Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s Tenure :: Israel, Academic Freedom or Academic Censorship ::

The Honorable Mr. John B. Simon, Chair, Board of Trustees, DePaul University

The Honorable Reverend Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D.

President DePaul University

The Honorable Helmut P. Epp, Provost DePaul University

The Honorable Reverend Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Ph.D.; Secretary of the University

The Honorable Ms. Anne Drennan, President DePaul Alumni Board

Peace Be With You All:

It’s my privilege to write you as honorable officers of DePaul University, a distinguished and esteemed institution of higher learning named after Saint Vincent de Paul, a man whose life was dedicated to teaching, charity, health care to the poor, and the establishment of seminaries with access to all, the rich and poor, hence the university’s Vincentian principle of “access to all”. As you know St. de Paul was captured as a slave by a Turk, however, through his learned intellect and “freedom of expression” he converted his master and found freedom.

It is with this background that academicians from around the world are in utter disbelief that the issue of Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s tenure has become controversial and maybe derailed through politically motivated outside pressure with the inexplicable exception of Dr. Suchar’s letter, a longtime academician well aware of the varied sociological, cultural, and tribal forces that underlie societal politics, especially in this case, as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dr. Finkelstein’s courageous scholarship on the issues of the Holocaust and Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestinians for decades in direct defiance of dozens of U.N. Resolutions, the Geneva Convention, International Laws, violation of dozens of peace agreements and a contemptible record on human rights with the chutzpah to oppose and derail U.S. national interests in the Middle East (see President Jimmy Carter’s book: “Palestine–”Peace or Apartheid) is in actuality a worldwide held belief (59% of Europeans rank Israel as the greatest threat to world peace)[1]; a belief supported by Israeli academicians, politicians, and journalists. On April 16 the respected Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, writing on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, reiterated the fact that despite billions of dollars given to Israeli for Holocaust survivors, over a third of such survivors live in poverty, a fact Dr. Finkelstein writes about given his personal experience with his parents as Holocaust survivors. Scandals and “financial “mismanagement and misappropriation” of Holocaust funds led to the resignation of Rabbi Israel Singer as the Chairman of the World Jewish Congress’s governing board. (New York Sun; Feb. 2, 2006)

That DePaul’s academic integrity and honorable mission to provide students with the intellectual skills to think, analyze, and formulate conclusions based on a thorough understanding of a subject will be severely curtailed if DePaul surrenders its academic freedom to the criticism of a special interest group. Should DePaul falter in its decision to give Dr. Finkelstein tenure due to outside imposition of censorship, other interest groups might demand similar censorship of subjects that impact them.

For a small yet vocal group with easy access to media propaganda and political support to enforce their agenda upon a University can only mean that DePaul’s educational integrity, credibility, mission, and academic freedom will victimize the entire University but especially the parents and students who’ve invested their faith and money in DePaul’s quality education meant to prepare students for a global world of political conflicts and economic competition. Isn’t it enough that our government has already surrendered our foreign policy to the Israel Lobby? Must our Universities be their next victim?

DePaul’s mission statement stands against any pressure or censorship of its academic goals for its student body: “All curricula emphasize skills and attitudes that educate students to be lifelong, independent learners”.

Saint de Paul spent his life spreading the Gospel’s message of salvation based on Jesus’ principle: “Truth will set you free”.

Dr. Finkelstein’s outstanding teaching talent and scholarship provides his students with a balanced overview of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that in small measure counteracts the overwhelming and sustained avalanche of myths and half truths that permeate our national politics, media, and entertainment industry. Since Israel’s founding, this powerful military juggernaut has been represented as the victim in a sea of hostile Arabs despite the fact that it’s repeatedly defeated Arab armies and is the one occupying Arab land. It’s vital that students hear this side of the story to make rational judgments as to the role America plays in the volatile Middle East, otherwise our society will continue to blindly submit to a politically motivated narrative that is rabidly protected by Pro Israel activists whose sole purpose is to deny America its right to a national debate on one of its most failed foreign policy in the region. Given that DePaul University this year will begin offering a course on the Holocaust, and rightly so, (HC 219 The Holocaust and its Implications for the Future) with a required visit to the Washington D.C. Holocaust Museum, it is academically necessary that students be exposed to the other victims of the Holocaust, the Palestinians and their decades long suffering at the hands of Israel, a nation arising from the Holocaust ashes.

The famed historian Arnold Toynbee said: "What is peculiar about the Palestine conflict is that the world has listened to the party that has committed the offense and has turned a deaf ear to the victims.”

Professor Alan Dershowtiz of Harvard is the premier defender of Israel, right or wrong, as evidenced by his book; “The Case for Israel”, when as an American citizen he should be making “The Case for America and the First Amendment”. He and other Pro Israel activists have launched vicious campaigns against university academicians who either teach MidEast Studies or deal with the Israel-Palestinian conflict across the country. Some Universities have reacted courageously and rebuffed such intimidation, others caved in.

Along with Professor Dershowitz, there is David Horowitz, author of “The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America”; and Daniel Pipes whose website (campuswatch.org) encourages students to report any academician suspected of even the slightest criticism of Israel.

