Finkelstein giving a talk at Suffolk University in 2005
|Born||December 8, 1953|
|Education||Binghamton University (B.A.)
Princeton University (M.A.)
Princeton University (Ph.D.)
|Influenced by||Mohandas Gandhi, Noam Chomsky, John Stuart Mill|
|Parents||Mother: Maryla Husyt Finkelstein
Father: Zacharias Finkelstein
Norman Gary Finkelstein (born December 8, 1953) is an American political scientist and author whose primary fields of research are the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust. He is a graduate of Binghamton University and received his Ph.D in Political Science from Princeton University. He has held faculty positions at Brooklyn College, Rutgers University, Hunter College, New York University, and, most recently, DePaul University, where he was an assistant professor from 2001 to 2007.
Finkelstein is credited by Avi Shlaim, Adam Shatz, Noam Chomsky and others with exposing Joan Peters' book From Time Immemorial as a "fraud" and "a monumental hoax". Amidst considerable public debate, Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul in June 2007, and placed on administrative leave for the 2007-2008 academic year. Among the controversial aspects of this decision were attempts by Alan Dershowitz, a notable opponent of Finkelstein's, to derail Finkelstein's tenure bid. On September 5, 2007 Finkelstein announced his resignation after coming to a settlement with the university on generally undisclosed terms. An official statement from DePaul strongly defended the decision to deny Finkelstein tenure, stated that outside influence played no role in the decision, and praised Finkelstein "as a prolific scholar and outstanding teacher."
Finkelstein has written of his parents' experiences during World War II. His mother, Maryla Husyt Finkelstein, grew up in Warsaw, Poland, survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp, and two slave labor camps. Her first husband died in the war. She considered the day of her liberation as the most horrible day of her life, as she realized that she was alone with her parents and siblings gone. Norman's father, Zacharias Finkelstein, was a survivor of both the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. After immigrating to the United States, his father became a factory worker, while his mother stayed home with the kids. Finkelstein's parents, particularly his mother, had communist leanings, although they never officially belonged to any ideological movement. Both his parents died in 1995.
Finkelstein grew up in New York City. In his forthcoming memoir, Finkelstein recalls his strong youthful identification with the outrage that his mother, witness to the genocidal atrocities of World War II, felt at the carnage wrought by the United States in Vietnam. One childhood friend recalls his mother's "emotional investment in left-wing humanitarian causes as bordering on hysteria."  He had 'internalized (her) indignation', a trait which he admits rendered him 'insufferable' when talking of the Vietnam War, and which imbued him with a 'holier-than-thou' attitude at the time which he now regrets. But Finkelstein regards his absorption of his mother's outlook – the refusal to put aside a sense of moral outrage in order to get on with one's life – as a virtue. Subsequently, his reading of Noam Chomsky played a seminal role in tailoring the passion bequeathed to him by his mother to the necessity of maintaining intellectual rigor in the pursuit of the truth. According to the New York Times, as his career progressed, his mother "came to feel he had taken her too literally and become a 'Frankenstein–s monster' on a path toward self-destruction."
He completed his undergraduate studies at Binghamton University in New York in 1974, after which he studied at the cole Pratique des Hautes tudes in Paris. He went on to earn his Master's degree in political science from Princeton University in 1980, and later his PhD in political studies, also from Princeton. Finkelstein wrote his doctoral thesis on Zionism, and it was through this work that he first attracted controversy. Before gaining academic employment, Finkelstein was a part-time social worker with teenage dropouts in New York. He then taught successively at Rutgers University, New York University, Brooklyn College, and Hunter College and, until recently, taught at DePaul University in Chicago. According to the New York Times he left Hunter College in 2001 "after his teaching load and salary were reduced" by the college administration.
Beginning with his doctoral thesis at Princeton, Finkelstein's career has been marked by controversy. A self-described "forensic scholar," he has written sharply critical academic reviews of several prominent writers and scholars whom he accuses of misrepresenting the documentary record in order to defend Israel's policies and practices. His writings, noted for their support of the Palestinian cause have dealt with politically charged topics such as Zionism, the demographic history of Palestine and his allegations of the existence of a "Holocaust Industry" that exploits the memory of the Holocaust to further Israeli and financial interests. Citing linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky as an example, Finkelstein notes that it is "possible to unite exacting scholarly rigor with scathing moral outrage," and supporters and detractors alike have remarked on the polemical style of Finkelstein's work. Its content has been praised by eminent historians such as Raul Hilberg and Avi Shlaim, as well as Chomsky.
