Sunday, June 10

DePaul denies tenure for controversial professor


For a man who has just lost his job after a highly public battle, DePaul University assistant political science Professor Norman Finkelstein is calm and accepting.

That's because Finkelstein, whose tenure bid drew widespread interest because of the Jewish professor's blunt criticism of Jews and the state of Israel -- and the attack on those views waged by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz -- stands firmly on the beliefs that may have got him fired.

"There is a song by the folk singer Keith Seeger, 'Die Gedanken sind frei,'" the controversial academic reflected in a rare interview with the Sun-Times.

"That means, 'thoughts are free.' No one can deny that 'die gedanken sind frei.' They can deny me tenure, deny me the right to teach. But they will never stop me from saying what I believe."

What Finkelstein -- the son of Holocaust survivors -- believes is that his people are culpable in the plight of the Palestinians. He drew wrath from prominent Jewish leaders when he accused some of exploiting Jewish suffering to block criticism of Israel, and made other enemies when he accused some survivors of conducting a "shakedown" to get payments from Germany.

Dershowitz, author of The Case for Israel, called Finkelstein's writings full of distortions about Jews in general and himself in particular, and was one of many weighing in on a normally closed-door process. He implored DePaul to reject Finkelstein's tenure.

A debate over Finkelstein had raged among students and faculty, including universities nationwide and internationally.

"Over the past several months, there has been considerable outside interest and public debate concerning this decision," DePaul's president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, said Friday.

"This attention was unwelcome and inappropriate and had no impact on either the process or the outcome of this case."

DePaul said the political science department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recommended tenure for Finkelstein, but the college's dean and the University Board on Promotion and Tenure recommended against it and were upheld by Holtschneider.

"I would be disingenuous if I said I were not disappointed," Finkelstein said.

"On the other hand, both of my parents survived the Nazi death camps. Growing up, what I remembered most was my late mother used to say, 'Some people are beasts, and there's nothing to be done with them. But what about the silence of everyone else? That I cannot understand.' Those were thoughts that left a deep mark on me."

Finkelstein has a year left at DePaul. "I met the standards of tenure DePaul required, but it wasn't enough to overcome the political opposition to my speaking out on the Israel-Palestine conflict," he said.

"As it happens, I was just this past week teaching about Paul Robeson in my political science class. When Robeson was crucified for his beliefs, he said, 'I will not retreat one-thousandth part of one inch.' That's what I say to the thugs and hoodlums who are trying to silence me. They don't want to talk about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. So they make Norman Finkelstein the issue."

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