Controversial Professor Loses Battle for Tenure

By Rebecca Spence

Published June 13, 2007, issue of June 15, 2007.
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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.

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