Controversial Professor Loses Battle for Tenure

By Rebecca Spence

Published June 13, 2007, issue of June 15, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

A controversial Jewish professor who claims that Israel and Jewish organizations have exploited the Holocaust for political and financial gain was denied tenure at DePaul University following a long-simmering feud that played out in the pages of the national media.

Norman Finkelstein, an assistant professor of political science who makes regular appearances on American campuses decrying Israel’s human rights record, lost his battle for tenure this week when the president of the nation’s largest Catholic university, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, accepted the “no” vote of the institution’s promotion and tenure board. The decision comes after a widely publicized battle between Finkelstein and Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School professor and vociferous defender of the Jewish state, and after a raft of petitions — both for and against Finkelstein’s tenure — circulated around the country.

Finkelstein, who has taught at DePaul since 2001, maintains that the Chicago-based university succumbed to political pressure after Dershowitz and Jewish groups made their views on him known.

“Had I been judged strictly according to the criteria of tenure, I would have sailed through the process,” Finkelstein said in an interview. “But I simply was not able to summon up the kind of political force that was required to overturn the political pressures inflicted on this university.”

Finkelstein also said that the university made a “rational” decision from its point of view, given its fear that if he became a permanent faculty member, his activities might hurt the school’s fundraising ability.

The university, however, vigorously denied that external pressure or financial considerations played any role in its decision. “The president felt that at every level of the review, they all stuck to the facts,” said Denise Mattson, a spokeswoman for the school, referring to the faculty members who reviewed Finkelstein’s application for tenure. “The outside influence had no influence on either the process or the final outcome,” she said.

Mattson also described the unsolicited input from those on both sides of the debate as “unwelcome and inappropriate.”

In the lead-up to the decision, petitions with thousands of signatures from concerned college students and faculty were delivered to DePaul in an effort to sway the school’s verdict. StandWithUs, a pro-Israel activist group, gathered 8,131 signatures for its petition to deny the 53-year-old professor tenure. Another well-circulated petition, in support of tenure for Finkelstein, collected 5,273 signatures.

Finkelstein, a Brooklyn native who previously taught at New York University, has raised the ire of mainstream Jewish leaders who look askance at his scholarship and viewpoint. Finkelstein’s 2000 book, “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering,” characterized the Swiss banks settlement, which garnered $1.25 billion for Holocaust survivors, as the work of Jewish “hucksters” out to make a buck. Finkelstein has argued that Israel inappropriately invokes the Holocaust as a moral defense for mistreating Palestinians.

Finkelstein also has launched attacks on Dershowitz, accusing him of plagiarism. The DePaul professor essentially devoted an entire book, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History,” to poking holes in Dershowitz’s pro-Israel tome, “The Case for Israel.”

In recent months, articles and opinion pieces about the nasty imbroglio between Dershowitz and Finkelstein have appeared in the pages of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. Dershowitz himself penned a May 4 opinion piece in the Journal, titled “Finkelstein’s Bigotry,” which concluded: “But for the time being, the question remains: Will his bigotry receive the imprimatur of the largest Catholic university in America?”

In an interview, Dershowitz denied having waged a campaign against Finkelstein’s tenure, despite a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education to that effect. Dershowitz said that Finkelstein had manufactured the public fight so as to deflect attention from the fact that he has not published anything in a peer-reviewed journal.

“He’s responsible for himself not getting tenure, because his whole body of work consists of ad hominem attacks on his ideological enemies,” Dershowitz said.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.