Although I’m not Jewish, I recognize that anti-Semitism is a growing problem around the world, especially on university campuses. I also recognize that challenging hate directed against particular groups requires people outside those groups to speak up when they see it.
That’s why I will not be silent about the invitation of Norman Finkelstein – a man who has made a living off smearing Holocaust survivors, expressing solidarity with violent terrorist groups like Hezbollah and spreading lies about Israel and the Jewish community – to speak at the University of Toronto Mississauga tomorrow.
Finkelstein uses his parents’ experience in the Holocaust as a cover to then call others who survived one of the world’s most gruesome genocides “greedy.” He vilifies Israel as a satanic state and compares Israelis to Nazis, while at the same time praising terrorist groups that openly advocate for the violent destruction of the Jewish state.
I recently visited Israel for the first time. I entered the country with an open mind, not sure what to expect, given the way Israel is portrayed in the media and the general political sensitivity of the region. I admit that I was pleasantly surprised to discover a place where adherents of three of the world’s major religions have figured out how to live in peace with one another.
The Israel I saw with my own eyes, where Arab and Jewish vendors sell their products side-by-side in the Jaffa market in Tel Aviv, was the opposite of what Finkelstein describes. The country I visited was a flourishing, if imperfect, democracy, in which minority rights are respected.
To be clear, I am by no means claiming that people cannot, or should not, be able to criticize Israel or the Israeli government. Just the opposite: I believe that constructive criticism is beneficial and I continue to encourage dialogue and critical discussion around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as sensitive as it may be. I realized while I was in Israel that these types of debates are nuanced and complicated, and there are serious, reasonable and legitimate claims on both sides.
Finkelstein’s hateful rhetoric flies in the face of constructive dialogue. He uses his Jewish identity to validate an anti-Semitic message that accuses Jews of exploiting the Holocaust to gain political and financial favour, and he legitimizes the targeting of Israelis and Jews by terrorist groups. This is the message that Jewish students at U of T will hear.
We cannot be silent. Freedom of speech and our right to express our opinions publicly are critical to a functioning democracy and must be preserved and protected, especially in academia. That’s why I’m not calling for Finkelstein to be banned from campus.
Instead, The University of Toronto should publicly denounce Finkelstein and his bigotry. The administration should highlight that Finkelstein’s values stand in stark contrast to the principles U of T aims to defend and promote on campus. His remarks will not serve to inspire constructive thought, or present the Middle East conflict in an honest way. It is clear that Finkelstein’s only objective is to spread blatant lies and half-truths in an attempt to delegitimize Israel and vilify its supporters, particularly Jewish students. This is dangerous and cannot be ignored.
Jared Ecker is a second-year student studying international relations at the University of Toronto. He recently visited Israel through the Israel Young Leaders Program offered by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.