The collegiate academic year coming to a close this month has been another contentious one for those who care about Israel. But as students and faculty head off on summer break, it's important to note that the influence of anti-Zionist propagandists has helped to create an atmosphere at many schools where Jewish and pro-Israel students no longer feel comfortable.
Also frustrating is the desire of many universities to welcome pseudo-scholars, whose principle credential is a willingness to bash Jews on campus. A case in point is De Paul University's Norman Finkelstein, who has earned notoriety for his minimization of the Holocaust and his contempt for Israel.
Finkelstein's appearance at the University of Pennsylvania in March sparked campus protests. Now, a month or so later, a group of prominent Penn alumni and Philadelphia philanthropists have published an open letter to the university, accusing it of serving as an enabler of hate speech because of the political-science department's sponsorship of the speech. The letter comes too late to have any impact on the recent brouhaha; nevertheless, we hope scholars and laypeople alike will ponder the issue it raises.
Finkelstein's defenders claim this is all an attempt to quash academic freedom. Universities can and must be places where all points of view are considered; still, the problem on most school grounds is not the absence of anti-Israel invective, but the hostile atmosphere in lecture halls toward anyone who disagrees with such views.
As much as we have no issue with the right of even a vile character like Finkelstein to speak or publish, a distinction must be made between him doing so on his own and being sponsored by a venerable institution such as Penn. Why should any respectable scholarly department associate itself with a person so synonymous with the lowest form of propaganda?
No group — no matter how prominent — should seek to dictate to a university whom they can or cannot invite. But we hope that in the coming year, officials here and elsewhere will think more seriously about whether or not their actions will further the hateful agendas of anyone pointing fingers at Jews.