Norman Finkelstein has been the focus of an international campaign to — once again — stop him from teaching. It didn’t work, so far anyway. Today he gave a lecture titled “Gaza; an inquest into its martyrdom” at the Max Planck Institute in Halle, Germany, during a two-week residency there. This afternoon, Finkelstein reported:
It’s over. The workshop lasted five hours. It was normal, just as if I were anywhere else in the world. Hopefully, it will herald the new normal in Germany, which would be good for Truth, good for Justice, and good for Palestine.
The Jerusalem Post describes pressure on the Max Planck Institute to withdraw the invitation, including from Florida Senator Marco Rubio:
“It’s shameful that the Max Planck Institute will give a platform to the anti-Israel author Norman Finkelstein, a supporter of the terrorist group Hezbollah,” Senator Rubio (R-FL) told The Jerusalem Post.
Israel lobbyists have been focused on pressuring the Institute by threatening funds to a Florida neurological branch, per the Jerusalem Post:
Max Planck has an institute based in Jupiter, Florida. [Palm Beach County commissioner Steven] Abrams said: “In 2008, Palm Beach County approved the allocation of $86.9 million to the Max Planck Florida Institute to build and operate a 100,000 sq. ft. biomedical research facility on the campus of Florida Atlantic University. The county has paid all but the last payment of $5.3 million, which is due November 2017.”
Audrey Goff, a spokeswoman for the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in Jupiter, told the Post: “The Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) focuses on neuroscience research and does not work in the field of anthropology… MPFI leadership is only responsible for decisions on the speakers we host locally, and is not involved with whom other Max Planck Institutes host.” According to the MPI,“The Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience was awarded $522,500 over two years in funding from the National Eye Institute, one of 27 institutes and centers of the US National Institutes of Health.”
It is unclear if the Monday talk by Finkelstein will affect Max Planck’s funding streams in the US
The Max Planck Institute has released a long statement justifying the invitation to Finkelstein, noting that his work about “oppression, marginalization, treatment of minorities… [has given] him the reputation of a thoroughly controversial intellectual.” And that’s OK. More:
Some groups have criticized Finkelstein’s invitation to Halle. As a scientific institution which is primarily dedicated to basic research, we will enter into a dialogue with Finkelstein about his work. In doing so, controversy cannot be ruled out; it is indispensable in academic discourse. Controversy is, in fact, a trait of academic work; and it is one of our tasks to introduce our young scientists to controversial academic discourse: Our concern is that our PhD students should learn to listen carefully to an argument, take it on its own merits, and address it in a measured, respectful, professional manner – even and maybe the more so, if that argument goes against their own profound convictions. This, we feel, is one of the most important skills we can instil in our PhD students and early-career academics – especially in a time when social media permits expressions of prejudice and recourse to anonymous insults is almost socially acceptable, and objective exchange of arguments seems to fall more and more behind.
The Institute is very sensitive about the Holocaust (as Finkelstein indicates in his own comment, above):
Today, scientists from more than 100 nations work at the Max Planck Society as well as at our institute, the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle. 70 years after the Holocaust, employees with a Jewish background are now active at Max Planck, too. It is a place where people of different religions, nations, sex and skin colour work together on key issues relevant to our society and our future.
The Institute is particularly defensive about the Gaza focus of Finkelstein’s talk:
Addendum: The internal Workshop was announced within the MPI for Social Anthropology as a closed group event. The chosen title relates to the working title of a forthcoming publication of Dr. Finkelstein (“Gaza: an inquest into its martyrdom”), since the main focus of the workshop will be the discussion of this manuscript. The topic “Justification of the use of force by the state” will be discussed on the basis of this example. This is one of the fundamental questions in legal research and it is also relevant to the Gaza conflict.
At his own site, Finkelstein has posted the Jerusalem Post news with the headline, Finkelstein Under Attack!