CMU reschedules controversial speaker

Ali Abunimah. (Bill Wade/Post-Gazette)

A speaker whose planned appearance in a campus lecture series drew complaints from Jewish students at Carnegie Mellon University is being rescheduled so speakers with balancing viewpoints can be added. Carnegie Mellon yesterday confirmed the change involving a planned Feb. 21 speech by Norman Finkelstein. The school says it is discussing with him an appearance later in the spring semester, but no date has been set.

Finkelstein, an author who teaches at DePaul University, is described in promotional material about the lecture series as a scholar on Zionism and the Palestine/Israel conflict. His detractors say he is a Holocaust revisionist, a description that Finkelstein disputes.

On Thursday, about 40 Jewish students picketed a lecture series appearance by Ali Abunimah, a writer and commentator on the Middle East and Arab-American affairs. Some students later asked why no opposing speakers were booked.

School spokeswoman Teresa Thomas said the lecture series traditionally offers varied views, adding: “The confluence of these lectures — Mr. Abunimah and Mr. Finkelstein’s — in the span of one month was coincidental.”

In a phone interview yesterday, Finkelstein said that whichever way the university chooses to resolve the matter is fine with him, but he said it’s inaccurate to say his remarks would be hurtful to Jewish students as a whole. “This is not a question of me offending all Jews on campus because many Jews share my point of view,” he said.

Aaron Weil, executive director of the Hillel Jewish University Center, said he was pleased that Carnegie Mellon wanted to add balance. But he said he would have preferred Finkelstein not appear at all, saying the man’s remarks would cause pain on a campus that includes a number of Holocaust descendants.