I haven't read much of Norman Finkelstein's work. I had to read The Holocaust Industry in connection with an article I wrote a few years ago on the singularity or otherwise of the Shoah; and I've also read his essay on Daniel Goldhagen. I didn't like the book, my disagreements with which are set out in that article on Holocaust singularity, though at the time that I read it I thought the critique of Goldhagen was OK. More generally, I have a distaste - expressed once or twice on this blog - for some of Finkelstein's political viewpoints and for his style of presenting them. This is a man who taxes others with illicitly invoking their relationship to the Holocaust while doing exactly that himself. You can find an especially grotesque example of his doing so in the report here about his recent denial of tenure by DePaul University:
[A]ny temptation to "indulge in a bout of self-pity," he [Finkelstein] said, was halted by thinking of his parents, who survived the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi death camps while the rest of his relatives were exterminated. "They survived," he said. "I'll survive."All that said, the decision to deny Finkelstein tenure is one that everyone who cares for academic freedom should demand be challenged, reconsidered by DePaul and, unless it can be given a thoroughly convincing justification, rescinded.
I say this on the basis of the following considerations:
1) My own judgement on the quality of what I've read of Finkelstein's work, little as this is. As I've said, I have major disagreements with things in the Holocaust industry book, and Finkelstein's intellectual style is rebarbative. But extrapolating from what I have read, I'd reckon he was perfectly eligible for tenure.
3) The fact, as reported here, that Finkelstein's 'department and a college-level personnel committee both voted in favor of tenure'.
4) The letter received by Finkelstein explaining why tenure had been denied him:
The three-page note cites Finkelstein's "deliberately hurtful" scholarship along with his lack of involvement with the school and his tendency for public clashes with other scholars.These complaints - 'hurtful' scholarship, 'public clashes with other scholars', and 'polarizing' or 'simplifying' conversations - may say something about how Finkelstein is perceived by many and, indeed, about the sort of person he is, but from the point of view of upholding academic freedom, they are not reassuring ones. The president of DePaul may be satisfied that 'academic freedom is alive and well' at his university, but it needs to demonstrate that its decision in this case hasn't betrayed that principle. You don't have either to agree with or to warm to Norman Finkelstein to find the decision suspect, at best.
"In the opinion of those opposing tenure, your unprofessional personal attacks divert the conversation away from consideration of ideas, and polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration..."