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May 7, 2018 10:27 am

Unfounded and Unrestrained: Norman Finkelstein at NYU

avatar by Bobby Miller

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The New York University campus. Photo: Cincin12 via Wiki Commons.

On Thursday, April 26, the NYU Politics Department hosted an event titled “Norman Finkelstein at NYU on the Urgent Situation in Gaza.”

Finkelstein, a man who has referred to Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel as the “clown of the Holocaust” is a well-known political scientist and frequent critic of the Jewish state.

At the event, cosponsored by radical organizations Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Finkelstein unleashed a barrage of verbal attacks and slanders against the IDF. He particularly criticized Israel’s actions since the start of the 2018 Gaza border protests, otherwise known as the “Great March of Return.”

Finkelstein argued that Hamas is not dangerous in spite of the fact that the Islamist group has killed thousands of innocent civilians and is regarded as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union.

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Finkelstein maintained that Hamas is merely a weak extremist group and that Israel exaggerates its capabilities in order to justify its actions in Gaza. Furthermore, Finkelstein questioned why Israel did not destroy Hamas’ rockets preemptively in previous operations if it knew the full extent of Hamas’ capabilities, despite the fact that numerous human rights reports have noted that Hamas uses women and children as human shields to protect the rockets, by embedding them, along with its terror tunnels, in civilian areas.

Finkelstein’s vitriolic diatribe concluded with his assertion that Israel has “no right to use any force” against the hordes of violent Palestinian demonstrators trying to breach its border with Gaza and no right to defend its own sovereignty, a right that every nation-state on earth maintains.

Finkelstein then ventured into antisemitic territory, when he used Nazi imagery to describe Israeli policy, comparing Gaza to a “concentration camp.” Finkelstein continued by calling Israeli soldiers “assassins picking off children” and claimed, without providing a shred of substantiating evidence, that Israel is “poisoning kids.”

It is unfortunate that an institution like the Wilf Family Department of Politics at NYU, which prides itself on giving “students the skills needed to reach a deeper analytical understanding of political events that is grounded in logic and evidence” would host such an inflammatory speaker, exacerbating existing hostility toward pro-Israel students.

This is especially true in light of recent developments on NYU’s campus.

On Friday, April 27, two protesters were arrested at a “rave” organized by the two Zionist clubs on campus, Realize Israel and TorchPAC, in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday. The event was held in Washington Square Park.

One of the anti-Israel students who was detained was arrested for burning an Israeli flag. He faced charges of second-degree reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. The other student taken into custody faced charges of disorderly conduct, robbery in the second degree, assault in the third degree, and criminal mischief in the third degree. They were both ultimately released without bail.

The goal of these activists is to “make being Zionist uncomfortable on the NYU campus” according to NYU SJP President Khalid Abu Dawas. This brazen attack on free speech seemed to be sanctioned by the politics department when it decided to provide Finkelstein a platform for his elongated harangue without a pro-Israel speaker to counter the claims being made. One can only hope that such incendiary and fictitious rhetoric will not be given a platform by the NYU administration without proper contextualization in the future.

Bobby Miller is a CAMERA Fellow.

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