From Richard Witty to Clark University President John Bassett this morning :
Dear Mr Bassett,
I'm writing to you to request that you review the decision to cancel the
Norman Finkelstein lecture at Clark scheduled for April 21.
While I disagree strongly with many of Mr. Finkelstein's published and
oral statements, his positions do animate a large portion of the dissent
on issues relating to Israel/Palestine.
I recently attended a lecture that he presented at Mt Holyoke College in
South Hadley, in which there was no violence or prospect of violence. I
can't say that he was respectful to the other party to the debate (a
liberal pro-peace faculty member at Smith College). In debate, his
arguments and conclusions can be rebutted.
In some ways the appearance of censorship would enhance his reputation
and fuel angers more than allowing him to speak.
Thanks for your attention.
From Bassett to Witty:
Richard, thank you for your thoughtful comments.
There is no question
that Clark University stands for full freedom of inquiry in the pursuit
of truth and of the good. My decision in this case was based solely on
the unfortunate timing of the proposed talk. I have not banned Norman
Finkelstein from ever speaking on campus. I have asked for some campus
reflection on the issues raised by the controversy, that is what if any
boundaries govern invitations to speakers on campus and what if any
scheduling concerns are legitimate.
There is no question that this campus, like all others, needs to hear
voices on the Israeli-Palestinian tensions that reflect Palestinian
perspectives. What especially exaggerates emotions on this topic are the
combined facts that Palestinians have suffered and are suffering many
abuses and that anti-Semitism is increasing in America. Therefore
reactions to speakers being invited and apparent censorship are stronger
than they otherwise would be.
Clark's Difficult Dialogues series next year is focusing on Israel and
Palestine. We need to be good listeners to many perspectives. Perhaps
one of those will be Norman Finkelstein's.