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Richard Stallman on Norman Finkelstein

Lee Phillips
May 17th, 2013

In a recent note about disgraced former professor Norman Finkelstein, Richard Stallman states that he was “fired from a tenured US professorship for condemning Israel’s policy of occupation”.

This is wrong, first, in a matter of small detail, and, second, in the most egregious way that one can be wrong.

Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure by his employer, DePaul University, in 2007, and subsequently “resigned.” He had not been granted tenure, and so of course could not be “fired from a tenured US professorship”.

Dr. Finkelstein was not denied tenure for “condemning Israel’s policy of occupation,” nor for any other political stance. He was quite properly denied tenure because he had made it a habit to viciously and personally attack other scholars whose political opinions he did not like. In particular, he repeatedly and falsely accused Alan Dershowitz of plagiarism, even writing an entire book largely devoted to attacking the famous lawyer. The university publicly cited these behavior patterns as the reason for denying tenure.

Dr. Finkelstein may claim, and his supporters may like to believe, or pretend they believe, that he was kicked out of the academic world because of the courage of his righteous political stand. I don’t know if Mr. Stallman has been misinformed by propaganda, or if he is privy to some information about a secret agenda on the part of the DePaul administration; but the well-known story of the tenure battle makes it pretty clear that Dr. Finkelstein’s outrageous behavior left them little choice, and that therefore their public statements about the reasons for the denial are accurate.

Indeed, it is no secret what kind of a person Dr. Finkelstein is. He not only seems to be a rank anti-semite, despite his Jewish parentage, but is not even original in his anti-semitism, trafficking in the tired clichés of holocaust denial and secret Jewish influence over public opinion. Depressing examples of his statements along these lines have been collected by Mr. Dershowitz. The latter’s book on the Israel-Palestine peace process, The Case for Peace, contains a section describing how Noam Chomsky uses Norman Finkelstein (who has said, “I’m a person of the left, and when you get a call from Professor Chomsky, his wish is your command.”) as a kind of attack dog, directing him to level false charges of plagiarism against political enemies, while distancing himself from the libelous attacks.

I want to make it clear that I respect and admire Richard Stallman immensely. I thought it worth writing this because, since this admiration is deservedly widespread, the neutral and seemingly evenhanded tone taken by Mr. Stallman in his political notes may cause many of his readers to take for granted that his assertions, presented as simple matters of fact, are just that. At least in this case, what is presented as a fact turns out to be a highly opinionated and controversial alternative view of history; one that, I am confident, is simply wrong.

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