The student group behind McMaster University’s Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) has cancelled a scheduled appearance by anti-Israel activist Norman Finkelstein.
In a brief posting on its Facebook page, the group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights – McMaster (SPHR) said Finkelstein’s scheduled talk was cancelled “due to unforeseen circumstances” and did not “(involve) any external actors or university administration whatsoever.”
The decision to scuttle Finkelstein’s appearance came two weeks after a letter to McMaster president David Farrar from the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) urging him to ban both Finkelstein’s appearance and Israel Apartheid Week events planned for later this month.
In an emailed statement following the cancellation, FSWC president and CEO Avi Benlolo welcomed the action.
“By allowing speakers such as Finkelstein to express their hateful views on campuses, universities are contributing to the anti-Semitism and hostile divisive environments Jewish students are experiencing now more than ever before,” he wrote. “We are pleased that Finkelstein is no longer scheduled to speak and call on all university leaders to work on ensuring all individuals are vetted before being welcomed to speak to students on campus.”
Last year, at the University of Toronto, Finkelstein – described by Benlolo as “a notorious anti-Israel provocateur” – told an audience Israel has no right to defend itself from threats along its Gaza border, even if the lives of Israeli civilians are in danger.
In its initial letter to McMaster’s president, FSWC wrote, “Anyone who denies Israel the basic legal and natural right to defend itself, from murderous attacks against its civilians, demonstrates a basic disdain for the value of Jewish life. Under no circumstances should Finkelstein enjoy the privilege and prestige associated with speaking at McMaster or any other Canadian university.”
FSWC had also asked McMaster to ban all IAW events after a poster was circulated showing convicted terrorist Lela Khalid holding an AK-47 to fundraise for and advertise Israeli Apartheid Week programming.
McMaster spokesman Wade Hemsworth said in an emailed statement that the university was not involved in the decision to cancel the Finkelstein event.
Finkelstein is an American political scientist whose primary areas of research are the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust. He has been on the faculty of several American universities until 2007 when he was denied tenure and placed on leave from DePaul University after a high-profile public feud with Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz. He later resigned from the school after coming to an undisclosed settlement.
Finkelstein’s criticisms of Israel have been so virulent that in 2008 he was banned from entering the country for 10 years.
SPHR, which describes itself as a non-profit student-based organization advocating “to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people in the face of human rights violations and all forms of racism, discrimination, misinformation and misrepresentation” uses the annual Israel Apartheid Week seeks to advance that agenda.
The 2020 event, slated for March 16 to 20, is to include presentations with titles such as Unpacking Israeli Propaganda and Legacies of Resistance. Another will argue Israeli environmentalism is nothing more than a smokescreen for colonialism.
SPHR said tickets sold for the Finkelstein event will be refunded “within the week” and a new free event will be announced in its place. The group did not respond to requests for comment submitted by email and through its Facebook page.