An Open Letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Assembled in Retreat in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe
8 July 2007
I am deeply disturbed by the recent decision of the president of DePaul University not to grant tenure to Dr. Norman Finkelstein. Dr. Finkelstein is a noted Middle East scholar who has the support of his colleagues. Both the members of his department and his college voted to approve his tenure but the president of DePaul University refused to honor their decision as required by university regulations. Not gaining tenure effectively means being fired in the academic world and it is supremely ironic that a Jewish professor should be fired for writing articles that critically examine Israeli government policies in the occupied Palestinian territories. Does the principle of academic freedom mean nothing at DePaul University? Does the intellectual freedom to explore complex issues mean nothing to the Catholic Church? The fact that some of his writings have caused members of the Zionist community to attack Dr. Finkelstein should have no bearing on his gaining tenure.
Dr. Finkelstein is well known and highly respected for his principled criticisms of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. More than 160 other prominent Jewish critics of Zionism largely share Dr. Finkelstein’s views on Zionism and the ethnic cleansing of Arabs in Palestine by political Zionists. Many Jews were concerned about the impact of a political ideology based on an exclusionary nationalist movement which called for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine and a political movement named Zionism. Zionism was opposed by many Jews in the past, (in fact historically the majority of Jews) and is opposed by many Jews today.
Professor Finkelstein is another Jewish critic in a long line of Jewish critics of Zionism. This list includes Albert Einstein, I.F. Stone, Rabbi Elmer Berger, Rabbi Reuben Slonim, Isaac Asimov, Noam Chomsky, Hans Kohen, Eric Fromm, Bruno Kreisky, Israel Shahak, Hannah Arendt and many other leading Jewish intellectuals and religious figures.
Adam Shatz, the Literary editor of The Nation Magazine, has recently published a book titled Prophet’s Outcast which contains essays written by 24 prominent Jewish scholars and intellectuals which are very critical of Zionism and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Not to tell the truth about what is going on in Palestine is fundamentally racist and a crime against the Palestinian people and a crime not unlike the one committed against Jews in the Second World War. Denying a respected scholar like Dr. Norman Finkelstein tenure casts a blight on DePaul University and the Church itself. It is most certainly an attack on academic freedom and an attack on the Palestinians and those who dare speak up on their behalf. Sadly, the action of the president of DePaul University reminds one of the Church’s persecution of Galileo for challenging conventional thinking. Surely the Catholic Church of the 21st century can do better than this! I urge the leaders of the Church assembled in Santa Fe this week to take a stand for academic freedom and to provide justice for Dr. Finkelstein and the people of Palestine.