On Sunday, June 17, here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we carried out our first effort to demonstrate against the Catholic Church in support of Norman Finkelstein. By any normal measure, the demonstration was unsuccessful. It was small and had no observable effect, even in stirring up and blowing fresh air into the fog of apathy that prevents most people in the U.S. from knowing or caring about injustices that take place in their own country as well as elsewhere in the world, unless it directly affects them.
As a first of a series of demonstrations that we intend to run weekly, however, we hope we can look forward to greater success. If we can show some success, we hope that others in other cities and countries will join in with their own demonstrations against the Catholic Church. By the tenth time we do this, we’ll make a new judgment as to whether we are having any effect.
Only five people — we two, one other person from Santa Fe, and two Quaker activists visiting from Atlanta — participated in the June 17 demonstration in the city center, across the street from the main entrance to St. Francis Cathedral, which is the seat of the Santa Fe Archbishopric of the Roman Catholic Church. (Literature buffs will recognize that the cathedral was built in the late 19th century by Archbishop Jean Lamy, a transplanted French bishop immortalized by Willa Cather in Death Comes for the Archbishop.)
The demonstration started at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 10:00 a.m., when the best attended, mid-Sunday morning Mass always begins. Thus we were there with our signs and handout brochures for the entire period from before the ending of the 8:00 a.m. Mass, and the start of the 10:00 a.m. Mass. We demonstrators arrived with 105 copies of the brochure we had prepared describing the injustice done by Catholic DePaul University to Finkelstein, and passed out about 70 of them, mostly to people either leaving the early Mass or entering for the later Mass. We were able also to give out a few copies to passers-by who were not going to Mass but were simply in the city center on a lovely sunny Sunday morning for other reasons.
We never thought that on this first occasion, we would be overwhelmed with people wanting brochures (as is evident from the fact that we only had roughly a hundred copies). We had also decided not to push ourselves on people in any way, and to be courteous and low key in greeting people and offering brochures as they passed by. (See below.) The street in front of the cathedral is narrow and quiet, so it was possible to interact even with people driving slowly by. We had further decided not to be aggressive in any way to anyone who passed by, whatever the provocation. We thus judiciously refrained from responding to those several drivers who made the sign of the cross over us, as if casting out devils.
Nevertheless, despite our friendly countenances and behavior, it must be said that a clear majority of the several hundred people whom we encountered refused to take a brochure, and refused as well to engage with us in any way. Once they had read our signs (we had two), it seemed quite obvious that most of them felt strongly that it was inappropriate for us to demonstrate against the Church for any reason, or to be physically present directly across the street from the cathedral, making it obvious that we were hostile to the Church for something we thought it had done. This was unacceptable to them. It seemed evident that the wording of our signs was not the problem — many people did not even look at them — it was the very fact that we were there, during one Mass and just before another, defiling the place.
Somehow, it’s important to get past the notion that it is automatically wrong to criticize the Catholic Church on the streets, that somehow such rough treatment of an organized religion must be disallowed in any decent society — whatever the reason behind the criticism. One of the things that needs to be emphasized far more strongly than has been done recently is that the Roman Catholic hierarchy possesses no God-like qualities; instead it is remarkably similar in its structure, needs, and approaches to exercising power, to other massive bureaucracies around the world of either major corporations or governments. The fact that one such bureaucracy manages one of the world’s great religions does not mean that this bureaucracy can claim a higher morality or better ethics than any of the bureaucracies that do not manage organized religions.
We should talk more about the following. The compromises engaged in by the Catholic hierarchy with the Fascists and Nazis, particularly over the fate of Europe’s Jews, before and during World War II are common knowledge. Since then, for the past several decades, the hierarchy has made major efforts to atone for those sins, and those efforts are in general admirable. But, as Howard Friel aptly writes in a June 12 ZNet article, Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor who was most instrumental in undermining Finkelstein’s reputation with DePaul University, clearly “sought to leverage Catholic vulnerability about the Holocaust.”
