Controversial author Norman Finkelstein speaks on campus about Gaza crisis


Political science professor Nubar Hovsepian, left, and Norman Finkelstein, right, discuss Finkelstein’s new book about the Gaza crisis at an open forum March 27. Photos by Riani Astuti

In an open forum on the Gaza crisis March 27, author Norman Finkelstein accused international human rights organizations of being reluctant to charge Israel of war crimes against Palestinian civilians.

He later defended Hamas, a Palestinian-Islamic militant group, by saying that “people living under occupation have the right to use armed force to resist that occupation.”

“These are crimes against humanity that Israel is committing,” Finkelstein added.

Finkelstein first spoke at Chapman in 2013, and students objected to his support of Hezbollah, an Islamic political party and militant group, and his remarks that late author, Holocaust survivor and Chapman presidential fellow Elie Wiesel’s writing was “good theater” that lacked content.

Finkelstein’s writings and lectures have sparked protests from pro-Israeli groups on other college campuses,like at Columbia University in 2006, when about 600 protesters silently held signs during Finkelstein’s talk at the school.

The forum was organized by Chapman’s political science and peace studies departments and led by political science professor Nubar Hovsepian. The event coincides with the release of Finkelstein’s latest book, “Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom.”

Hovsepian said the book, which describes Gaza’s occupation by Israel as a “man-made humanitarian crisis,” is Finkelstein’s “magnum opus,” but will “boil (the reader’s) blood in either agreement or disagreement.”

In response to Finkelstein’s visit to campus this year, Jewish student organization Hillel planned an alternative event at the same time as Finkelstein’s talk.

The counter-event was a space for students to discuss their opinions, but Hovsepian told The Panther that he wishes Hillel had brought its concerns to him instead of organizing the event, so that he could have arranged a discussion between the students and Finkelstein.

At the event March 27, Finkelstein accused international human rights organizations of being reluctant to charge Israel with war crimes against Palestinian citizens.

“The point is not to come and adore (guest speakers) but to engage them critically,” Hovsepian said.

Spencer Kaseff, a junior television writing and production major, wanted to attend both the forum and Hillel’s event, but chose the former because it challenged her beliefs.

“I already know what I’m going to talk about when I sit down with a group of my friends (in Hillel),” Kaseff told The Panther. “I don’t know what I’m going to talk about when I sit down with a group of people who (went) to this event.”

Kaseff said she was happy she attended the forum despite feeling “very uncomfortable” at some points in the discussion on the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.

Students, faculty and community members attended the March 27 event.

“I’m happy (Chapman) isn’t like other schools that ban people,” Kaseff said. “That’s just silly. We’re an educational institution, and if someone wants to come and teach me something, then they should, whether I agree with them or not.”

Despite controversy over Finkelstein’s views, Hovsepian defended the decision to have him speak on campus.

“Disturbing books should be listened to,” he said. “Not to be agreed with, but to dislodge you from the dogma you’re used to.”

To read a column criticizing Chapman’s lack of balance with controversial speakers, click here.