For those of us in the academy, among the most important stories of the week was a successful smear campaign waged by Alan Dershowitz and the Zionist lobby resulting in noted scholar and author Norman Finkelstein being denied tenure at DePaul University. The distinguished historian Raul Hilberg spoke for many in admitting to “a sinking feeling about the damage this will do to academic freedom.”
One might think that this story would be a natural for inclusion in “McCarthyism Watch”, a regular weekly feature on the Progressive Magazine website presided over by Progressive editor Matt Rothschild.
It won’t be.
That’s because of the minor but not insignificant role which Rothschild and Progressive columnist Ruth Conniff played in fueling the witch hunt.
A year ago, Finkelstein’s name came up on a Madison talk show where Conniff was appearing as a guest. Conniff shocked many listeners by describing Finkelstein as “a Holocaust denier” and a “celebrity in a certain, a pretty ugly anti-semitic group in the country.” Finkelstein protested demanding a retraction from Conniff’s editor, fearing that a respected publication’s denigration of his character could influence his upcoming tenure decision. Rothschild responded by reasserting the correctness of Conniff’s charges, citing in support canards circulated by Finkelstein’s chief antagonist, Dershowitz.
Since the DePaul administration’s deliberations were conducted in secret, it is not known whether Finkelstein’s fears materialized. It is not unreasonable to assume that Conniff’s slanders and Rothschild’s defense of them sent a clear signal that Finkelstein was fair game who could not count on the support even on the left fringes of the mainstream.
And indeed, there was one organ of progressive opinion which was silent on the Finkelstein case this week.
Rothschild is fond of citing Martin Niemoller’s adage of what happens when we don’t speak up when they come for others.
Like too many liberals, both now and in the Weimar Republic, one can always count on Rothschild and the Progressive for a howl of outrage.
Except when it matters.
JOHN HALLE is Director of Studies in Music Theory and Practice at Bard College. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org