A small group of faculty members convinced Le Moyne College officials to permit Norman Finkelstein to lecture at their school, despite an organized campaign to persuade Le Moyne to cancel the event. The week before Finkelstein was scheduled to appear, a number of local Rabbis, a high ranking member of the New York State Catholic hierarchy, and other prominent community members contacted the school to request that the event be called off.
In a carefully written statement composed by a faculty committee and issued by the Provost, Linda LeMura, the school said, “[Finkelstein’s] appearance is not an endorsement of his work or views, but rather a recognition that a variety of perspectives, some difficult and controversial, need to be considered. Le Moyne is committed to freedom of speech, including points of view that are intellectually serious even if not generally accepted by all segments of the community.”
An overflow audience of over 250 people attended the Finkelstein lecture, which began at 5 PM on September 16. Finkelstein gave a talk which focused on the 2008 Gaza War and the assault on the Mavi Marmara flotilla. The crowd appeared to be overwhelmingly sympathetic to Finkelstein’s point of view. He got two standing ovations during his talk and only one expression of disagreement during the Q and A segment.
I met Norman Finkelstein a day after his Le Moyne appearance at an event in a private home where I was to introduce him. He seemed completely unaware and unbothered when I mentioned that his lecture had been in danger of a last-minute cancellation. He responded that “it was no big deal” and that he would never have even been invited a couple of years ago. Now, he says, he is getting more invitations to speak at colleges and to appear in the media. He credits this to a recent opening up of the debate over Israel/Palestine.
Opening up or not, it is noteworthy that on September 28, Le Moyne will host a panel discussion in response to the Finkelstein lecture. A suggestion to have a response to Finkelstein as part of the event on September 16 was considered and then rejected. Apparently, Le Moyne feels that presenting Finkelstein without a consumer warning label would be irresponsible.
It is true that Finkelstein is getting more invitations to speak at colleges and appear in the media. However, I doubt we will be seeing him on NBC or in the New York Times any time soon. It is also encouraging to learn of this group of courageous faculty who fought off some very powerful community voices in order to allow the Finkelstein lecture to be held.