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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Visiting speaker rouses ire

    The world is used to hearing about controversy regarding the Middle East. At the UA, there’s controversy over a Middle East scholar visiting campus today.

    Norman Finkelstein, an author and political scientist specializing in the Israel-Palestine conflict, will speak at 7 p.m. in Room S202 of the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering building, despite the Judaic studies department’s refusal to co-sponsor the event.

    Norman Finkelstein
    “”Israel and Palestine: Roots of Conflict, Prospects for Peace””
    7 p.m.
    Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
    building, Room S202

    His talk, “”Israel and Palestine: Roots of Conflict, Prospects for Peace,”” was organized by Voices of Opposition, a campus group committed to presenting the public with information not available in mainstream media.

    Ed Wright, director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, said the department considers how a speaker fits into its academic mission before inviting one to the UA. Department members voted against co-sponsoring Finkelstein during an April 22 faculty meeting, Wright said.

    “”The faculty felt his work was specious, and also at this time in the semester departmental resources are depleted,”” he said, adding that no other academic units on campus signed on as co-sponsors.

    While Voices of Opposition has a mission to show alternatives to mainstream media points of view, that shouldn’t undermine Finkelstein’s credentials and history of scholarly excellence, said president Chris Floess, a German studies senior.

    “”Finkelstein has effectively been silenced by the media, and we think his views are central to understanding all sides of the conflict,”” Floess said.

    Finkelstein grew up in New York and received his doctorate from Princeton University. His parents are Holocaust survivors and he has written numerous articles on Jewish-related issues.

    In June, Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University in light of public outcry over the matter. His department unanimously supported his tenure. Finkelstein resigned in September in a joint statement with DePaul University, convinced that the university had based its decision on outside influences, notably critics who disagree with his views on Israel.

    No outside influences played a role in DePaul’s decision to deny Finkelstein, “”a prolific scholar and outstanding teacher,”” according to the letter.

    Finkelstein’s work is respected in the academic sphere, said Maha Nassar, a UA Near Eastern studies professor.

    “”I think he’s an important scholar who’s contributed a lot to the debates in Palestinian and Israeli historiography,”” she said. “”His positions are discussed within the field and in scholarly journals.””

    Finkelstein’s critics label him as anti-Semitic, as he has written that Israel’s supporters exploit the Holocaust to deflect criticism away from Israel.

    Finkelstein is more of a “”flamethrower”” than a professional historian because he does not read the relevant Hebrew or Arabic, received his doctorate in political science and has not conducted archival research, said David Graizbord, a UA Judaic studies professor.

    “”He appears to me as a polemist, first and foremost,”” Graizbord said. “”His clear emphasis is on rhetoric, not dialectical argument, and he appeals to antipathy and not to reason.””

    In an e-mail sent to Gabriel Schivone, a board member of Voices of Opposition, Wright wrote, “”Finkelstein’s work fails to live up to the best practices or standards of scholarly research and debate,”” adding that the department supports academic freedom and freedom of expression.

    “”That’s confusing because they sponsored Steve Emerson last year and his scholarship is completely fraudulent,”” Schivone said.

    The Judaic studies department sponsored Emerson’s visit to Tucson, along with the Tucson Jewish Community Center, right before finals week in December 2006.

    Academics and media outlets have criticized Emerson for his weighted statements on Islam and the Middle East. The Washington Post deems him a pro-Israel scholar, and The Nation has called him “”a discredited terrorist expert.””

    Several protesters attended Emerson’s lecture, “”The Grand Deception: Militant Islam, the Media and the West,”” and Near Eastern studies professor Scott Lucas was asked to give a last-minute response to the lecture after many academic units questioned whether Emerson could present an objective presentation on the matter.

    “”Anyone who looks at Finkelstein as being one-sided needs to look at how the conflict is presented in the media,”” Floess said. “”Really, the U.S. policy is what is one-sided – they’d never support the Palestinians as allies – so the government is dictating our terms of what is radical and what is one-sided.””

    People should examine Finkelstein’s scholarship for themselves and draw their own conclusions, Nassar said.

    Jeff Enos, a senior majoring in Near Eastern studies, plans to attend the lecture.

    “”Even if I may not agree with him, I think it’s a good way to get both sides of what’s going on (in Palestine and Israel),”” he said.

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