Norman Finkelstein: Controversy featured at frontpagemag.com

Historians in the News

[Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.]

Academic hiring and promotion processes are mysterious procedures poorly understood by the public. While supposedly designed to ensure quality control and the maintenance of standards of scholarship, in fact they are all too often subordinated to intentional subversion, including when this is done out of political ideology.

The most notorious example in recent days of corruption of the promotion process has been the attempt by radical leftist faculty members at DePaul University to obtain tenure for the pseudo-scholar and Holocaust trivializer Norman Finkelstein. The Finkelstein affair is unusual in that the politicization has been exposed so thoroughly in the media and is now so obvious and explicit. In part, this has been thanks to the fact that Finkelstein himself, or his close followers, have published the supposedly classified secret documents related to his promotion on the web. How can it be that someone like Finkelstein was hired in the first place, especially by an institution with ties to the church and committed to Catholic ethical standards? Ironically, the answer was provided inadvertently by Finkelstein and his followers when they publicized (probably illegally) these key documents related to his tenure bid. These documents show how easy it is for extremists with no scholarly credentials to recruit on their behalf respected academics who share their political agenda.

Finkelstein, the assistant professor in political science at DePaul University best known for his cheerleading the Hizbollah and his endless smearing of Holocaust survivors, has a completely empty record of academic publication. He has never produced a single paper published in a refereed scholarly journal. Instead, he turns out one anti-Semitic book after another, as well as hate screeds for propaganda magazines and web sites. His "books" are published by firms making editorial decisions based on commercial considerations rather than the quality of their scholarship.

Finkelstein's long history of Jew-baiting is by now well known, as is his history of vulgarity and juvenile smear mongering. Finkelstein has proclaimed Holocaust denier David Irving (who insists there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz) a great historian. Finkelstein's personal web site is a collection of bigotries, including death threats and pornographic cartoons, as well as countless smug smears against all Holocaust survivors. Finkelstein's "books" have been dismissed as pseudo-scholarship by nearly every serious historian to review them. He has used his position at DePaul University in Chicago to promote his open celebration of Middle East terrorism. He maintains the most intimate ties with Holocaust Deniers and he is himself considered by the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and many others to be a Holocaust Denier.

It would be hard to find a more illuminating lesson about the dark side of campus hiring and promotion than the Finkelstein affair. From the classified documents that Finkelstein himself has illicitly (and probably illegally) published about his promotion, anyone can see the obvious political forces at work. Finkelstein was hired in the first place because his crude anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism endeared him to academic radicals generally and to those who dominate the political science department at DePaul in particular. Despite the fact that Finkelstein's antics have served to make DePaul into something of an international laughingstock of higher education, the political science department recommended granting Finkelstein tenure by a vote of 9 to 3. Were Finkelstein pro-Israel, he would not have stood a chance of getting tenure with his existing "academic record."

The syllabi of Finkelstein's courses have appeared on the web and they consist of nothing more than one-sided political indoctrination. Naturally, his courses are popular among his students, who just happen to be the radical and jihadi DePaul students, not driven away by his in-classroom harangues. The politically conscripted tenure committee at DePaul lauded his "teaching popularity" on such a basis. Even more amazingly, it cited Finkelstein's frequent anti-Semitic speeches and racist public incitements, including his famous collaborations with the Hizbollah and with neo-Nazi organizations, as valuable "service to the university."

To achieve their goal, his political science comrades saw to it that only two outside "experts" wrote letters of evaluation for Finkelstein's tenure consideration. These two happen to share Finkelstein’s anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agendas. The first was John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, whose tract written with Stephen Walt maintaining that the American media and America’s foreign policy is controlled by a Jewish cabal has made him infamous. His assault on Israel and American Jews has made him a propaganda favorite of radical Islamic groups like CAIR, and he makes no secret either of his antipathy for Israel nor his desire to see America weakened and "deterred."

The second academic reference for Finkelstein was provided by Professor Ian Lustick, of the University of Pennsylvania, who has hosted Finkelstein several times at Penn, is a far leftist, anti-America and unabashedly anti-Israel. He earned some notoriety for his expressing regret that America did not lose more soldiers in the campaign to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan. Lustick likes to describe America's foreign policy as being under the control of a "cabal" (his word); writing in the anti-American, anti-Israel magazine, The Nation, a magazine hostile to America and Israel and sympathetic to radical Islamicists, wrote:

"This campaign for an invasion of Iraq is thus aptly understood as a supply-side war because it is not driven by a particular threat, a particularly accentuated threat or a "demand" for war associated with the struggle against Al Qaeda, but because of the combination of an enormous supply of military power and political capital and the proximity to the highest echelons of the American government of a small cabal long ago committed to just this sort of war."

His deconstruction of terrorism runs like this:

"Lustick dismisses the concept of terrorism as a valid conceptual term. Instead, he embraces what he terms an 'extensive', as opposed to an 'intensive', definition of terrorism that is not bound by any limiting 'conditions'. This, he claims, enables one to classify activities as 'terrorist' if they encompass any violent 'actions and threats' by governmental militaries and even 'tax collectors', as well as insurgents."

Lustick was an instrumental player in getting a pro-Israel professor at Penn, Francisco Gil-White, fired. Gil-White did not benefit from the same mass political conscription on his behalf that Finkelstein enjoys. Lustick is an advocate on behalf of, and evidently sees himself a member of, the "New Historian" group of pseudo-academics who rewrite Middle East history from the Arab point of view. He has close ties the with Michael Lerner, editor of the radical magazine Tikkun, and is active in several anti-Israel leftist groups.

DePaul's recruitment of Lustick and Mearsheimer to "evaluate" Finkelstein's "scholarship" is a bit like asking Hezbollah imam, Hassan Nasrallah, to evaluate Noam Chomsky's service to America.

But Lustick and Mearsheimer have not been the only professors to supply academic support services on behalf of Norman Finkelstein. The moment news came out that the Dean at DePaul was seeking to deny Finkelstein tenure, an outpouring of support for Finkelstein's "scholarship" took place from tenured radicals and academic jihadi. The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) which is boycotting a scholarship program designed to train American students in Arabic to help their country’s defense publicly endorsed Finkelstein's tenure bid. Legions of other political extremists, from DePaul's Palestinian radicals to Professor Peter N. Kirstein who regards America as a terrorist state, to journalist Robert Fisk (who holds identical views), joined in support of Finkelstein’s tenure.

In the midst of the Ward Churchill affair a couple of years back, one of the key questions the media failed to raise was how a charlatan like Churchill could have been hired and promoted at a major university in the first place. After all, his "academic record" was little more than a joke, a collection of shallow anti-American hate propaganda tracts. He was a notorious liar, faking his Indian ethnicity, and had been involved in academic fraud. So how on earth could a serious university have hired him?

These mysteries are explainable only by understanding how academic hiring and promotion take place, and how that process may be subverted and corrupted. This process is largely unknown to the general public and even to students and alumni. In far too many schools, the process is easily subordinated to political agendas. In all cases, the outward appearance of the de jure hiring and promotion procedures work pretty much in a similar manner. The academic records of faculty members are reviewed, evaluations from outside experts are solicited. The publication and teaching records of the candidate are critically examined. Campus promotion committees and other university officials form an opinion and make recommendations.

All very nice, on paper.

The problem is that the system lends itself to easy manipulation, especially by those operating on behalf of a political agenda. Every stage of the faculty evaluation process can be twisted and perverted by those seeking to hire or promote someone out of a sense of personal or political solidarity. This subversion may be the greatest open secret in all of academia. My guess is that in any honest survey of professors, nearly every one could attest to knowing of such cases. The result of this subversion of academic hiring and promotion is that hundreds, and probably thousands, of faculty members with ludicrous and embarrassingly insipid academic records have been hired and tenured by the university system as acts of political and personal solidarity.

Occasionally, university insiders rebel against the attempt to impose upon them politicized hiring decisions, sometimes with the help of outraged alumni. The prospective hiring last year of Juan Cole by Yale University was regarded by many as a done deal until pressures forced the university to take a clear and unbiased look at his real academic record. At the University of Colorado, Interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano recently issued a notice of intent to dismiss Churchill from his faculty position there, defying the massive leftist public campaign on Churchill's behalf. Some other less-publicized rebellions have similarly blocked attempts at politicized hiring and promotion.

Two things are certain. Not a single one of the academics raving about Finkelstein's remarkable "scholarship" would be supporting him if it were not for his hatred of Israel and America -- in short his political credentials as a member in good standing of the academic left.
Read entire article at Steven Plaut at FrontpageMag.com (Note: The original article includes links to the sources cited in the text.)

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

jeff sommers - 8/29/2007

While regrettable, it is not surprising that scholars challenging dominant paradigms serving political exigencies are routinely slandered, usually with a combination of ad hominem attacks and outright falsehoods. Examples abound in Steven Plaut’s hit on Norman Finkelstein. Just to select two for expediency sake, Plaut asserts:

"His 'books' are published by firms making editorial decisions based on commercial considerations rather than the quality of their scholarship.”

In fact, Finkelstein’s books have been published and peer reviewed by the most reputable of academic publishers, such as the University of California Press, despite attempts by Alan Dershowitz, who when he failed to block Finkelstein from being published there, attempted to secure intervention by California’s governor.

Plaut continues:

“Finkelstein's ‘books’ have been dismissed as pseudo-scholarship by nearly every serious historian to review them.” Moreover, he declares: “The moment news came out that the Dean at DePaul was seeking to deny Finkelstein tenure, an outpouring of support for Finkelstein's "scholarship" took place from tenured radicals and academic jihadi.”

Among the serious scholars praising Finkelstein’s work have been the late Raul Hilberg, the father of Holocaust Studies who braved publication of such work when it was impolitic to do so, to Avi Shlaim at Oxford. Hilberg was a life-long Republican and self-professed loyal reader of the Wall Street Journal (hardly a craven leftist—whatever that is), while Shlaim served in the Israel Army. Among the other crazed “jihadi” coming out to support Finkelstein in his tenure denial has been the American Association of University Professors.

While polemics are fine, one would hope in the future that HNN attempt to restrict publication of those that are at least factually accurate and less like unsubstantiated attacks resembling McCarthyism….