DePaul Genuflects to Dershowitz

Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University on June 8, 2007, despite votes in favor of tenure by the school’s Political Science Department and a college-level personnel committee. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, tenure was opposed by the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the University Board on Promotion and Tenure, and the university president, Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, the ultimate decision-maker in the case, who reportedly told the Chronicle that he found “no compelling reasons to overturn” the tenure board’s recommendation.[1] 

In addition, Holtschneider reportedly told the Chronicle that he “decried the outside interest the case had generated” and stated for the record: “This attention was unwelcome and inappropriate and had no impact on either the process or the outcome of this case.”[2] While the outside interference was both inappropriate and probably unprecedented, due on both counts to the prolifically public opposition to Finkelstein’s tenure by Harvard Law School‘s Alan Dershowitz, it seems implausible that Dershowitz’s campaign had no impact at DePaul on the final decision to deny tenure to Finkelstein.     


Because few assistant professors with books published by at least three major publishers (in this case the University of California, W.W. Norton, and Verso) are denied tenure, and because even fewer with such books, a vote of support from their department, and glowing student evaluations, are denied tenure, it is difficult to imagine that anything other than outside interference, almost all of it from Dershowitz, led to the denial of Finkelstein’s tenure at DePaul.


Dershowitz’s intereference in the case was clearly extensive. According to the Chronicle, “Mr. Dershowitz sent the DePaul law school faculty and members of the political-science department what he described, in a letter dated October 3 [2006], as a ‘dossier of Norman Finkelstein’s most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions.’” Dershowitz told the Chronicle prior to the tenure decision: “It would be a disgrace to DePaul University if they were to grant tenure. It would make them the laughing stock of American universities.”[3] In a Wall Street Journal article titled, “Finkelstein’s Bigotry,” Dershowitz wrote about the vote by Finkelstein’s department: “Mr. Finkelstein’s radical colleagues voted for tenure, having cooked the books by seeking outside evaluations from two of his ideological soulmates.”[4] In the New Republic, Dershowitz called Finkelstein (who is Jewish) an “anti-Semite.”[5] And a few weeks before the tenure announcement was due, Dershowitz asked in print: “Will [Finkelstein’s] bigotry receive the imprimatur of the largest Catholic university in America?”[6]


Anyone with even minimal awareness of the politics of criticizing Israel in the United States understands the implied threats against DePaul that such statements from Dershowitz embodied. Clearly, Dershowitz sought to leverage Catholic vulnerability about the Holocaust, given the “neutrality” of Pope Pius XII in the midst of the genocide of European Jews, and Finkelstein’s scholarship on the Holocaust, which argues that it’s exploited by Israel to justify its otherwise illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. Or perhaps President Holtschneider happened to see the photograph of Pope Benedict XVI placed next to one of David Duke on the homepage of the Anti-Defamation League in January of this year—an apparent co-conspirator (with the UN’s Kofi Annan) against Israel—and imagined his own picture there pursuant to a grant of tenure to Finkelstein. Or maybe he sought not to expose himself and his university to the kind of Dershowitzian slander that Finkelstein was subjected to, and which Holtschneider witnessed without a public word to Dershowitz that his interference in the case was improper and unacceptable.              


Furthermore, by withholding tenure from Finkelstein while also unconvincingly denying the public context of that decision, Holtschneider sold-out long-standing Catholic “Just War” doctrine to Dershowitz, which features the protection of the rights of civilians in armed conflict.[7] While Dershowitz is in the vanguard, with the American Jewish Congress, of a major effort to modify international humanitarian law to further minimize the rights of civilians with the goal of “unshackling” the United States and Israel in their various military campaigns,[8]

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