Brandeis University students seeking to bring a controversial critic of Israel to campus were finally granted a date and place Monday; then told an hour later the venue was not available, after all; then offered an alternative venue the next day.
The latest twists in their lengthy effort to bring DePaul University Professor Norman Finkelstein to campus have left the Radical Student Alliance and Arab Culture Club crossing their fingers that he will appear on March 6 at the university, founded as a Jewish-sponsored, non-sectarian school.
“We need to get funding, too,” cautioned Farrah Bdour of the Arab Culture Club. Bdour explained the cosponsoring groups would now go to the school’s student funding board to request emergency funds for Finkelstein’s travel costs.
Finkelstein’s tentative scheduling is the latest development in Brandeis’ effort to handle requests for controversial speakers on Middle East topics in the wake of former president and Israel critic Jimmy Carter’s January appearance there. Some donors threatened to stop contributing after his talk. Students on the right and left, meanwhile, were inspired to invite campus speakers likely to raise hackles of their own.
Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz warned against inviting inflammatory speakers last month, dubbing them “weapons of mass destruction.” He then hastened to placate conservative Middle East policy advocate Daniel Pipes, writing him that he did not include him in this category after Pipes urged donors to consider withholding contributions. Pipes was reacting to a campus paper’s report that Reinharz’s remark referred specifically to himself and Finkelstein.
Critics, meanwhile, have warned against efforts to restrict open discourse at the university.
The administration last week told a conservative student group that had invited Pipes that he could speak on April 23. But the left-wing groups inviting Finkelstein—a staunch critic of Israel and of what he regards as “exploitation” of the Holocaust by Jewish groups—were put off twice before this week.
On Monday, the Radical Student Alliance and Arab Culture Club were told a library space would be made available on March 6 for Finkelstein’s talk. But later that day, alliance representative Kevin Conley received an email from a library staffer saying the room would not be available that day, after all.
The next day, about an hour after a reporter began making inquiries, the groups received word an alternative venue would be made available for Finkelstein’s March 6 appearance.