Clark Hillel statement on Finkelstein

Jewish student group Clark Hillel weighs in:

While we believe CUSPR has a right to invite Finkelstein to speak, we believe that at least some of Finkelstein’s written views are repugnant and unconstructive and that his presentation at Clark would most likely serve to further divide the campus by promoting a rejectionist view that seeks to establish the rights of one group by denying the same rights to another group. Finkelstein has argued that there is no legitimate right to a nation with a majority Jewish population. He has also claimed that Jews, Jewish organizations, and Israel exaggerate the horrors of the Holocaust and use the Holocaust to deflect or block criticism. We believe that these are not views that can help us start a constructive conversation about the role that Clarkies can play in contributing to a peaceful and just resolution to this ongoing and tragic conflict.

Full statement after the break:

I am Yonatan Melamed and I am the student President of Clark Hillel. This statement is presented on behalf of our Executive Board. We are writing about the controversy surrounding Norman Finkelstein and President Bassett’s decision to postpone his scheduled lecture here at Clark. The views and actions of Clark Hillel have been misstated and distorted in recent media reports and in some conversations within the Clark community. We are writing to clarify our position and involvement, to explain who we are and what we have done and said in our own words. We hope you will take a few minutes to hear our side in this controversial story.

Clark Hillel is the student group that celebrates Jewish culture, identity, pluralism, and community. As part of our mission, we are proud to be a Zionist organization. By this we mean that we believe that the Jewish people, like other peoples, have a right to national self-determination, in this case as manifested in the modern and democratic state of Israel.

The position of the Clark Hillel Executive Board is that Finkelstein’s writings and past statements make him an unfortunate and unhelpful choice for a campus speaker. That said, we believe that students have a right to invite him to speak and that his speaking on campus should not be prohibited. We also believe that President Bassett has made a sound and well reasoned decision in the interests of the university and its programs by postponing, not censoring or banning, Finkelstein’s appearance.

We believe that Finkelstein’s selection as a speaker by Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights (CUSPR) is a reflection of that organization’s judgment and values, just as the speakers that we invite to campus are a reflection of ours. Clark Hillel as an organization support human and political rights for both the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab peoples. We believe that the only viable current path to peace and the achievement of these rights for both of these people is a two state solution, a territorial compromise in which Palestine and Israel live side by side with internationally recognized borders, at peace with their neighbors.

It is definitely a reflection of our values as an organization that, during at least the almost twelve years in which David Coyne has served as our advisor, we have never once hosted a speaker who has claimed during his or her talk or in response to questions after the talk that the Palestinian people are not entitled to human rights or political rights including the right to national self determination, even when such a speaker was offered to us at no cost. Finkelstein has historically presented anti-Zionist views, views that would deny to the Jewish people the very rights he so vociferously defends for the Palestinian people. We regret that our colleagues at CUSPR do not see that as problematic.

A few weeks ago we met privately, at our initiative, with CUSPR’s representatives and explained that we were upset with their choice of Finkelstein as a speaker, not because of his criticism of Israel but because of his anti-Zionist views and his writings about the Holocaust. We told them, while we believe they have the right to choose a speaker, that this particular choice would have a negative impact on our relationship with them and would severely harm our ability to work together going forward. They chose to continue to pursue and promote this program, as is their right, choosing Finkelstein’s talk as more important to their mission than a good working collaborative relationship with Clark Hillel.

At that meeting we said that we would not try to prevent Finkelstein from speaking at Clark and we have kept our word. No authorized representative of Clark Hillel has asked the University to prevent him from speaking or even to postpone his talk, and no authorized representative of Clark Hillel was in contact with President Bassett at all prior to the announcement of his decision to postpone Finkelstein’s engagement. We also did not approach any funding source for the program to discourage their support. We were asked by Speakers Forum to send representatives to a meeting to explain our concerns and we accepted that invitation. Our representatives did not urge Speakers Forum to withhold funding but explained why we believed that Finkelstein’s voice is harmful and divisive. Ultimately Speakers Forum decided to support the program, as is its right.