Ironically, Professor Dershowtiz holds the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, a Supreme Court Justice who helped found the A.C.L.U. It behooves Mr. Dershowitz to recall Justice Frankfurter’s remarks on freedom of speech.

“Liberty of thought soon shrivels without freedom of expression. Nor can truth be pursued in an atmosphere hostile to the endeavor or under dangers”…..”Freedom of expression is the well-spring of our civilization… The history of civilization is in considerable measure the displacement of error which once held sway as official truth by beliefs which in turn have yielded to other truths. Therefore the liberty of man to search for truth ought not to be fettered, no matter what orthodoxies he may challenge.”

— Justice Felix Frankfurter

In an interview by C.A.M.E.R.A.(Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), a group devoted to monitoring and challenging perceived anti-Israeli news coverage, on March 31, 2005, entitled: “Alan Dershowitz on Free Speech, Academic Freedom and Intimidation”, Professor Dershowitz said of Dr. Finkelstein’s speaking engagements:

“..they (students) should know that what Finkelstein says is almost always going to be a documented lie…. You see that mostly what he says is inventions, made up quotes, made up statements. I’m in the process of preparing a little pamphlet about Finkelstein which I want to see circulated all over campuses in the United States…”The whole Finkelstein-Noam Chomsky-Alex Cockburn attack team has succeeded in intimidating many young professors around the country and around the world. Because if you write a pro-Israel article or book, they will call you a plagiarist…At Harvard, all sides of the issues are presented, generally quite fairly. And, we have professors at Harvard who are prepared to speak out over a wide range of issues” [2]

Contrary to his words, Dershowitz did launch a nationwide smear campaign against Harvard Professor Stephen Walt and Chicago University Professor John Mearsheimer’s scholarly paper entitled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”. Ironically, no one in the U.S. dared publish this paper, hence its publication in London. He and others similarly attacked President Jimmy Carter for his book; “Palestine–”Peace or Apartheid”.

In an interview with “Internet Underground”, Professor Alan Dershowitz had this to say on Free Speech and the Internet.

“..my interest in the Internet grows largely out of the fact that I am a strong advocate of freedom of communications, freedom of speech, freedom of expression….I think, in the end, the best answer to bad speech is good speech. Let’s debate these issues. Let’s have all sides represented. Let’s make sure that liberty beats tyranny in the marketplace of ideas. We ought to be confident enough in our abilities to answer bad speech with good speech, not to demand censorship. Censorship has never succeeded in preventing bigotry”. [3]

Thus it is clear that Professor Dershowitz and Pro-Israel activists have two different standards for Free Speech. To them the First Amendment guaranteeing Free Speech and Assembly applies to all human endeavors, EXCEPT–”when Israel is criticized.

Since Israel’s founding American foreign policy due to domestic pressure has been stained with hypocrisy and double standards. The same could be said of the tactics of Israel’s supporters, both Jewish and Christian activists.

Poll after Poll of college students (18 –” 24 years) reveal the tragic truth that American students have a “limited understanding of the world”. In the 2003 National Geographic-Roper poll, thirty percent of students could not identify the Pacific Ocean on a map and despite the daily news coverage and carnage in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel, about 84% of students could not find them on a map. [4] In 2006, the same poll found that half of young Americans could not find New York on a map. [5]

Our educational system is already in a crisis, we must not compound it by censoring what students can and cannot learn due to unprofessional and unbecoming vicious personal attacks upon the person of Dr. Norman Finkelstein by known protectors of Israel and its rogue policies. The most courageous and vocal critics of America’s foreign policy in the Middle East and of Israel’s brutality against the hapless Palestinians are Jewish American academicians, journalists, and writers.

In the words of the famous Brazilian educationalist, Paulo Freire, who emphasized dialogue and a development of conscientiousness about the world, especially the oppressed.

“Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects.”

Despite the difficulty of identifying the term “civilization”, one common denominator in all its definitions is the paramount importance of “education.”

In conclusion I’d like to again quote Justice Felix Frankfuter’s definition of a “civilized man.”

“The mark of a truly civilized man is confidence in the strength and security derived from the inquiring mind.”

To all alumni, faculty, parents, students, and administrators of the great DePaul University, no Pro-Israel crusaders should push you into adopting an inquisition against Dr. Norman Finkelstein by denying him his most deserved tenure. Throughout human history progress and advancement of the human condition depended on the freedom to speak, write, and challenge the status quo. Where would America be without Thomas Paine’s passionate fire for freedom in “Common Sense”, a pamphlet that saved the American Revolution.

In the end, truth shall reign supreme and all in DePaul University shall be thankful for it.

May your belief in faith, truth, St. DePaul’s courage, our constitution, and your love and dedication to your students and all of DePaul’s illustrious community guide you to do the right thing—–give Dr. Norman Finkelstein what he’s earned and deserves—TENURE.

Peace Be With You All

Mohamed Khodr M.D.

References: [1]. http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/index.cfm/fuseaction/viewItem/itemID/1142 [2]. http://www.camera.org/index.asp? x_context=22&x_article=875 [3]. http://underground-online.troybrophy.com/iu/archive/issue7/onwith7/ [4]. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/geosurvey2002/highlights.html[5]. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/roper2006/findings.html