Two scheduled appearances at the Oxford Union by controversial academic Norman Finkelstein have caused upset among students and staff.
The anti-Zionist academic was due to speak with Palestinian journalist Mouin Rabbani at Wadham College on Thursday, followed the next evening by a televised appearance at the union under the auspices of Al Jazeera.
Mr Finkelstein, who was deported from Israel in 2008, and banned for 10 years after expressing solidarity with Hizbollah, was due to defend his view that “the Holocaust has been used to justify criminal policies of the Israeli state”.
Former principal of St Anne’s College Baroness Deech protested against his arrival — arguing that, although “the university would say that the Union is independent, this activity is in the heart of the ‘campus’.”
“It is in my view a breach of the university’s statutory public-sector duty to promote good relations,” she said. “By renting out its hall, the Union is in breach of charity law.”
Oxford Chabad’s Rabbi Eli Brackman added: “Speaking for many Jewish students, while we of course respect freedom of expression and debate, the subject matter of this ‘robust interview programme’ with Norman Finkelstein is distasteful to many.”
Oxford’s Jewish Society said they had taken no action against the planned events — “not feeling it appropriate to engage in such a political dispute in a way that may not represent the interests of all members.” But student Darren Vanning said: “Mr Finkelstein is a deplorable individual who essentially argues that Jews only care about the Holocaust to use it to exploit non-Jews. It is disappointing that he is speaking at not just one, but two events here.”
When asked by the JC how he responded to complaints, Mr Finkelstein said: “Israel’s periodic depredations in the occupied Palestinian territories and neighbouring states also ‘alienate some students on campus.’ So, should Israel’s defenders be barred from speaking?”
According to UJS campaigns director Maggie Suissa, Oxford JSoc had been approached by Al Jazeera to promote Mr Finkelstein’s Friday-night appearance. “The Holocaust is a precious and serious memory for many Jewish students,” she said “and should not be seen as a conversation provoker.