When Halle’s (Germany) Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Social Anthropology had invited Norman Finkelstein for a public lecture on freedom of expression in academia (see description below) and hosting a closed workshop on his new book project, Gaza – an Inquest Into its Martyrdom, they had certainly not expected an uproar. After all, the controversial, averted scholar on the Israel-Palestinian conflict had calmed down in recent years albeit never silenced. Quite the opposite. Finkelstein is a prolific writer, in his own words a “forensic author”, who constantly corrects much of the powerful propaganda about the 70 years’ ordeal of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank which is created and spread by many Zionists. For that he is still attacked, and Israel has banned the Jewish son of survivors of the Warsaw ghetto, Auschwitz and Majdanek extermination camps, i.e. the holocaust, from entering the country. Now, the workshop is over. As Finkelstein reported,
The workshop lasted five hours. It was normal, just as if I were anywhere else in the world. Hopefully, it will herald the new normal in Germany, which would be good for Truth, good for Justice, and good for Palestine.
The MPI had early on posted a statement on its webpage with a later addendum, explaining why the workshop was internal. Halle’s obscure Antifa movement and the small Jewish community in the tiny university city in former Eastern Germany had organized a couple of demonstrations outside the complex. But what is important to note is that the event sparked international furor, in particular in Jewish news outlets. In particular remarkable is an article in The Jerusalem Post where retired Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz had been asked for statements. Dershowitz claims that,
“Finkelstein is not a scholar. He is a polemicist who misuses sources and violates accepted standards of academic integrity.
“That is why he was fired (or not renewed) at universities at which he taught. It would be scandalous for the [Max] Planck Institute to lend its academic imprimatur to so non-academic a person.
“Let me add that the Planck would never seriously consider inviting and 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.”
Thus smearing not only Finkelstein but also the MPI in Halle.
Despite accusations of denial of terroristic attacks of Hamas and Hizbullah while demonizing Israel’s defense measures (three “operations” in the past ten years, i.e. 2008/2009 Operation Cast Lead, after President Obama had been elected but not sworn in, 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, and 2014 Operation Protective Edge which was quickly ended only when Obama took sides after UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon had called an attack on a school as “criminal act”), much of the criticism about Finkelstein’s invitation is about his 2000 book, The Holocaust Industry, which, as some of his critics claim, would call remembrance of the holocaust an industry. The Doyen of Holocaust studies, late Raul Hilberg (d. 2007) had once explained,
When I read Finkelstein’s book, The Holocaust Industry, at the time of its appearance, I was in the middle of my own investigations of these matters, and I came to the conclusion that he was on the right track. I refer now to the part of the book that deals with the claims against Swiss banks, and the other claims pertaining to forced labor. I would now say in retrospect that he was actually conservative, moderate [sic] and that his conclusions are trustworthy. He is a well-trained political scientists, has the ability to do the research, did it carefully, and has come up with the right results. I am by no means the only one who, in the coming months and years, will totally agree with Finkelstein’s breakthrough. (More about the debate in Germany upon appearance of the book here.)
The defamation and demonization of Finkelstein is, to a large extent, in fact due to his nemesis, Professor Alan Dershowitz, who after years of relative calmness, revived the feud on the occasion of the workshop in Halle. Finkelstein had provided evidence that Dershowitz had concocted widespread plagiarism and fraud in his 2003 book on The Case for Israel, an apologetic propaganda piece of Israeli politics in the past 55 years. Since then, Dershowitz is eager to distract from Finkelstein’s serious accusations by denying the significance of his forensic studies. Since their remarkable appearance in Amy Goodman’s, then radio, show DemocracyNow! in 2003, Dershowitz had willfully destroyed Finkelstein’s academic career.
Given Norman Finkelstein’s family background and history, continuous allegation, by his critics, of anti-Semitism is in fact unsavory.
Description of public lecture on The Right to Outrage: academic freedom and the Bertrand Russell case, by Norman Finkelstein on 16 January 17 at MPI Halle:
The notion of academic freedom captures a trio of distinct claims. First, it asserts, that academic peers are best placed to judge scholarly competence and, accordingly, on all such determinations the faculty should be granted professional autonomy. This component of academic freedom is designed to preempt extra-scholarly agendas—whether they be religious, economic, or political—from tainting employment decisions. Second, academic freedom asserts that pursuit of Truth, the avowed end of a life in the ivory tower, presupposes, as its necessary means, liberty of speech. Truth, in its wholeness and its parts, on its surface and in its depth, cannot be attained, as every reader of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty will know, if either law or public opinion impedes the minds of those perambulating down paths of inquiry less traveled. Third, academic freedom denotes that outside the professional setting a scholar should enjoy the ordinary rights of a democratic citizen to speak his mind and (ensuing from this right) that extramural utterances, except in the rarest of instances, should not bear on the assessment of a faculty member’s professional competence.
Norman Finkelstein’s presentation will focus on the third component of academic freedom. It will examine the extramural rights of a professor through the lens of a little-known chapter in the life of Bertrand Russell. Russell was hired in 1940 by City College of New York to teach logic, mathematics and philosophy of science. But after a campaign led by the Catholic Church that targeted Russell’s heterodox opinions on religion and sexuality, his appointment was rescinded. Defending the right to teach in his areas of professional expertise despite his unconventional personal opinions, Russell asserted: “In a democracy it is necessary that people should learn to endure having their sentiments outraged.” Finkelstein will argue that the issues posed by Russell’s case are more complex that his defense suggested.
28 January 2017 @ 8:01 am.
Last modified January 28.