Finkelstein has described himself as "an old-fashioned communist". 
Peters's "history and defense" of Israel deals with the demographic history of Palestine. Demographic studies had tended to assert that the Arab population of Ottoman-controlled Palestine, a 94% majority at the turn of the century, had dwindled towards parity due to massive Zionist immigration. Peters radically challenged this picture by arguing that a substantial part of the Palestinian people were descended from emigrants from other Arab countries from the early 19th century onwards. It followed, for Peters and many of her readers, that the picture of a native Palestinian population overwhelmed by Jewish immigration was little more than propaganda, and that in actuality two almost simultaneous waves of immigration met in what had been a relatively unpopulated land.
From Time Immemorial had been effusively praised in mainstream United States media sources by figures as varied as Barbara Tuchman, Theodore H. White, Elie Wiesel, and Lucy Dawidowicz. Saul Bellow, for one, wrote in a jacket endorsement that:
Finkelstein asserted that the book was nothing more than what he now calls a "monumental hoax". He later opined that, while Peters's book received widespread interest and approval in the United States, a scholarly demonstration of its fraudulence and unreliability aroused little attention:
Noam Chomsky later reminisced:
In 1986, the New York Review of Books published Yehoshua Porath's review and an exchange with critics of the review in which he criticized the assumptions and evidence on which Peters's thesis relied, thus lending independent support from an expert in Palestinian demographics to Finkelstein's doctoral critique. In the house journal of the American Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs, William B. Quandt, the Edward Stettinius professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and authority on Middle Eastern politics, later described Finkelstein's critique of From Time Immemorial as a "landmark essay" and a "victory to his credit", in its "demonstration" of the "shoddy scholarship" of Peters's book.
According to Noam Chomsky, the controversy that surrounded Finkelstein's research caused a delay in his earning his Ph.D. at Princeton University. Chomsky wrote in Understanding Power that Finkelstein "literally could not get the faculty to read [his dissertation]" and that Princeton eventually granted Finkelstein his doctorate only "out of embarrassment [for Princeton]" but refused to give him any further professional backing.
Finkelstein published portions of his thesis in the following publications:
The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering was published in 2000. Here, Finkelstein argues that Elie Wiesel and others exploit the memory of the Holocaust as an "ideological weapon." This is so the state of Israel, "one of the world's most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, [can] cast itself as a victim state" in order to garner "immunity to criticism." He also alleges what he calls a "double shakedown" by "a repellent gang of plutocrats, hoodlums and hucksters" seeking enormous legal damages and financial settlements from Germany and Switzerland, moneys which then go to the lawyers and institutional actors involved in procuring them, rather than actual Holocaust survivors.
The book met with a hostile reception in some quarters, with critics charging that it was poorly researched and/or allowed others to exploit it for antisemitic purposes. For example, German historian Hans Mommsen disparaged the first edition as "a most trivial book, which appeals to easily aroused anti-Semitic prejudices." Israeli holocaust historian Israel Gutman called the book "a lampoon," stating "this is not research; it isn't even political literature... I don't even think it should be reviewed or critiqued as a legitimate book." The book was also harshly criticised by Brown University Professor Omer Bartov and University of Chicago Professor Peter Novick.
Finkelstein also had his supporters however. Raul Hilberg, widely regarded during his lifetime as a leading expert among Holocaust researchers, said the book expressed views Hilberg himself subscribed to in substance, in that he too found the exploitation of the Holocaust, in the manner Finkelstein describes, 'detestable.' Asked on another occasion if Finkelstein's analysis might play into the hands of neo-Nazis for antisemitic purposes, Hilberg replied: 'Well, even if they do use it in that fashion, I'm afraid that when it comes to the truth, it has to be said openly, without regard to any consequences that would be undesirable, embarrassing.'