Moreover, the Church seems recently to have given a higher-than-ever priority to strengthening its ties with the governments of Israel and Israel’s closest ally, the U.S. The Church’s previous more or less simultaneous efforts to stand up, at least occasionally, against the injustices and oppression suffered by the Palestinians, have quite clearly received a lower priority — these efforts have been moved to the back of the bus. It is doubtful that Jesus Christ would have done that.
Many people have written us to observe that the Catholic Church in fact has no authority over DePaul and its administration, despite its being a Catholic university, and that therefore our protest against the Church is futile. We have no doubt that they are technically correct, but we cannot believe that the Church has no interest whatsoever in DePaul’s image as a Catholic institution of learning and therefore no influence at all over it. We have no doubt whatsoever that if DePaul began, for instance, to teach against the divinity of Christ or the verity of the doctrine of transubstantiation (a central tenet of Catholicism that avows that at each and every Mass around the world, bread and wine are actually transformed into the body and blood of Christ), the Church would find a way to intervene and prevent those teachings. It could have done the same to stop the injustice to Finkelstein, had the issue been of enough importance to the hierarchy and had Church officials had the courage to stand up to the political pressures of Israel’s friends.
In connection with our support for Finkelstein, our belief is that we should not only publicize to the maximum the terrible flaws of present Israeli and U.S. policies toward the Palestinians, but also work just as hard — to include many more “street” actions near churches — against a Catholic hierarchy that has in effect joined in a political alliance with the leaderships of Israel and the U.S. We should talk and write incessantly about the inappropriateness of the Catholic hierarchy itself engaging in such political activity, or bowing to such political pressure, and make the point again and again that street demonstrations against such activity are perfectly justifiable.
Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis.
They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SUBMISSION TO PRO-ISRAELI PRESSURE
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH’S FAILURE
TO SUPPORT ACADEMIC FREEDOM
FOR A CRITIC OF ISRAEL
BOYCOTT the Church. Go to services as you wish, but–
WITHHOLD donations to the Church
SEND YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS INSTEAD to Palestinian and Israeli peace groups:
Middle East Children’s Alliance
910 Parker Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
P.O. Box 2565
Chapel Hill, NC 27515
WRITE letters of protest:
Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M.
President, DePaul University
1 East Jackson Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60604
Most Reverend Archbishop Michael Sheehan
Archbishop of Santa Fe
4000 Saint Joseph’s Place, NW
Albuquerque, NM 87120-1741
an eminent scholar denied tenure
by a Catholic University
under pressure from the pro-Israel lobby
Norman Finkelstein is an assistant professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago, author of numerous books on the Palestinian-Israeli situation, and a pre-eminent Middle East scholar. He has won acclaim from noted scholars around the world, including Noam Chomsky, Raul Hilberg, dean of Holocaust scholars, and Avi Shlaim, Oxford University expert on Israel and Israeli policy. His meticulous scholarship has been hailed by former policymakers, journalists, academic associations, and fellow scholars, Israeli as well as American.
His books include Beyond Chutzpah, called by Israeli scholar Baruch Kimmerling “the most comprehensive, systematic, and well-documented work of its kindone of the harshesttexts about the daily practices of the [Israeli] occupation.” Other books include Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict and The Holocaust Industry, also hailed as radical, hard-hitting critiques of U.S. and Israeli policies.
Despite the acclaim, Finkelstein has been consistently attacked by supporters of Israel because of his criticism of Israel. The smear campaign has been led in particular by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has long engaged in polemical exchanges with Finkelstein. When Finkelstein came up for tenure at DePaul University last fall, Dershowitz began a campaign of pressure on the university to deny tenure, calling Finkelstein “a propagandist, not a scholar.”
