- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007


In the home of Norman Finkelstein’s youth, talk about a watchful God was not welcome. His parents survived concentration camps during the Holocaust, but all their relatives died. Their belief in God died with them. As a scholar, when Mr. Finkelstein saw what he considers to be some Jewish groups’ exploitation of the Holocaust for political and financial gain, he thought about his parents and began to call those groups to task.

Mr. Finkelstein resigned last week from his job as a political scientist at DePaul University, months after he was denied tenure at the school where his views and scholarship have come under fire.

“I felt that the memory of my late parents’ suffering was being cheapened by this industry that was reducing their suffering to the moral stature of a Monte Carlo casino,” Mr. Finkelstein said.

By now, what Mr. Finkelstein did is well known throughout academia and beyond, in large part because of whom he challenged.

In 2000, Mr. Finkelstein, a vocal critic of Israel, published “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering.” In the book, he says Jews in Israel and the United States have used the Holocaust to, among other things, extort money from Germany.

Reaction to the book was both loud and angry. It intensified when Mr. Finkelstein took on famed Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.

After the publication of Mr. Dershowitz’s “The Case for Israel,” Mr. Finkelstein got busy on “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.”

“Beyond Chutzpah” combines an attack on Mr. Dershowitz’s book with Mr. Finkelstein’s argument that accusations of anti-Semitism are used as a weapon to stifle criticism of Israel.

Even before the book was published, the two engaged in a bitter war of words. Mr. Dershowitz threatened to sue Mr. Finkelstein’s publisher and urged DePaul not to grant him tenure.

In a statement released jointly by university officials and Mr. Finkelstein announcing his resignation, the school denied that outside parties influenced the decision to deny Mr. Finkelstein tenure. The school’s portion of the statement called Mr. Finkelstein “a prolific scholar and an outstanding teacher.”

“I’m happy he’s out of academia,” Mr. Dershowitz said of the resignation. “Let him do his ranting on street corners.”

Mr. Finkelstein’s regard for the students was clear last week when he heaped praise on them while reading a statement announcing his resignation. On the way to tell students that he was leaving — knowing his views make it almost certain he will never teach college students again — Mr. Finkelstein was asked what he will do now.

He paused for a few seconds before he said, almost in a whisper, “I like to teach.”

Dozens of students showed up to support Mr. Finkelstein and stage a protest outside the college president’s office. “You are a great teacher,” one tearful student told Mr. Finkelstein.

“He was consistently ranked high in student reviews, [and he] received some of the highest marks in the political science department,” said student Thomas Bellino, 22. Mr. Bellino said Mr. Finkelstein was one of his best teachers at DePaul.

Still, Mr. Finkelstein knew his views were putting his job and prospects of tenure at risk. He recalled that a few years ago, he was called into the university president’s office after his writings caused a furor.

“He said, ‘We’ll keep him, but we will take a hit,’ ” Mr. Finkelstein said.

Tenure, Mr. Finkelstein said, was another matter entirely: “I recognize if they had me on campus as a tenured faculty, I would be an albatross for them for 20 years,” he said.

Still, Mr. Finkelstein continued his campaign, something he promised to do as far back as 1995, six years before he came to DePaul, in the dedication he wrote to his parents for his first book: “May I never forget or forgive what was done to you.”

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