Originally Finkelstein had been slated to speak on Tuesday, April 21, at the end of the day on which Jews around the world commemorate the Holocaust and remember its victims. We thought that was particularly unfortunate timing. CUSPR, to its credit, upon learning about that conflict, sought to change the date. Unfortunately, the new date created a direct conflict with a talk by Yehuda Bauer, Director of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem, one of the world’s leading experts on the history of the Holocaust. Bauer is scheduled to speak at Clark as the opening talk of an international conference hosted by Clark’s Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The conference has been planned for over a year.

Let us be clear. While we believe CUSPR has a right to invite Finkelstein to speak, we believe that at least some of Finkelstein’s written views are repugnant and unconstructive and that his presentation at Clark would most likely serve to further divide the campus by promoting a rejectionist view that seeks to establish the rights of one group by denying the same rights to another group. Finkelstein has argued that there is no legitimate right to a nation with a majority Jewish population. He has also claimed that Jews, Jewish organizations, and Israel exaggerate the horrors of the Holocaust and use the Holocaust to deflect or block criticism. We believe that these are not views that can help us start a constructive conversation about the role that Clarkies can play in contributing to a peaceful and just resolution to this ongoing and tragic conflict.

While we would much prefer that Finkelstein not speak at Clark, we do not believe that he should be banned. In fact, we believe that a debate about free speech distracts from the real issue. CUSPR has a right to invite him. We hope that in the near term future our fellow Clark students in CUSPR will join with us to build the movement for a third way, a movement that would seek to displace and marginalize the rejectionists in both camps. President Bassett’s decision to postpone Finkelstein’s talk will give everyone a chance to take a deep breath and rethink their choices and their postures. We hope that our colleagues at CUSPR will use that time to rethink the centrality to their mission of Finkelstein and his views.

Clark Hillel Executive Board

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Clark Hillel statement on Finkelstein

  1. Chris Caesar

    Finkelstein has never said the Holocaust has been “exaggerated”. Evidence or retraction — why does that phrase keep coming up with Clark Hillel?

  2. Kate

    Agreed, Chris. Clark Hillel — can you please provide some evidence? I also find it hard to believe that such a strategic and carefully worded statement is intended to do anything but muster sympathy and good publicity for Clark Hillel on the backs of CUSPR. How does this start a conversation for intercampus groups?

  3. anonymous

    I think we need to take a step back and question why it is that some of us are attaching ourselves to people like Norman Finkelstein who only drive people to the extremeties rather than seeking common solutions. He and Alan Dershowitz deserve each other for their smugness and arrogance. Israelis, and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims need to steer clear of these types of divisive figures if we hope to bring an end to the suffering. I for one have had enough of the divisiveness of the last 8 years by the Bush Adminstration who paint everything black and white. People worshiping Norman Finkelstein like a false idol and trying to create controversy out of this care not about the suffering of a Palestinian who has just had their house demolished, or the Israeli killed by a Qassam but of proving themselves right by any means necessary to run their enemies down. Those who truly care about Israeli and Palestinian souls and understand the pain so many people are suffering must leave beside people like Finkelstein, Dershowitz and Daniel Pipes and move to people who are working constructively for solutions and who understand that the basic needs of Israelis and Palestinians must be met if peace is to be developed. Let us use the light of Northern Ireland to guide us in the direction where Protestant and Catholic came together in mass a few weeks ago to say ENOUGH to those who committed violent acts and where the people are united to live peacefully together.

  4. Lee

    I agree with the last two posts, but let me guess at what this might be about. There is a big difference between saying that the holocaust was “exaggerated” and saying that the holocaust is treated as being different from other genocides when it shouldn’t be. That is to say, we shouldn’t argue that some genocides are worse than others, or that some people’s lives are worth more than others. If what I just said is what Finkelstein has also said, than he is correct, and it is the exact opposite of supporting racism.

    As for Zionism, I think Finkelstein supports a two state solution at the same time that he opposes Zionism. It is easy to object to the founding of Israel on the grounds that the land was taken from the Palestinians, and to support a two state solution in the present day. Also, not everyone agrees that national self-determination is an inherent right. This would be a disagreement on principle, not an issue of ethnic discrimination.

    We’re talking about banning free speech because every argument Zionists object to is being equated with racism, and because according to Hillel, being “disagreeable” is a grounds for banning free speech. Of course, if the latter were true, that defeats the whole purpose of free speech.

