FSOI has just sent this letter to Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary, in response to the Board of Deputies attempt to censor her for citing Norman Finkelstein.
Dear Angela Rayner
I am writing on behalf of Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish led and largely Jewish group concerned that antisemitic incidents are identified accurately and dealt with but that inaccurate accusations are not used to silence needed discussion of events concerning Israel and Palestine.
We read with concern that you had been put under extreme pressure by the Board of Deputies to apologise for citing Norman Finkelstein’s book ‘The Holocaust Industry’. Professor Finkelstein’s book is indeed controversial and there are few who would agree with every point of his argument but his central theme is clear and robust.
We find it hard to understand why anyone would dissent from your statement, “it is important to fight for and preserve the integrity of the historical record”
Professor Finkelstein’s book argues not with the brute facts of the Holocaust, he is no Holocaust denier, but with the political discourse that is based on these facts. He was driven out of his post in DePaul University for exercising what most regard as the foundation of academic freedom, arguing a case that the powerful find uncomfortable.
He argues that political Zionism has used, or rather misused, the memory of the Holocaust to excuse all subsequent actions of the Israeli state, a view that is supported by very many. Indeed many would argue that Yad Vashem is less a memorial to those who were murdered by the Nazis and more a propaganda arm of the Israeli state; a use that vitiates a memorial to the suffering of millions.
Finkelstein has less wide support for his arguments about the financial exploitation of the Holocaust although his arguments are not trivial. There are indeed people whose (more than comfortable) lifestyles are enabled by attention to the Holocaust and many academics whose careers are built on it. But it is not clear that this a special feature of the Holocaust rather than it being one of many honeypots that parasites flock to.
It is a sad day when the Board of Deputies can seek to ape the Catholic Church in producing an Index of books too dangerous to be read. We hope you will reconsider your apology and assert your right to quote from academic books without the prior approval of the Board of Deputies. Your apology energises those who would seek to curtail debate about Palestine and Israel and gives succour to those who would expand the definition of antisemitism to include anything that supporters of Israel deem unacceptable. This not only silences support for Palestinian rights but also puts British Jews at greater risk by occluding what real antisemitism looks like.
Free Speech on Israel
note: this post has been corrected to show it was DePaul University that terminated Finkelstein’s contract not Notre Dame as we originally stated