Amid Protests, Controversial Scholar Discusses Gaza


Published: March 12, 2009

Police barricades and protesters greeted Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein as he arrived at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) on March 3 to give a lecture titled “Behind the Gaza Massacre.” The lecture was part of Students for Solidarity’s (SFS) Palestinian Awareness week and was the climax of an ongoing controversy that had been running in response to the event.

Finkelstein is an former professor from DePaul State University who travels the country giving speeches on the conflict in Gaza. His pro-Palestinian stance has earned him both praise and disapproval, and he has been accused of holding anti-Semitic beliefs. Because of his stances, many Jewish FCLC students held a protest outside of the lecture, handing out pamphlets contesting the data he uses in his speeches.

Aaron Messing, a member of the larger Jewish Law Students Organization (JLSA) of Fordham Law School, was the leader of the protest.

“I wanted to distribute facts rather than propaganda in order to make this an academic discussion rather than a propaganda speech,” he said.

In addition to handing out pamphlets outside of the atrium, some students took part in orchestrated walkouts during the lecture, while others held up signs with a quote from the Hamas platform, which read, “The day of judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews.”

Ali Musa, FCLC ’09, one of the coordinators of the lecture, said, “I’m not sure if the student activities committee knew what they were getting themselves into when they first approved the event.”

The lecture had been planned since January, but when SFS posted fliers two weeks prior to the event, some members of the Jewish Students Organization (JSO) voiced that they were offended.

Jessica Thompson, FCLC ’09, vice president of JSO, said, “We were just blind-sided… Our big concern was that people were going to go to this lecture, listen for an hour and leave thinking they had just heard the truth.”

Thompson said that her main grievance was that Finkelstein was going to be speaking alone and not in a panel.

“It doesn’t promote dialogue, it doesn’t raise awareness and it doesn’t do anything academic,” she said.

She said she was also perturbed because JSO was not notified by the student activities committee of the event.

“There are ways to do events that are sensitive to the entire community and embrace the entire community while presenting someone’s opinion,” Thompson said.

She contacted Messing, who said that he did not want to directly involve JLSA in protesting the event, but that he organized a demonstration that was not directly connected to the association.

Like Thompson, Messing said that he was “deeply troubled” that there was no panel accompanying Finkelstein’s lecture, and he coordinated a group of his fellow law students to hand out pamphlets and hold up signs in the lecture. Messing said that he also contacted four local Jewish student groups to organize a protest outside of the Lowenstein Building, but because of an event at New York University, none of the groups were able to attend. Messing said that he filed the paperwork for an organized protest and arranged for police barricades to be placed around the
Lowenstein building.

Despite the controversy surrounding the event, Musa said he did not intend for the lecture to be such an incendiary occasion.

“The event wasn’t meant to arouse perverse passions in people. These are things that are always said about people like Dr. Finkelstein; that they are anti-Semitic, that they are just there to polarize the audience, that they are not working towards peace, but we cannot forget that there is actually a population that is suffering,” he said.

Musa said of the protestors, “It was very disappointing seeing people interrupting the lecture and staging walkouts.”

Musa said he did not want to cause a controversy, but that he wanted to educate people on the conflict in Gaza. He said of his intent in organizing the lecture, saying, “The leture was not in any way meant to polarize the student body or to dehumanize one group… our goal was to raise awareness.”