  5. Lee Stone

    I seem to have forgotten that just because there were two posts while I was writing doesn’t mean that there will be when my comment shows up. Anyway, I agreed with the first two posts. In response to anonymous and this piece and everyone who thinks “divisiveness” is the issue, I think we need to examine what these terms mean. The idea is to speak the truth, if people are offended by that, or don’t like it, that is their problem. We cannot have debate if we can only say what others want to hear. People like Dershowitz who disregard Palestinian rights are wrong for that reason specifically, not because their ideas are “extreme.”

  6. max1284

    Lee–
    I think you’re missing key facts. Sometimes, the truth is divisive–it divides people into two groups, those that reserve special rights for their own national group and those that think all national groups deserve the same rights and the same respect.
    I also think you’re missing the notion that vague liberal notions like “the truth,” and “free speech” are in themselves anti-Semitic. What’s my evidence for this? Alan Dershowitz says so.

    More seriously, “anonymous,” your pairing of the Israeli killed by the Qassam and the Palestinian who has had their house demolished is eloquent testimony to your racist, tribal world-view. Why should that nice little dyad be the unit of comparison? Why not the 100 Palestinians killed during Israel’s aggression in Gaza in January for every 1 Israeli soldier killed? Does it not follow that Palestinians deserve 100x the sympathy (at least) if we are to semi-accurately portray their suffering? It does, except if we share the tacit assumption that Palestinians are Arabs, and they can go to hell, and their lives aren’t worth the UNRWA aid that keeps them alive.

    Finkelstein isn’t “controversial,” or “arrogant.” He makes people uncomfortable, because the truth is uncomfortable when you’ve been marinated in ideology, and seasoned by fairy-tales for most of your life, as has been the case with many American Zionists. A first step would be decolonizing your mind, and trying to expand your definition of humanity to something a little more capacious than “my people.”

    Jewbonics

  7. kim

    the only thing divisive about
    is that he separates truth from lies
    and some people don’t like that.
    To call Finkelstein a “rejectionist” because he
    dispels the zionist lie is , nonsense.
    Finkelstein should be part of this
    Holocaust assembly to put a true face
    on the zionist agenda.

  8. CalTeich

    Max1284-
    “Finkelstein isn’t “controversial,” or “arrogant.” He makes people uncomfortable, because the truth is uncomfortable when you’ve been marinated in ideology, and seasoned by fairy-tales for most of your life, as has been the case with many American Zionists. A first step would be decolonizing your mind, and trying to expand your definition of humanity to something a little more capacious than “my people.”
    You are so incorrect, this man Mr. Finkelstein is not speaking truth, his ‘history’ of Israel lacks a great deal of research, and denies most of the reality of Israel’s existence long before 1947-48. Israel was a nation for almost 1500 years, and have had many rulers, and the Bible’s account has been proved as ‘historically correct’. Actually the Gaza, West Bank, and ALL of Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people, why, it was a promise given to Abraham, and that promise was fulfilled when Moses guided this group of people to the”promised land”. Israel was made up of 12 tribes, then King David fought and claimed more of the territory that was promised to them, and that would include parts of Jordan, actually right up to the Euphrates River. Why should a people not receive their land back when when countless of other kingdoms stole it from them! Where would that be acceptable any where else in the World? It would not be acceptable, but when it comes to the Jewish people getting their land back, it’s does not count? What type of double standard game are you playing? That is not truth, that is ‘denial’ of truth and justice. Please I saw Mr. Finkelstein in person and viewed his documentary at Concordia University in Montreal, and I’m telling you the man just screams and carries on with a rampage filled with hate, and anger. The man did not present any proof of true Israel history, not one, he hates Jews and encourages the Arabs in Lebanon to support the Hezbollah, for he stated “the Hezbollah is their only hope”, and the Hezbollah is set on wiping out the whole Jewish race due to their “Islamic teachings” period!
    Seek the real truth, find out for yourself before you back a man who is closer to Hitler’s ideology, and spewing forth lies just as Hitler did. Mr. Finkelstein has deep personal issues and this is the way he is dealing with them, not based on Truth, and Justice, but anger, hatred, and bitterness.
    Thank you for the opportunity to express myself.

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