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