Although Finkelstein’s political science department and another university committee voted to approve tenure, a college dean opposed Finkelstein and, in an outrageous departure from academic practice suggested by Dershowitz, actually solicited “the clearest and most egregious instances” of Finkelstein’s supposed malfeasance from fellow scholars. No one responded, although 600 academics signed a letter of support for Finkelstein. Nonetheless, on June 8, DePaul University President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., a priest of the Vincentian Order, bowed to pro-Israeli pressure and formally denied Finkelstein tenure at the university.
Comments on Finkelstein
Norman Finkelstein is “an outstanding scholar. He…wrote a book [Beyond Chutzpah], which is in fact the best compendium that now exists of human rights violations in Israel and the blocking of diplomacy by Israel and the United Statesa very careful scholarly book, as all of his work is, impeccable–also about the uses of anti-Semitism to try to silence a critical discussion.”
-Noam Chomsky, Democracy Now!, April 17, 2007
The Middle East Studies Association congratulates the University of California Press “for seeing to completion the publication of Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s book, Beyond Chutzpah, despite considerable and concerted efforts to prevent that from happening. For this, MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom salutes the Press and all those who made this happen.”
-Middle East Studies Association, November 2005
Finkelstein “is no stranger to daring challenges, and as this book clearly shows, Finkelstein has got what it takes. The precision and meticulousness of his research and analyses are admirable.”
-Felicia Langer, Israeli attorney, Preface to German edition of Beyond Chutzpah
I was “struck by the fact that Finkelstein was being attacked over and over [for The Holocaust Industry].[B]ut I was saying the same thing, and I had published my results in that three-volume work, published in 2003 by Yale University Press, and I did not hear from anybody a critical word about what I said, even though it was the same substantive conclusion that Finkelstein had offered.[T]he substance of the matter is most important here, particularly because Finkelstein, when he published this book, was alone. It takes an enormous amount of academic courage to speak the truth when no one else is out there to support him. And so, I think thatthis acuity of vision and analytical power…takes a great amount of courage in and of itself. So I would say that his place in the whole history of writing history is assured.”
-Raul Hilberg, dean of Holocaust historians, Democracy Now!, May 9, 2007
“I regard him as a very able, very erudite and original scholar who has made an important contribution to the study of Zionism, to the study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, in particular, to the study of American attitudes towards Israel and towards the Middle East. Professor Finkelstein specializes in exposing spurious scholarship on the Arab-Israeli conflict. And he has a very impressive track record in this respect.[H]is style is very polemical, and I don’t particularly enjoy the strident polemical style that he employs. On the other hand, what really matters in the final analysis is the content, and the content of his books, in my judgment, is of very high quality.My view is that the blind supporters of Israel–and there are many of them in America, in particular–use the charge of anti-Semitism to try and silence legitimate criticism of Israeli practices. I regard this as moral blackmail. Israel has no immunity to criticism, moral immunity to criticism, because of the Holocaust….I find his critique extremely detailed, well-documented and accurate.”
-Avi Shlaim, Israeli-British scholar, Oxford University, Democracy Now!, May 9, 2007
Comments on the Denial of Tenure
“I have a sinking feeling about the damage this will do to academic freedom.”
-Raul Hilberg, dean of Holocaust historians, Chicago Tribune, June 10, 2007
“De Paul University’s decision not to grant tenure despite your having met the criteria for scholarship and teaching and the President’s statement, which attempts to camouflage the university’s failure to restrict itself to the established criteria for tenure, lacks the very integrity and morality that one would expect from a Catholic university. Having benefited from a Vincentian education, I am especially disappointed.”
-John L. Esposito, scholar of Islam, Georgetown University, email communication to Finkelstein, June 12, 2007
“One DePaul professornoted what she saw as the irony of rejecting Finkelstein on the basis of Vincentian values. ‘Finkelstein embodies Vincentian values,’ she said. ‘He really cares about human rights, he talks about them constantly, it’s what he lives and breathes.'”
-Robert McClory, National Catholic Reporter, April 20, 2007