Finkelstein tends to create something of a stir when he speaks, and campus security had been notified of his visit.
"If you look at the documentary record on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it's not controversial at all," said Finkelstein. "Most of the controversy is fabricated, concocted, conjured up." This is done, he argued, to divert attention from the actual documentary record, which shows Israel to be guilty of numerous human rights abuses.
"The whole world agrees, let's resolve this conflict," he said. "The obstacle to resolving it is that Israel refuses to obey international law."
The event was the second in a series scheduled for Palestine Awareness Week, which was organized by a student group, SLU Solidarity with Palestine. The St. Louis Jewish Light newspaper reported that some local Jewish organizations were on "high alert" this week, "ready to respond to what some believe will be a biased, anti-Israel presentation."
Brendan Kottenstette, who helped organize the SLU series, says most people know about the conflict only as a black-and-white situation because "that's how it's shown in the media." The purpose of Palestine Awareness Week, he said, was to examine the Palestinian side of the issue.
Finkelstein's views, laid out in books including Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History and The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, are unpopular in many circles. The national leader of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman, has written that Finkelstein's career is based on a "vitriolic hatred of Zionism and Israel, and a penchant for distorting the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict." Most recently Finkelstein locked horns with Harvard law professor and criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, publishing a book that rebutted Dershowitz's recent tome, A Case for Israel, which Finkelstein calls "an elaborate hoax." (Dershowitz has called Finkelstein's book libelous.) "What does it say about our society that one of the senior-most professors at the best law school in the country is a total charlatan?" Finkelstein asked the SLU crowd.
Though the talk proceeded without interruption, during the question-and-answer session that followed a man shouted "I say you are the fraud!" and went on to accuse Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, of being "a so-called Jew."
"Now we are entering outer space," Finkelstein retorted.
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