PHILADELPHIA—Zionophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism may be the coin of the realm in academic circles but they are proving to be a highly devalued currencies. Recently, DePaul University decided to deny tenure to Norman Finkelstein, an anti-Zionist Jewish professor who willingly collaborates with neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites. Additionally, Congressman Patrick J. Murphy (Democrat, Pennsylvania) introduced legislation condemning the union of British academics for boycotting Israeli academics.
In his letter to Finkelstein, DePaul's president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, noted that members of the Catholic university's board on promotion and tenure "expressed several concerns touching on his scholarship, specifically what they consider the intellectual character of his work and his persona as a public intellectual."
In a recent debate about Finkelstein's tenure, terrorism expert Steve Emerson noted that, "[Finkelstein] cheers for Hezbollah terrorists anytime they kill Israelis… [and] called Elie Wiesel a ‘clown' for his life's work making sure that we never forget the Holocaust." It is also well documented that Finkelstein's biggest boosters include Holocaust deniers like David Irving, who praise him for his Holocaust "scholarship." Finkelstein is the same individual who did not want to participate in the recent Holocaust denial conference in Tehran because they would not give him enough time to present his work!
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Finkelstein's argument is that while primary documents indict Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, Israelis have stirred up a whirlwind of controversy precisely in order to submerge this point.
Yet, instead of primary documents—those written by participants in the events—Finkelstein cites only secondary documents written by post-Zionist commentators with philosophies similar to his. Furthermore, he makes gross generalizations about "Jews" saying that: "just as Israelis ... courageously put unruly Palestinians in their place, so American Jews courageously put unruly blacks in their place." He also contends "the main fomenters of anti-Semitism "are 'American Jewish elites' who need to be stopped." These types of claims ordinarily would not be taken seriously; however, Finkelstein uses the fact that his parents were Holocaust survivors as his carte blanche to discuss these matters "authoritatively."
The Finkelstein controversy is one of those instances where alumni and donors have finally looked at where their money is being spent and the type of scholarship it promotes. About a month ago, a group of prominent Penn alumni and Philadelphia philanthropists published an open letter to the university in the Daily Pennsylvanian, accusing the administration of serving as an enabler of hate speech because of the political-science department's sponsorship of Finkelstein's appearance on campus. It is hard to say how much if any impact the letter had on Finkelstein's tenure, however, it was certainly an eye-opener for those who want to make a difference in their respective communities.
Congressman Murphy's resolution dovetails with the Finkelstein affair and grew out of a motion put forth May 30 at the annual conference of the University and College Union (UCU), the largest body representing academic staff in higher education in Britain. There the delegates voted in support of a motion to discuss and thereby promote an academic boycott against Israel. Members were urged to consider the "moral implications" resulting in their links with Israeli universities, and to condemn Israel for its "denial of educational rights" to Palestinians.
The desire by British academics' to boycott Israeli universities has provoked the threat of legal action and counter-boycotts. About 2,000 American scholars –have already have vowed to stay away from any forum where Israelis are excluded.
Murphy's legislation has garnered a wave of support from Democrats and Republicans Murphy called the union's decision a "hate-fueled boycott" that "stands in the way of progress."
The impetus for Murphy's resolution has to do with the fact that today those who are anti-Israel insist that they are not anti-Semitic -- only anti-Zionist. That's the message that individuals like Finkelstein help fuel. But the transparency of singling out Israel for condemnation isn't fooling anyone anymore. Finkelstein's university has him figured out for the pseudo-scholar and hater that he is, and Congressman Murphy has got the UCU's number as well.
The growing pervasiveness of such statements on college campuses are indicative of a larger problem. Anti-Israel and anti-American advocates are the ones who should be on the defensive, not those working hard to ensure the US-Israeli alliance. And maybe for the first time, they are on the defensive.
Asaf Romirowsky is the manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia