Invitation to Norman Finkelstein to Speak at the University of Pittsburgh Withdrawn at the 11th Hour

An opinion piece, titled “Missed Opportunity; A Canceled Speaker Deserved to Be Heard at Pitt,” was recently published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [September 26, 2015: A, 6].

After indicating that Finkelstein had been invited to participate in the university of Pittsburgh’s inaugural National Security Symposium, the op-ed writer offers this pithy summary of the very dubious and conflicting reasons given for the withdrawal of that invitation:

Dean of students Kenyon R. Bonner released a statement that the decision was made by a student organizing committee. Others said the organizers ran short of money or that Mr. Finkelstein had not returned his contract in time. But the voice mail message in which Mr. Finkelstein was uninvited, left by visiting professor Luke Peterson on Sep. 16, said an ‘office’–a specific one was identified, but was inaudible on the message—‘refused to sign off on your contract” and “raised a number of issues involving your presence.’”

After quoting Finkelstein’s response to the news that the invitation had been withdrawn—“Finkelstein . . . said [that] the university administration has ‘the moral integrity of a slot machine’”—the op-ed writer highlights the fairly obvious reasons why the invitation was withdrawn:

The issues surely involve Mr. Finkelstein’s polemical views. He is banned from visiting Israel because of his support for Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, but decries the BDS movement, which urges boycotts, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to withdraw from Palestinian land. Though Mr. Finkelstein is Jewish and the son of Holocaust survivors, he has accused Israel of creating a ‘Holocaust industry.’

Such views evoke strong reaction–which is why Pitt should have had Mr. Finkelstein appear as planned. Speakers who invite controversy give students a chance to examine their worldviews and challenge those of others. Norman Finkelstein spoke at the University of Connecticut and Yale University this month. Pitt students, too, should have had the opportunity to hear him.

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