the party. Princeton and some of its student groups issued an invitation to anti-Semitism, and it promptly RSVP'd."
Hoffman alleges that Finkelstein "declared that we carry the same obligation to kill Israelis as Americans had towards slave catchers."
"I raised concerns about Finkelstein's past comments with the Director of the Carl A. Fields Center Tennille Haynes and members of the Alliance of Jewish Progressives. Neither group was deterred from sponsoring the event," Hoffman wrote. "The Carl A. Fields Center assured me that the sponsoring group 'did their due diligence in vetting speakers and organizing the event' and that this was all 'check[ed] with departments and co-sponsors of the event for their thoughts.' It is hard to know whether to cry from the recklessness of their sponsorship or laugh at their incompetence."
In an email to The College Fix, Hoffman made it clear that he believes that Finkelstein has the right to speak, but that right does not mean that the university has an obligation to invite him.
"Finkelstein does not make arguments, he spews hate (as I noted in my piece — he does not present a critique of Israeli policy, but shouts blood libel). It should also not be the university's diversity office and departments that are sponsoring him; and if they do, the onus is on them to provide a moderator to challenge him," Hoffman said. "The university should now come out and condemn his remarks."
In an email to The College Fix, Princeton spokesperson Ben Chang said "In light of Princeton's obligation to promote the free expression of all views, the campus is open to any speaker whom students or members of the faculty have invited and for whom official arrangements to speak have been made with the university."
"The university's fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the university community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed."