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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Norman Finkelstein: Tenure Denied

The much-discussed Norman Finkelstein case ends dramatically with denial of tenure.

Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors and a Princeton graduate, was denied tenure at DePaul for exposing the exploitation of Jewish suffering. Finkelstein has published several book-length critiques of issues relating to the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Finkelstein discusses, among other things, how prominent spokesmen for the Holocaust have turned the Holocaust into a money-making Industry. Elie Wiesel, a spokesperson for the Holocoast, charges a standard fee of $25,000 for revealing the secrets of the Holocoast, while real survivors such as Finkelstein's mother (a survivor of Majdanek camp and slave labor camps) received only $3,500 in compensation.

Finkelstein posted a letter from Depaul's president Dennis Holtschneider on his website two days ago. The letter alleges that tenure was denied because Finkelstein's scholarship is "deliberately hurtful" and clashes with the work of other scholars.

(Thanks to Matt Bell for the links)

UPDATE: Leiter has published a report covering the case. The petition mentioned by Leiter can be found here. There is also a student petition in support of Finkelstein.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm unclear why Finkelstein is arousing such affections in certain academic circles lately (and, I suppose, I'm unclear why Israel bashing has recently become so fashionable in certain academic circles). For a while I have viewed your blog as a haven from the ranting over at Leiter's, but it now seems to have spilled over here.

This is really disappointing.

In response to your post:

1. You're confident that the reason Finkelstein was denied tenure was for "exposing the exploitation of Jewish suffering"? That is, you've critically examined Finkelstein's complete body of work, and you feel like you're enough of an expert in the subjects it deals with, to say that the reason that he was denied tenure was not shoddy scholarship? You really feel like you have sufficient evidence to assert that Finkelstein "was denied tenure at DePaul for exposing the exploitation of Jewish suffering"? Perhaps your standard for assertion (even in blog posts) is much lower than I thought it was.

2. You cite Elie Wiesel as someone who has "turned the Holocaust into a money-making Industry" -- or, at least, the placement of your mention of Wiesel strongly suggests that you are citing him as one such person. This is a very serious claim. Your language here is odd: you say that Wiesel charges $25,000 "for revealing the secrets of the Holocoast [sic]". This makes it sound like there is certain potentially important information about the Holocaust that Wiesel is charging a great deal of money to disclose, and that our understanding of the Holocaust is somehow impeded by the fact that he is not willing to disclose this information for free. In reality, he's just charging a fee to speak about experiences of his that have now been well-documented in other forms. Do you have any evidence that the $25,000 figure, if true, is AT ALL unreasonable for a speaker of his stature? Do you have any idea what public figures charge to speak? Norman Finkelstein's mother (notice her name is not familiar to any of us) is not a figure of Wiesel's stature. That's why she charges $3,500. Again, you're making a very serious allegation here against someone's character. You're that confident in what you're saying?

3. It seems to me that it's FALSE, or at least quite misleading, to say that the letter from Holtschneider "alleges that tenure was denied because Finkelstein's scholarship is 'deliberately hurtful' and clashes with the work of other scholars". The claim that his work is "deliberately hurtful" is mentioned as ONE reason why he was denied tenure -- and, if true, why should it not have been?

As far as the "clashes with the work of other scholars" bit, where do you find this is in the letter? I can't find any phrase like this in the letter. Are you referring to the claims, in the letter, that Finkelstein is prone to ad hominem attacks on those he disagrees with?

The letter does claim, among other things, that there was "some division of opinion as to the soundness of some of his scholarship", and that comments from the department minority "are critical of the accuracy of some of hte evidence he uses in his scholarship and the cogency of some of his arguments".

You have not accurately represented the letter in question.

4. Why do you cite, toward the beginning of your post, the fact that Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors? How is this at all relevant? Talk about exploiting Jewish suffering. Is his lineage somehow suppose to legitimize his work? Or to immunize him from charges of anti-Semitism?

I worry (in part based on "Thanks to Matt Bell for the links") that much of your information on this topic is second-hand. It would be really sad if you were making attacks on people's character and issuing pronouncements about the hiring processes at other universities based on information that you may have heard at a cocktail party.

Brit Brogaard said...

Thank you for your input.

I am sorry that my post was disappointing to you. I reply below.

1. You're confident that the reason Finkelstein was denied tenure was for "exposing the exploitation of Jewish suffering"? That is, you've critically examined Finkelstein's complete body of work, and you feel like you're enough of an expert in the subjects it deals with, to say that the reason that he was denied tenure was not shoddy scholarship?

No I have not. I thought the case was fairly well-known in academic circles. I have certainly been following it with great interest and some surprise. And left-wing people I trust as well as the stories I cite have made this case forcefully. I don't need to critically examine Finkelson's complete body of work in order to be able to make this claim. If the claim turns out to be false, I will be happy retract it.

I also sometimes say "Goldbach's conjecture has not been proven yet". I say it with confidence because mathematicians I trust claim that this is true. But, for all I know, Goldbach's conjecture has been proven (secretly, or mathematicians are hiding it). If I find out, I will be happy to retract that claim too.

You really feel like you have sufficient evidence to assert that Finkelstein "was denied tenure at DePaul for exposing the exploitation of Jewish suffering"? Perhaps your standard for assertion (even in blog posts) is much lower than I thought it was.

My standards for assertion are certainly lower in blog posts and conversation than in published work. In published work I might not say "Goldbach's conjecture has not been proven yet". I might prefer "according to mathematicians, Goldbach's conjecture has not been proven yet".

Likewise, I might post an unfinished paper as a blog post on my blog. But I would never send a paper known to me to be unfinished to a journal. For me, my blog is, for the most part, a place to try out new (not always very solid) ideas. When I report news I try to be accurate but I feel entitled to express my opinion. That's the difference between a newssource and an ordinary blog.

2. You cite Elie Wiesel as someone who has "turned the Holocaust into a money-making Industry" -- or, at least, the placement of your mention of Wiesel strongly suggests that you are citing him as one such person. This is a very serious claim. Your language here is odd: you say that Wiesel charges $25,000 "for revealing the secrets of the Holocoast [sic]". This makes it sound like there is certain potentially important information about the Holocaust that Wiesel is charging a great deal of money to disclose, and that our understanding of the Holocaust is somehow impeded by the fact that he is not willing to disclose this information for free. In reality, he's just charging a fee to speak about experiences of his that have now been well-documented i n other forms. Do you have any evidence that the $25,000 figure, if true, is AT ALL unreasonable for a speaker of his stature? Do you have any idea what public figures charge to speak?

No, I don't know what people charge. But I think it is unreasonable to charge that much and claim to be revealing secrets. And yes, I have only second-hand information for making this claim, for instance, left-wing blogs.

Norman Finkelstein's mother (notice her name is not familiar to any of us) is not a figure of Wiesel's stature. That's why she charges $3,500. Again, you're making a very serious allegation here against someone's character. You're that confident in what you're saying?

She is not a speaker, she is a survivor, and, as far as I know, she was given $3,500 in compensation from the German government. I think that is a small amount.

3. It seems to me that it's FALSE, or at least quite misleading, to say that the letter from Holtschneider "alleges that tenure was denied because Finkelstein's scholarship is 'deliberately hurtful' and clashes with the work of other scholars". The claim that his work is "deliberately hurtful" is mentioned as ONE reason why he was denied tenure -- and, if true, why should it not have been?

Yes, it was mentioned as one reason, and I mentioned it as one reason. I didn't say it should not have been mentioned as one reason.

As far as the "clashes with the work of other scholars" bit, where do you find this is in the letter? I can't find any phra se like this in the letter. Are you referring to the claims, in the letter, that Finkelstein is prone to ad hominem attacks on those he disagrees with?

Yes, but particularly the passage where it is acknowledged that one has a right to free speech but that Finkelstein's free speech was too free (the last 'that'-clause is my own interpretation). To say that he is making ad hom. attacks is not supported by evidence, as the letter acknowledges (the evidence comes from minority statements from colleagues who opposed him in the tenure-making decision -- most of his colleagues voted to retain him)

4. Why do you cite, toward the beginning of your post, the fact that Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors? How is this at all relevant? Talk about exploiting Jewish suffering. Is his lineage somehow suppose to legitimize his work? Or to immunize him from charges of anti-Semitism?

No, I don't think anyone is immunized from charges of anti-Semitism, but -- to use an analogy -- if you have a black mother or father, you are entitled to use the N-word without being called a "racist". As a white person, I am not so entitled. As a woman, I am entitled to say things about women that men are not entitled to. And by 'am entitled to say' I just mean 'can say without offending the group'. He is part of "the Jewish group", and so can make claims which I am not entitled to make.

I worry (in part based on "Thanks to Matt Bell for the links") that much of your information on this topic is second-hand. It would be really sa d if you were making attacks on people's character and issuing pronouncements about the hiring processes at other universities based on information that you may have heard at a cocktail party.

No, I have not received any of this information at a cocktail party but yes, all my information both in this post and in other posts is second-hand (the only exception being new results in philosophy which I originated or details about my personal life). If I can't use second-hand information, then I cannot write or speak. I received the links from a friend. That's usually how I learn what goes on at blogs, etc. And "informants" deserve credit for sending the links they send. In this electronic era, even news-sources can sometimes be hard to find without the help of others.

Anonymous said...

You're confident that the reason Finkelstein was denied tenure was for "exposing the exploitation of Jewish suffering"? That is, you've critically examined Finkelstein's complete body of work, and you feel like you're enough of an expert in the subjects it deals with, to say that the reason that he was denied tenure was not shoddy scholarship?

No I have not. I thought the case was fairly well-known in academic circles. I have certainly been following it with great interest and some surprise. And left-wing people I trust as well as the stories I cite have made this case forcefully. I don't need to critically examine Finkelson's complete body of work in order to be able to make this claim. If the claim turns out to be false, I will be happy retract it.


Well, the case is clearly fairly "well-known in academic circles", in the sense that people are familiar with the case; but you're suggesting that it's fairly well known that Finkelstein was denied tenure because he exposed the exploitation of Jewish suffering? This isn't well-known in academic circles simply because (as far as I can tell) it isn't widely believed in academic circles.

This may be widely believed in the circle in which you hang out, amongst the "left-wing people" you trust. I'm not sure exactly what "left-wing" means in this context, as I know plenty of generally liberal-minded people who think that Finkelstein is an idiot, and dangerous. If "left-wing" in this context means disposed to like Finkelstein and be critical of Israel, well, ok.

I also sometimes say "Goldbach's conjecture has not been proven yet". I say it with confidence because mathematicians I trust claim that this is true. But, for all I know, Goldbach's conjecture has been proven (secretly, or mathematicians are hiding it). If I find out, I will be happy to retract that claim too.

Clearly my objection here wasn't to the ability of testimony in general to transmit justification or knowledge. It is to the role of a certain kind of testimony in a politically charged case such as this one.

The analogy with Goldbach's is, frankly, absurd. You really believe that the kind of testimonial support that would be sufficient for you to be justified in believing (or know) that Goldbach's conjecture has not been proven yet would also be sufficient for you to be justified in believing (or know) that Finkelstein didn't get tenure because he exposed the exploitation of Jewish suffering?

That is, unlike the case of Goldbach's not being proven yet, you presumably know (or if you don't, now you do) that there is a substantial body of people who don't believe the claim in question. And, moreover, you know that the issue is extremely politically fraught and sensitive.

In this case, it seems to me, the epistemic standards are a bit higher than otherwise. If someone I otherwise trust tells me that Goldbach's has not been proven yet, that's one thing. If someone I otherwise trust tells me that Israel is a ruthless regime that oppresses Palestinians, I should take a step back. Given the controversy surrounding this claim, given its blatantly political nature (whatever that means), more research on my part should be required before I accept it. Even if this person is a friend, who seems to have good intentions. And particularly (and I'm serious here) if this friend of mine happens to be an academic in an unrelated field. We all know how susceptible we are to prevailing fashions of opinion.

Put another way: if those who believe that Finkelstein was denied tenure because he exposed the exploitation of Jewish suffering do so on the basis of the sort of testimony on which most of us believe that Goldbach's conjecture hasn't been proven yet, then that's REALLY SCARY.

2. You cite Elie Wiesel as someone who has "turned the Holocaust into a money-making Industry" -- or, at least, the placement of your mention of Wiesel strongly suggests that you are citing him as one such person. This is a very serious claim. Your language here is odd: you say that Wiesel charges $25,000 "for revealing the secrets of the Holocoast [sic]". This makes it sound like there is certain potentially important information about the Holocaust that Wiesel is charging a great deal of money to disclose, and that our understanding of the Holocaust is somehow impeded by the fact that he is not willing to disclose this information for free. In reality, he's just charging a fee to speak about experiences of his that have now been well-documented in other forms. Do you have any evidence that the $25,000 figure, if true, is AT ALL unreasonable for a speaker of his stature? Do you have any idea what public figures charge to speak?

No, I don't know what people charge. But I think it is unreasonable to charge that much and claim to be revealing secrets. And yes, I have only second-hand information for making this claim, for instance, left-wing blogs.


I don't understand what this talk of "secrets" could possibly mean. Do the audiences at Wiesel's events sign non-disclosure agreements? Or does he reveal a new secret at each successive speaking engagement? What on earth is going on here? The man speaks about his experiences, about which he has written, oh, a couple of books, has been interviewed countless times, etc.

More to the point, do you know what other public figures charge? Bill Clinton apparently got paid $100,000 to speak at UC Davis. Has he "turned the Presidency into a money-making industry"? Yes, these numbers are high. But it's really strange to single out Elie Wiesel for particular censure in this regard. Famous people, of all kinds, get paid a lot of money to speak.

Moreover, do you know anything of Wiesel's philanthropy?

Norman Finkelstein's mother (notice her name is not familiar to any of us) is not a figure of Wiesel's stature. That's why she charges $3,500. Again, you're making a very serious allegation here against someone's character. You're that confident in what you're saying?

She is not a speaker, she is a survivor, and, as far as I know, she was given $3,500 in compensation from the German government. I think that is a small amount


OK, I do too, I guess, but how is this relevant to the claim that Elie Wiesel has turned the Holocaust into a money-making industry?

3. It seems to me that it's FALSE, or at least quite misleading, to say that the letter from Holtschneider "alleges that tenure was denied because Finkelstein's scholarship is 'deliberately hurtful' and clashes with the work of other scholars". The claim that his work is "deliberately hurtful" is mentioned as ONE reason why he was denied tenure -- and, if true, why should it not have been?

Yes, it was mentioned as one reason, and I mentioned it as one reason. I didn't say it should not have been mentioned as one reason.


It is pretty clearly suggested, given the surrounding context of this remark, that you are citing what you feel to be inappropriate reasons for Finkelstein's denial of tenure. Moreover, if publishing "deliberately hurtful" material was even among the reasons why he was denied tenure, it is at best highly misleading to say that he was denied tenure "for exposing the exploitation of Jewish suffering".

As far as the "clashes with the work of other scholars" bit, where do you find this is in the letter? I can't find any phrase like this in the letter. Are you referring to the claims, in the letter, that Finkelstein is prone to ad hominem attacks on those he disagrees with?

Yes, but particularly the passage where it is acknowledged that one has a right to free speech but that Finkelstein's free speech was too free (the last 'that'-clause is my own interpretation). To say that he is making ad hom. attacks is not supported by evidence, as the letter acknowledges (the evidence comes from minority statements from colleagues who opposed him in the tenure-making decision -- most of his colleagues voted to retain him)


You're confusing two distinct parts of the letter. The "evidence...from minority statements from colleagues who opposed" Finkelstein's tenure were about his shoddy scholarship. The letter says "reviewers at all levels, both for and against tenure, commented upon your ad hominem attacks on scholars with whom you disagree."

4. Why do you cite, toward the beginning of your post, the fact that Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors? How is this at all relevant? Talk about exploiting Jewish suffering. Is his lineage somehow suppose to legitimize his work? Or to immunize him from charges of anti-Semitism?

No, I don't think anyone is immunized from charges of anti-Semitism, but -- to use an analogy -- if you have a black mother or father, you are entitled to use the N-word without being called a "racist". As a white person, I am not so entitled. As a woman, I am entitled to say things about women that men are not entitled to. And by 'am entitled to say' I just mean 'can say without offending the group'. He is part of "the Jewish group", and so can make claims which I am not entitled to make.


If "am entitled to say" just means "can say without offending the group", it's simply empirically false that Finkelstein "is entitled to say" what he says. Witness, for example, the Anti-Defamation League's response to Finkelstein.

If a more normative construal of "is entitled to say" is opted for, I still disagree, i.e., I disagree that Finkelstein's being Jewish gives him special rights to say things that others don't have.

And presumably you believe the normative claim too. For given that you believe the empirical claim, if you didn't believe the normative claim, citing Finkelstein's Holocaust-surviving parents would, as a matter of fact, give Finkelstein a kind of protection from criticism among Jews, or descendants of Holocaust-survivors, that by your lights he doesn't deserve.

Brit Brogaard said...

You're confident that the reason Finkelstein was denied tenure was for "exposing the exploitation of Jewish suffering"? That is, you've critically examined Finkelstein's complete body of work, and you feel like you're enough of an expert in the subjects it deals with, to say that the reason that he was denied tenure was not shoddy scholarship?

No I have not. I thought the case was fairly well-known in academic circles. I have certainly been following it with great interest and some surprise. And left-wing people I trust as well as the stories I cite have made this case forcefully. I don't need to critically examine Finkelson's complete body of work in order to be able to make this claim. If the claim turns out to be false, I will be happy retract it.

Well, the case is clearly fairly "well-known in academic circles", in the sense that people are familiar with the case; but you're suggesting that it's fairly well known that Finkelstein was denied tenure because he exposed the exploitation of Jewish suffering? This isn't well-known in academic circles simply because (as far as I can tell) it isn't widely believed in academic circles.

This may be widely believed in the circle in which you hang out, amongst the "left-wing people" you trust. I'm not sure exactly what "left-wing" means in this context, as I know plenty of generally liberal-minded people who think that Finkelstein is an idiot, and dangerous. If "left-wing" in this context means disposed to like Finkelstein and be critical of Israel, well, ok.


No, I was not intending to suggest that it is fairly well-known that Finkelstein was denied tenure because he exposed the exploitation of Jewish suffering. Knowledge requires belief. Whether or not it is fairly well-known will depend on how we define 'fairly' and whether the claim is true and justified.

But my intentions were not as you suggest. I intended to offer support for my further claim that I am entitled to make this claim without completing a critical examination of Finkelstein's complete body of works.

I also sometimes say "Goldbach's conjecture has not been proven yet". I say it with confidence because mathematicians I trust claim that this is true. But, for all I know, Goldbach's con jecture has been proven (secretly, or mathematicians are hiding it). If I find out, I will be happy to retract that claim too.

Clearly my objection here wasn't to the ability of testimony in general to transmit justification or knowledge. It is to the role of a certain kind of testimony in a politically charged case such as this one.

The analogy with Goldbach's is, frankly, absurd. You really believe that the kind of testimonial support that would be sufficient for you to be justified in believing (or know) that Goldbach's conjecture has not been proven yet would also be sufficient for you to be justified in believing (or know) that Finkelstein didn't get tenure because he exposed the exploitation of Jewish suffering?


No, that's why it is an analogy. But I do believe I had sufficient information and evidence to make the assertion on a personal blog at the time at which I made it.

Of course, you now raise the standards for assertion by bringing up the possibility that Finkelstein is guilty as charged. So, right now I would not feel confident enough to make the assertion, even though I still believe it is true.

That is, unlike the case of Goldbach's not being proven yet, you presumably know (or if you don't, now you do) that there is a substantial body of people who don't believe the claim in question. And, moreove r, you know that the issue is extremely politically fraught and sensitive.

The sheer fact that a substantial body of people don't believe the claim does not move me. A substantial body of people believed Bush when he told them why he went into Iraq. A substantial body of people believe abortion is wrong under any circumstances. A substantial body of people believe 4-5 days old test-tube embryos have the moral status of 3-year old children.

In this case, it seems to me, the epistemic standards are a bit higher than otherwise. If someone I otherwise trust tells me that Goldbach's has not been proven yet, that's one thing. If someone I otherwise trust tells me that Israel is a ruthless regime that oppresses Palestinians, I should take a step back. Given the controversy surrounding this claim, given its blatantly political nature (whatever that means), more research on my part should be required before I accept it. Even if this person is a friend, who seems to have good intentions. And particularly (and I'm serious here) if this friend of mine happens to be an academic in an unrelated field. We all know how susceptible we are to prevailing fashions of opinion.

I am not certain I should take a step back. I went to anti-war demonstrations before it was proven that Iraq did not have any weapons of mass destruction. These anti-war demonstrations were among the things that helped to reveal that the Bush administration lied.

Put another way: if those who believe that Finkelstein was denied tenure because he exposed the exploitation of Jewish suffering do so on the basis of the sort of testimony on which most of us believe that Goldbach's conjecture hasn't been proven yet, then that's REALLY SCARY.

I have already addressed your concern, but let me add this. Different kinds of discourse require differents kinds of justification. "exploitation of Jewish suffering" probably means "exploitation of the Holocaust". "to exploit" means "to take advantage of" or "to use to one's advantage" . I don't think the claim "Finkelstein exposed the exploitation of Jewish suffering" is as strong as you make it out to be. Whether or not it is true that Finkelstein was denied tenure on the basis of this partially depends on whether the claim "Finkelstein exposed the exploitation of Jewish suffering" is true.

2. You cite Elie Wiesel as someone who has "turned the Holocaust into a money-making Industry" -- or, at least, the placement of your mention of Wiesel strongly suggests that you are citing him as one such person. This is a very serious claim. Your language here is odd: you say that Wiesel charges $25,000 "for revealing the secrets of the Holocoast [sic]". This makes it sound like there is certain potentially important information about the Holocaust that Wiesel is charging a great deal of money to disclose, and that our understanding of the Holocaust is somehow impeded by the fact that he is not willing to disclose this information for free. In reality, he's just charging a fee to speak about experiences of his that have now been well-documented in other forms. Do you have any evidence that the $25,000 figure, if true, is AT ALL unreasona ble for a speaker of his stature? Do you have any idea what public figures charge to speak?

No, I don't know what people charge. But I think it is unreasonable to charge that much and claim to be revealing secrets. And yes, I have only second-hand information for making this claim, for instance, left-wing blogs.

I don't understand what this talk of "secrets" could possibly mean. Do the audiences at Wiesel's events sign non-disclosure agreements? Or does he reveal a new secret at each successive speaking engagement? What on earth is going on here? The man speaks about his experiences, about which he has written, oh, a couple of books, has been interviewed countless times, etc.

"secret" is a rather innocent word. It means "not revealed information" or "information kept private" or "not public information". If you reveal a secret to me, I don't need to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

More to the point, do you know what other public figures charge? Bill Clinton apparently got paid $100,000 to speak at UC Davis. Has he "turned the Presidency into a money-making industry"? Yes, these numbers are high. But it's really strange to single out Elie Wiesel for particular censure in this regard. Famous people, of all kinds, get paid a lot of money to speak.

Elie Wiesel came to mind when I wrote the post. I did not intend to single him out.

If Bill Clinton charged $100,000 to speak at UC Davis, then I find that offensive too. Tuition and fees are high enough already. I hope he donated the money to charity.

Moreover, do you know anything of Wiesel's philanthropy?

Yes, I do.

Norman Finkelstein's mother (notice her name is not familiar to any of us) is not a figure of Wiesel's stature. That's why she charges $3,500. Again, you're making a very serious allegation here against someone's character. You're that confident in what you're saying?

She is not a speaker, she is a survivor, and, as far as I know, she was given $3,500 in compensation from the German government. I think that is a small amount

OK, I do too, I guess, but how is this relevant to the claim that Elie Wiesel has turned the Holocaust into a money-making industry?

I did not make that claim. I made the claim that "Finkelstein discusses how "prominent spokesmen have done so". I don't know whether "s discusses p" is factive. "Finkelstein said that" certainly isn't. Be that as it may. Wiesel has not turned the Holocaust into a money-making industry. No one person can do that.

3. It seems to me that it's FALSE, or at least quite misleading, to say that the letter from Holtschneider "alleges that tenure was denied because Finkelstein's scholarship is 'deliberately hurtful' and clashes with the work of other scholars". The claim that his work is "deliberately hurtful" is mentioned as ONE reason why he was denied tenure -- and, if true, why should it not have been?

Yes, it was mentioned as one reason, and I mentioned it as one reason. I didn't say it should not have been mentioned as one reason.

It is pretty clearly suggested, given the surrounding context of this remark, that you are citing what you feel to be inappropriate reasons for Finkelstein's denial of tenure. Moreover, if publishing "deliberately hurtful" material was even among the reasons why he was denied tenure, it is at best highly misleading to say that he was denied tenure "for exposing the exploitation of Jewish suffering".

No, that particular claim stands on its own. It may have suggested that I think it is an inappropriate reason. And yes, I do think that it is. Even if it were true that Finkelstein had deliberately hurt others, I am not sure that would be a reason for denying tenure. If you hurt someone on a blog, should you be denied tenure? In normal cases, the answer is clearly "No".

Sure, if your work is not good enough, then you should be denied tenure. And if you physically hurt someone, you should be denied tenure. And if you psychologically damage someone, you should be denied tenure ('damage' is here meant to be stronger than 'hurt').

As far as the "clashes with the work of other scholars" bit, where do you find this is in the letter? I can't find any phrase like this in the letter. Are you referring to the claims, in the letter, that Finkelstei n is prone to ad hominem attacks on those he disagrees with?

Yes, but particularly the passage where it is acknowledged that one has a right to free speech but that Finkelstein's free speech was too free (the last 'that'-clause is my own interpretation). To say that he is making ad hom. attacks is not supported by evidence, as the letter acknowledges (the evidence comes from minority statements from colleagues who opposed him in the tenure-making decision -- most of his colleagues voted to retain him)

You're confusing two distinct parts of the letter. The "evidence...from minority statements from colleagues who opposed" Finkelstein's tenure were about his shoddy scholarship. The letter says "reviewers at all levels, both for and against tenure, commented upon your ad hominem attacks on scholars with whom you disagree."

No, I am discussing two parts of the letter.

4. Why do you cite, toward the beginning of your post, the fact that Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors? How is this at all relevant? Talk about exploiting Jewish suffering. Is his lineage somehow suppose to legitimize his work? Or to immunize him from charges of anti-Semitism?

No, I don't think anyone is immunized from charges of anti-Semitism, but -- to use an analogy -- if you have a black mother or father, you are entitled to use the N-word without being called a "racist". As a white person, I am not so entitled. As a woman, I am entitled to say things about women that men are not entitled to. And by 'am entitled to say' I just mean 'can say without offending the group'. He is part of "the Jewish group", and so can make claims which I am not entitled to make.

If "am entitled to say" just means "can say without offending the group", it's simply empirically false that Finkelstein "is entitled to say" what he says. Witness, for example, the Anti-Defamation League's response to Finkelstein.

If a more normative construal of "is entitled to say " is opted for, I still disagree, i.e., I disagree that Finkelstein's being Jewish gives him special rights to say things that others don't have.

And presumably you believe the normative claim too. For given that you believe the empirical claim, if you didn't believe the normative claim, citing Finkelstein's Holocaust-surviving parents would, as a matter of fact, give Finkelstein a kind of protection from criticism among Jews, or descendants of Holocaust-survivors, that by your lights he doesn't deserve.


Point granted. I do believe a normative claim, viz. the claim that Finkelstein's being Jewish gives him special rights to say things non-Jews don't have. But I do not endorse the stronger claim, viz. the claim that he can say anything he wants on this basis.