It was part of a carefully planned effort by the United Jewish Federation to minimize the impact of Finkelstein's appearance by quietly filling the seats of the lecture hall with Jews ...
Jewish community lines up to blunt message of anti-Zionist author
Norman Finkelstein speaks at Carnegie Mellon University.
PITTSBURGH's Jewish community turned out in force last night for Norman G. Finkelstein's lecture at Carnegie Mellon University. People lined up by the dozen more than an hour before the speech began, anxious to claim a seat in McConomy Auditorium.
Normally, this is not Finkelstein's crowd. The scholar and author of books like the international best-seller "The Holocaust Industry" and the forthcoming "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History," Finkelstein argues that American Jewry has "played the Holocaust card," exploiting the suffering of Jews as a political tool to generate sympathy for Israeli policy and further the aims of Zionism.
Finkelstein also spoke of human rights abuses Israel has inflicted on Arabs.
Many in the crowd spoke of betrayal and outrage that Finkelstein, whose parents both survived the ghettos and concentration camps of Europe, would draw analogies between Nazi and Israeli policies. So why wait in line to hear the man speak for two hours?
It was part of a carefully planned effort by the United Jewish Federation to minimize the impact of Finkelstein's appearance by quietly filling the seats of the lecture hall with Jews already inured to his "ridiculous and vile distortions," said Jeffrey Cohan, spokesman for the UJF.
Given several weeks' notice of Finkelstein's appearance, the UJF, which represents all Jewish organizations in the Pittsburgh area, deployed a "rapid response team" to e-mail more than 400 people, asking them to show up, and early. Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh conceived of the seat-filling strategy; the United Jewish Federation helped to execute it.
Cohan characterized Finkelstein's support in the Jewish community as "minuscule" and "very extreme fringe."
Ken Boas is one of those supporters. Boas teaches English at the University of Pittsburgh, and came to hear Finkelstein speak about his support of the Palestinian struggle and Israel's "abhorrent and criminal policies" against Palestinians.
"The sense is that if you're Jewish, you need to be supportive of Israel and the Zionist position," Boas said. "It makes it very difficult for Jews to dissent without being branded as anti-Semitic or self-hating."
"Just so you know, Ken is wrong," said David Shtulman, executive director of the American Jewish Committee's Pittsburgh chapter, standing next to Boas. "All one has to do is take a look at Israeli newspapers [to know that Jews can dissent]. There are those that argue Israeli policies are too harsh and help produce suicide bombers -- that's a legitimate point of debate. But to use terms like 'Nazi' policies, 'ethnic cleansing,' that goes beyond the pale. One has to wonder if his point is simply to demonize."
The atmosphere was tense. CMU administrator Indira Nair spoke first, laying out the rules: no questions, no loud remarks, "no noises that your mothers wouldn't approve of." Finkelstein began his remarks with apologies to those who had come "hoping for a circus."
"I'm not going to be providing one," he said.