To the Editors:
Norman Finkelstein’s recent talk at Oberlin made us extremely uncomfortable. We disagree with his rhetoric, biased selection of sources and interpretation. Finkelstein’s rhetoric reinforced negative and hateful images of Israel and Israelis, shutting out dialogue. Bringing someone who discourages civil discourse is a disservice to the dialogue that Oberlin students believe in. Finkelstein made sweeping generalizations ranging from all Israeli soldiers to the beliefs of liberal American Jewry. We feel that such generalizations, when combined with Finkelstein’s selective use of information, discourage dialogue at Oberlin about Israel and the Palestinian territories. Finkelstein’s willingness to give up on the peace process because it hasn’t produced large-scale “results” frustrates us because we don’t see violence — from Israelis or Palestinians — as productive or justified. We acknowledge there are things Israel has done that are of concern, and while we disagree with Finkelstein’ portrayal of these issues, we agree that they do deserve discussion. Though we support the state of Israel, we don’t blindly support all its actions. We believe Israel has a right to exist, just as we believe the Palestinians have an equal claim to their own self-determination.
Finkelstein referred to Israel as “insane” and “hateful,” and recklessly compared her to a child using a magnifying glass to kill ants. Previously, he has also called Israel a “satanic” and “Nazi” state; although we clearly disagree with these statements, we acknowledge his right to free speech. However, Finkelstein’s speech unilaterally condemned Israel and was not constructive to creating an informative discussion at Oberlin about these issues.
We implore that adequate discourse follow such an event. The Q&A was not an example of such — Finkelstein used his platform to avoid questions and control the conversation. Bringing speakers of this nature to campus requires providing an additional space for discussion about what they left behind. We hope for such a discussion to be student-driven and involve members of the Oberlin College community. Norman Finkelstein left our campus, but his ideas still remain for us to interpret and discuss. The only way for us to move forward in a progressive and productive way is to foster dialogue together and build collective knowledge among students of differing viewpoints.