Shortly after the publication of the book The Case for Israel by Alan Dershowitz, Finkelstein derided it as "a collection of fraud, falsification, plagiarism, and nonsense". During a debate on Democracy Now!, Finkelstein asserted that Dershowitz lacked knowledge about specific contents of his own book, Finkelstein also claimed that Dershowitz did not write the book, and may not have even read it. Finkelstein noted 20 instances, in as many pages, where Dershowitz's book cites the same sources and passages used by Joan Peters in her book, in largely the same sequence, with ellipses in the same places. In two instances, Dershowitz reproduces Peters's errors (see below). From this Finkelstein concluded that Dershowitz had not checked the original sources himself, contrary to the latter's claims. Finkelstein suggests that this copying of quotations amounts to copying ideas. Examining a copy of a proof of Dershowitz's book he managed to obtain, he found evidence that Dershowitz had his secretarial assistant, Holly Beth Billington, check in the Harvard library the sources he had read in Peters's book. Dershowitz answered the charge in a letter to the University of California's Press Director Lynne Withey, arguing that Finkelstein had made up the smoking gun quotation, in that he had changed its wording (from 'cite' to 'copy') in his book. In public debate he has stated that if "somebody borrowed the quote without going to check back on whether Mark Twain had said that, obviously that would be a serious charge"; however, he insisted emphatically that he himself did not do that, that he had indeed checked the original source by Twain.
Dershowitz threatened libel action over the charges in Finkelstein's book, and, consequently, Finkelstein deleted the word "plagiarism" from the text before publication. Finkelstein also removed the charge that Dershowitz was not the true author of The Case for Israel because, as the publisher said, "he couldn't document that."
Asserting that he did consult the original sources, Dershowitz says that Finkelstein is simply accusing him of good scholarly practice: citing references he learned of initially from Peters's book. Dershowitz denies that he used any of Peters's ideas without citation. "Plagiarism is taking someone else's words and claiming they're your own. There are no borrowed words from anybody. There are no borrowed ideas from anybody because I fundamentally disagree with the conclusions of Peters's book." In a footnote in The Case for Israel which cites Peters's book, Dershowitz explicitly denies that he "relies" on Peters for "conclusions or data".
In their joint interview on Democracy Now, however, Finkelstein cited specific passages in Dershowitz's book in which a phrase that he says Peters coined was incorrectly attributed to George Orwell:
"[Peters] coins the phrase, 'turnspeak', she says she's using it as a play off of George Orwell which as all listeners know used the phrase 'Newspeak.' She coined her own phrase, 'turnspeak.' You go to Mr. Dershowitz's book, he got so confused in his massive borrowings from Joan Peters that on two occasions, I'll cite them for those who have a copy of the book, on page 57 and on page 153 he uses the phrase, quote, George Orwell's 'turnspeak.' 'Turnspeak' is not Orwell, Mr. Dershowitz, you're the Felix Frankfurter chair at Harvard, you must know that Orwell would never use such a clunky phrase as 'turnspeak'."
I do not understand [Finkelstein's] charge of plagiarism against Alan Dershowitz. There is no claim that Dershowitz used the words of others without attribution. When he uses the words of others, he quotes them properly and generally cites them to the original sources (Mark Twain, Palestine Royal Commission, etc.) [Finkelstein's] complaint is that instead he should have cited them to the secondary source, in which Dershowitz may have come upon them. But as the Chicago Manual of Style emphasizes: 'Importance of attribution. With all reuse of others' materials, it is important to identify the original as the source. This not only bolsters the claims of fair use, it also helps avoid any accusation of plagiarism.' This is precisely what Dershowitz did.
Cockburn's claim is that some of the quotes should not have been cited to their original sources but rather to a secondary source, where he believes I stumbled upon them. Even if he were correct that I found all these quotations in Peters's book, the preferred method of citation is to the original source, as the Chicago Manual of Style emphasizes: "With all reuse of others' materials, it is important to identify the original as the source. This...helps avoid any accusation of plagiarism...To cite a source from a secondary source ('quoted in...') is generally to be discouraged...."
