Political scientist and author Norman Finkelstein, whose fields of research include the politics of the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will be speaking at the University of Michigan about the current state of the conflict.
The event, hosted by the pro-Palestinian group, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), will be held tomorrow evening at 7:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Rackham Graduate School. The event is titled “The Israel-Palestine Conflict: What We Can Learn From Gandhi.”
Finkelstein has a long and controversial history with regard to the region. Among his work is a book entitled, “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering.”
The book – which argues that the American Jewish population has used the history of the Holocaust to defend Israel and for financial and political gain – has been the subject of much debate since it was published in 2000.
The child of two Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein argues in the book that “The Holocaust Industry” has commercialized Jewish culture and corrupted the event’s history.
After his open criticism of the Israeli government, Finkelstein was denied entry into the country on May 23, 2008. Israeli security officials said the decision was based on Finkelstein’s anti-Zionist opinions. Subsequently, Israel banned Finkelstein from entering the country for 10 years.
In June 2007, DePaul University denied Finkelstein’s bid for tenure after concerns were raised over his controversial opinions. Finkelstein alleged that Harvard professor and lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a prolific opponent of Finkelstein who holds pro-Israel views, interfered with his bid and helped it get blocked. Administrators at DePaul denied that Dershowitz played any role in their decision.
In April 2007, Finkelstein told the Harvard Crimson that Dershowitz’s efforts were “character assassination.”
“Had there been no outside pressure, I’m fully confident that I would make it through,” Finkelstein said at the time.
He was placed on administrative leave during the 2007-2008 academic term, and resigned on Sept. 5, 2007.
SAFE co-chair Andrew Dalack said that the organization brought in Finkelstein for two reasons, the first of which is his knowledge of the situation in Gaza.
“(Finkelstein’s) insight into the conflict is much needed considering Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza,” Dalack said.
Dalack also said that SAFE invited Finkelstein to speak because of the controversy surrounding Finkelstein’s tenure at DePaul.
“We felt that his denial and inability to gain tenure at DePaul University is something that the campus needed to hear about,” Dalack said.
Rachel Goldstein, president of the American Movement for Israel, said that although some members may choose to attend the event, AMI does not plan to send an organized group to protest.
Goldstein also said that members of AMI weren’t very happy with the choice of Finkelstein as the speaker for the event.
“We are disappointed that SAFE deemed Finkelstein an appropriate choice to be that advocate,” Goldstein said. “He has been academically discredited in the past, openly defends the actions of Hezbollah, an organization recognized by the U.S. and many European countries as a terrorist group, and he is considered incredibly offensive and inflammatory to the Jewish community, regardless of his Jewish descent.”
Goldstein added that she hopes the event’s audience members will not take Finkelstein’s words as fact.
“We hope anyone who attends will acknowledge (Finkelstein’s) extremist beliefs and continue educating themselves further on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before jumping to any conclusions,” Goldstein said.