Former DePaul University of Chicago professor Norman G. Finkelstein has been invited by Provost Harry Hellenbrand to speak at CSUN this week in a three-day speaking event starting today.
Finkelstein will speak on the “Civility and Academic Freedom” at the Oviatt Library for his first lecture at 9:30 a.m.
“Obviously Norman Finkelstein is a controversial figure, to some people, he is disagreeable because of his views on Israel land,” Hellenbrand said in an email. He was at a conference in New Orleans.
Those “some people” are faculty and students of the Jewish studies program and organizations who disagree on many topics Finkelstein has spoken or written about, Hellenbrand said.
“For those who oppose him, having read or heard him, they can ask questions, those who have not heard him before, they can form an opinion,” said Hellenbrand.
Jody Myers, the coordinator of the Jewish studies program, does not oppose Finkelstein in all his views, but does in many other issues, she said.
“We believe our administration should be following its own stated mission and only invite speakers who meet our high level of scholarship and who exercise academic responsibility,” Myers said in an email. Myers was on sabbatical at the time of interview.
The style in which Finkelstein speaks and writes is what concerns Myers, she said. He brings in his personal opinion to his work, said Myers.
“He isn’t a responsible scholar, he doesn’t write or speak respectively,” she said of Finkelstein in a phone interview.
The Jewish studies program keeps politics out of the classroom, Myers said.
“We don’t bring that in the classroom, they’re not paying us for our opinion,” she said.
Finkelstein is not about name-calling and he has taken on the task of exposing the truth, said Amani Ismail, assistant professor in the journalism department.
Ismail will have Finkelstein as a guest speaker in her class.
Finkelstein has been the target of being called a self-hating Jew and a Holocaust denier, though he has never denied the Holocaust, Ismail said. But Finkelstein doesn’t like the idea of having the Holocaust used as an excuse for Israel policy against Palestine, she said.
People have misconstrued his written or verbal work and interpreted it as anti-Semitic, Ismail said.
His parents were Holocaust survivors, Ismail said. During his book tour in Germany he told people attending to not expect his book to be about denying the Nazi-led genocide.
Beth Cohen, Holocaust historian and interim coordinator for the Jewish studies program, said Finkelstein’s work on the Holocaust is not regarded highly by other scholars in the field.
He tends to sensationalize aspects of the Holocaust to bring attention to himself, said Cohen.
“I don’t considered the content of my lectures controversial,” Finkelstein said. “My views are well with mainstream. I am only controversial because I am accurate.”
Finkelstein is not speaking in a classroom but in a public lecture where politics have to come in for all points of views to be heard, he said.
He credits his accuracy by mentioning he has written five books on subjects such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Holocaust and has been invited to debate at the Oxford Union twice.
In his three-day lectures, he is not speaking about Jewish people or their history, he said. Instead, he will focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the civility of academic freedom.
If Jewish people want to protest his lectures, that is their right, he said.
What he doesn’t agree with is when there is a power that wants to silence those they disagree with, he said.
“Don’t take anything in trust, listen closely, take mental notes, and decide for yourself,” Finkelstein said.
If the university policy allows it, she will also be setting up a table with information about the Jewish studies program, Myers said.
Finkelstein’s lectures for Wednesday and Thursday will both be held at the Music Recital Hall. “The Coming Break-up of American Zionism” is from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday and “A Critique on the Walt-Mearsheimer Thesis” is from 12:30 to 2 p.m. on Thursday.