...to which Cockburn responded:
Quoting The Chicago Manual of Style, Dershowitz artfully implies that he followed the rules by citing "the original" as opposed to the secondary source, Peters. He misrepresents Chicago here, where "the original" means merely the origin of the borrowed material, which is, in this instance, Peters. Now look at the second bit of the quote from Chicago, chastely separated from the preceding sentence by a demure three-point ellipsis. As my associate Kate Levin has discovered, this passage ("To cite a source from a secondary source...") occurs on page 727, which is no less than 590 pages later than the material before the ellipsis, in a section titled "Citations Taken from Secondary Sources." Here's the full quote, with what Dershowitz left out set in bold: "'Quoted in.' To cite a source from a secondary source ("quoted in") is generally to be discouraged, since authors are expected to have examined the works they cite. If an original source is unavailable, however, both the original and the secondary source must be listed." So Chicago is clearly insisting that unless Dershowitz went to the originals, he was obliged to cite Peters. Finkelstein has conclusively demonstrated that he didn't go to the originals. Plagiarism, QED, plus added time for willful distortion of the language of Chicago's guidelines, cobbling together two separate discussions.
Although the plagiarism allegations by Finkelstein received the most attention and attracted a lot of controversy, Finkelstein has maintained that "the real issue is Israel's human rights record." His book Beyond Chutzpah counters Dershowitz's claim that Israel's human rights record is "generally superb."
In April 2007, Dr. Frank Menetrez, a former Editor-in-Chief of the UCLA Law Review, published an analysis of the charges made against Finkelstein by Alan Dershowitz, finding no merit in any single charge, and that, on the contrary, "Dershowitz is deliberately misrepresenting what Finkelstein wrote". In a follow-up analysis he concluded that he could find 'no way of avoiding the inference that Dershowitz copied the quotation from Twain from Peters's From Time Immemorial, and not from the original source', as Dershowitz claimed.
In early 2007 the DePaul University Political Science department voted nine to three, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Personnel Committee five to zero, in favor of giving Finkelstein tenure. The three opposing faculty members subsequently filed a minority report opposing tenure, supported by the Dean of the College, Chuck Suchar. Suchar stated he opposed tenure because Finkelstein's "personal and reputation demeaning attacks on Alan Dershowitz, Benny Morris, and the holocaust authors Elie Wiesel and Jerzy Kosinski" were inconsistent with DePaul's "Vincentian" values. In June 2007, a 4-3 vote by DePaul University's Board on Promotion and Tenure (a faculty board), affirmed by the university's president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, denied Finkelstein tenure.
The university denied that Alan Dershowitz, who had been criticized for actively campaigning against Finkelstein's tenure, played any part in this decision. At the same time, the university denied tenure to international studies lecturer Mehrene Larudee, a strong supporter of Finkelstein, despite unanimous support from her department, the Personnel Committee and the Dean. Finkelstein stated that he would engage in civil disobedience if attempts were made to bar him from teaching his students.
The Faculty Council later affirmed the right of Professors Finkelstein and Larudee to appeal, which a university lawyer said was not possible. Council President Anne Bartlett said she was "'terribly concerned' correct procedure was not followed". DePaul's faculty association considered taking no confidence votes in administrators, including the president, because of the tenure denials. In a statement issued upon Finkelstein's resignation, DePaul called him "a prolific scholar and an outstanding teacher." Dershowitz expressed outrage at the compromise and this statement in particular, saying that the university had "traded truth for peace."
In June 2007, after two weeks of protests, DePaul students staged a sit-in and hunger strike in support of both professors denied tenure. The American Association of University Professors also sent a letter to the university–s president stating: "It is entirely illegitimate for a university to deny tenure to a professor out of fear that his published research – might hurt a college–s reputation" and that the association has "explicitly rejected collegiality as an appropriate criterion for evaluating faculty members".
Finkelstein's books are an attempt to expose the works of mainstream scholarship as deeply flawed and even fraudulent. The authors whose work he has thus targeted, including Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and Alan Dershowitz, along with others such as Benny Morris whose work Finkelstein has also cited approvingly, have in turn accused Finkelstein of grossly misrepresenting their work, and selectively quoting from their books.
Finkelstein's work has attracted a number of supporters and detractors across the political spectrum. Notable supporters include Noam Chomsky, prominent intellectual and political critic; Raul Hilberg, Holocaust historian; Avi Shlaim, Israeli New Historian; and Mouin Rabbani, Palestinian jurist and analyst. According to Hilberg, Finkelstein displays "academic courage to speak the truth when no one else is out there to support him... I would say that his place in the whole history of writing history is assured, and that those who in the end are proven right triumph, and he will be among those who will have triumphed, albeit, it so seems, at great cost."
Criticism has been leveled against Finkelstein from several angles. The first sources are responses from those whose work Finkelstein has discussed. Daniel Goldhagen, whose book Hitler's Willing Executioners Finkelstein criticized, claimed his scholarship has "everything to do with his burning political agenda." Peter Novick, Professor of History at the University of Chicago and a noted Holocaust historian whose work Finkelstein says inspired "The Holocaust Industry," has also strongly criticised the latter's work, describing it as "trash." Similarly, Alan Dershowitz, whose book The Case for Israel and Finkelstein's response Beyond Chutzpah sparked an ongoing feud between the two, has claimed Finkelstein's complicity in a conspiracy against pro-Israel scholars: "The mode of attack is consistent. Chomsky selects the target and directs Finkelstein to probe the writings in minute detail and conclude that the writer didn't actually write the work, that it is plagiarized, that it is a hoax and a fraud," arguing that Finkelstein has leveled charges against many academics, calling at least 10 "distinguished Jews 'hucksters', 'hoaxters' (sic), 'thieves,' 'extortionists', and worse."
Israeli historian Omer Bartov, writing for The New York Times Book Review, judged The Holocaust Industry to be marred by the same errors he denounces in those who exploit the Holocaust for profit or politics:
'It is filled with precisely the kind of shrill hyperbole that Finkelstein rightly deplores in much of the current media hype over the Holocaust; it is brimming with the same indifference to historical facts, inner contradictions, strident politics and dubious contextualizations; and it oozes with the same smug sense of moral and intellectual superiority... Like any conspiracy theory, it contains several grains of truth; and like any such theory, it is both irrational and insidious.'
In 2003, Finkelstein published a considerably expanded second edition of this book, focusing especially on the Swiss Banks case. He identifies areas where people have attacked the book, but says that none of them question his actual findings.
On May 23, 2008, Finkelstein was denied entry to Israel because, according to unnamed Israeli security officials, of suspicions that "he had contact with elements 'hostile' to Israel" including "a top Hezbollah commander in Lebanon." Finkelstein was questioned after his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv and placed on a flight back to Amsterdam, his point of origin. According to The Jerusalem Post, officials said that the decision to not allow Finkelstein entry into Israel was based on security reasons. He was banned from entering Israel for 10 years.
Finkelstein indeed visited southern Lebanon and conducted meetings with Lebanese families. During the 2006 Lebanon War, Israeli warplanes bombed a Qana apartment building where two families were seeking refuge in the basement, killing 28, among them 16 children. Finkelstein visited the location of the bombing. He stated:
First of all I want express my horror and the difficulty it is to be in the presence of people who are the survivors of those who died. And it should be obvious that there are no words to convey those feelings of horror.
Number two, [I want to express] those feelings of shame, because the simple fact is that the war and those deaths were caused by the US government. People should not fool themselves that this war was done by Israel; this was an American war and for American interests.
The third feeling I have is disgust; Why are the Lebanese welcoming the US president here? Whenever a foreign diplomat travels to Israel, he or she has to go to Yad Vashem [the Israeli holocaust memorial]. So why don–t the Lebanese have at least that much dignity to say that [US President George W.] Bush has to come here before he meets them?
The last thing I want to say is: After the horror and after the shame and after the anger, there still remains the hope. And I know I can get in a lot of trouble for what I–m about to say, but I think that Hizbullah represents the hope. They are fighting to defend their homeland, they are fighting to defend the independence of their country, they are defending themselves against foreign marauders, vandals and murderers and I consider it to be genuinely to be an honor to be in their presence.
Finkelstein is a sharp critic of Israel and Israeli society in general. In a telephone interview with Today's Zaman, in 2009, Finkelstein stated that Israel was a "satanic" "terrorist" "insane" and "lunatic" state, and that "sometimes I feel that Israel has come out of the boils of the hell."
American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein is an award-winning documentary film about the life and career of Norman Finkelstein, released in 2009 and directed by David Ridgen and Nicolas Rossier. It has been screened in Amsterdam IDFA, in Toronto Hot Docs and in more than 40 other national and international venues.
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