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Click for facts on ADL The Anti-Defamation League is recognized as a champion of the First Amendment and the free exchange of ideas. -- ADL regional director David Friedman


Washington Jewish Week

December 1, 2002

Storms brew at Georgetown
'Jewish students are sick and tired of ... intimidation'

by Paula Amann

WILL vitriol or dialogue win out at Georgetown University [Washington DC]? The District campus has seen a recent spate of incidents, both polarizing and positive, involving Jewish, Muslim and Arab students and faculty.

Will vitriol or dialogue win out at Georgetown University? The District campus has seen a recent spate of incidents, both polarizing and positive, involving Jewish, Muslim and Arab students and faculty.

Groups representing some of these constituencies -- the Jewish Student Association, the Georgetown Israel Alliance, the Muslim Student Association, Students for Middle East Peace and the Young Arab Leadership Alliance -- huddled with administration officials last Friday to discuss their differences.

And on Monday evening, a Jewish Solidarity Rally was slated to be held at the university's free speech area, Red Square, after a series of incidents put campus Jews on edge.

"Jewish students are sick and tired of dealing with intimidation," said Jewish Student Association president Dan Spector, who was scheduled to speak at the rally, held after press time. "We're going to stand strong against the demonization of Israel."

Website note: Abraham Foxman, wealthy and controversial chief of the Anti Defamation League, likes to refer to himself as a "Holocaust survivor." As a biography on this website shows, he was not even born when Hitler invaded his native Poland, and he was looked after by Polish Catholics throughout the war; his parents also "survived".

The event capped eight days that began with a university-sponsored lecture on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by controversial author Norman Finkelstein. The talk on Monday of last week drew a letter of protest from the Anti-Defamation League.

"The Anti-Defamation League is recognized as a champion of the First Amendment and the free exchange of ideas," read the letter from ADL regional director David Friedman to university president John DeGoia on Friday. "However, Mr. Finkelstein's lecture was a one-sided program, intended to promote hatred of Israel and perpetuate anti-Semitic stereotypes."

Finkelstein's appearance last week was co-sponsored by two university departments -- the Georgetown University Program on Peace and Justice and the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies -- and a student group, the Young Arab Leadership Alliance.

Mark Lance, former director and current professor in the PJP, is active with SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Tax-funded Aid to Israel Now). The group's Washington chapter led an evening of anti-Israel street theater on the Georgetown campus in January.

Author of books such as The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (Verso, 2000) and The Rise and Fall of Palestine (University of Minnesota, 1996), Finkelstein himself has a history of incendiary statements about Jews, the Holocaust and Israel.

The Holocaust Industry argues that Jews have used Adolf Hitler's murder of millions of Jews to extort money. Finkelstein also has compared Israel to the Gestapo and praised the Lebanese guerilla group Hezbollah.

"One can find online similar views of the evil intentions of Israel and the use of the Holocaust as exploitation from Hamas and Islamic Jihad or the National Alliance and the World Church of the Creator," noted ADL's Friedman as he was drafting the letter last week. "One is left wondering if it's the intent of the university to promote views associated with recognized hate groups."

A six-sentence statement issued on Friday from DeGoia's office mentioned campus appearances this year by author Elie Wiesel and philosopher Michael Walzer but did not address Finkelstein or ADL's concerns about him. It defended Georgetown's "strong commitment to inquiry into Jewish civilization and culture" and broached the possibility of a future Center for the Study of Jewish Civilization on the campus.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Committee sent a letter Thursday of last week to DeGoia, denouncing comments made by Georgetown professor Hisham Sharabi while overseas.

"Jews are getting ready to take control of us and the Americans have entered the region to possess the oil resources and redraw the geopolitical map of the Arab world," Sharabi told students and faculty at Balamand University, according to the Lebanon Daily Star.

"While professor Sharabi is free to say anything he wants, no matter how repugnant and outrageous, Georgetown University is also free and even obliged to make clear that his remarks are viewed as highly offensive to the university community and its leadership," wrote AJCommittee's Washington area director David Bernstein.

In a statement released the next day, university spokesperson Julie Green Bataille noted the report of Sharabi's remarks, but said her institution had no independent confirmation of his words. The four-sentence statement said the professor did not speak for Georgetown University, without citing specifics.

AJCommittee's Bernstein described the university's response as "tepid."

"It's important that the university realize that its reputation is at stake," said Bernstein. "We would have liked to have seen a stronger statement condemning the anti-Semitic remarks of Sharabi."

The protest letters came amid an event typifying the harmonious side of interfaith relations on campus. More than 50 people, including Jews, Muslims, Christians and one Jain, took part last Thursday in a spirited dinner table discussion of the biblical Abraham.

"People said 'when do we do this again?' " said Rabbi Harold White, who spoke at the event along with Imam Yahya Hendi and Rev. Chris Steck, S.J. "It ended on a positive note."

White cited the Georgetown community as a "model of interfaith dialogue," but noted that Mideast politics had tended to become "polemical" on campus.

In early October, a dialogue between Jews, Muslims and Arab hosted by several campus groups seemed also to ease tensions between the groups. Roughly 50 students took part in this activity.

Finkelstein's two-hour talk last week, however, drew a packed house at McNeir Auditorium, according to observers. The hall seats 140 people, according to the registrar's office, and scores of people stood along the walls.

"If Israel could do what it wanted, it would have expelled the Palestinians a long time ago," The Hoya, Georgetown's campus newspaper, quoted Finkelstein as telling the crowd.

The comment seems to jibe with the part-time professor's appearances on other college campuses across the continent. In June, he gave a lecture titled, "Back to Basics: Expulsion -- The Next Stage of the 'Peace Process' " at the University of Toronto.

At Georgetown, Finkelstein depicted Israel as an evil military regime bent on expelling the largely innocent Palestinian population from the area, reported The Hoya.

"The only crime the Palestinians committed was being born in Palestine," he was quoted as saying.

JSA's Spector spent most of the evening passing out protest leaflets outside, but came inside to listen to a portion of the talk, he said. What he heard left him dismayed.

"Finkelstein asserted that Israel is faced with two options alone: transfer of the Palestinians out of Israeli territory or apartheid," said Spector, a junior who is studying international policy and security studies. "As you can imagine, supporters of Israel in the audience were revolted because it paints Israel as a monster, a state founded on ignoble principles."

Samer Oweida, an executive board member for YALA, acknowledged Jewish concerns about Finkelstein's Holocaust views, but said his group co-sponsored the lecture to offer a "non-mainstream, fresh look at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

"While some of what he said was inflammatory, it was not intended to project hatred; it was intended to elucidate facts that are all too often brushed under the rug," Oweida said, noting the speaker's charges of Israeli military targeting of Red Crescent ambulances. The Israel Defense Forces charges that these medical vehicles have been used to transport both arms and terrorist suspects.

The son of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein earned his doctorate at Princeton University. A former adjunct professor at Hunter College in New York, he teaches political science at Chicago's DePaul University.

After last Friday's meeting, JSA's Spector voiced his faith that the administration intended to address anti-Semitism like Finkelstein's.

"I'm confident the university president supports our efforts to create a peaceful, tolerant campus environment," Spector said.

Nothing concrete emerged from the one and a half-hour session, he reported.

Norman Finkelstein is the author of The Holocaust Industry and Image and Reality in the Israel-Palestine Conflict.


Our index on Norman Finkelstein
Der Spiegel Feb 10, 2001: "Holocaust-Diskussion: Finkelstein nimmt nichts zurück"
Our dossier on the origins of anti-Semitism
Israeli newspaper: Sharon to ask U.S. taxpayers for $10 billion aid
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