Peace Studies Program not acting in spirit of peace-promoting

Sunday, March 16, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:48 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

In a piece you published on March 3 regarding Norman Finkelstein’s recent visit to the MU campus, Dr. John Galliher, director of the Peace Studies Program that sponsored him, is quoted as saying “those troubled by Finklelstein’s visit should suggest future speakers.”

It is disingenuous for Dr. Galliher to say that all that “troubled” citizens who disagree with his choice to sponsor Finkelstein have to do is to suggest alternative speakers. After all, the Peace Studies Program has been actively bringing anti-Israel speakers to campus on a regular basis. For example, from the fall of 2005 to the present, Peace Studies was involved in co-sponsoring several anti-Israel speakers (Ellen O’Grady, Simone Bitton, Joe Carr, Alison Weir, Noam Chomsky and Anna Balzer) without offering any alternative speakers that would present a balanced, rather than a clearly biased, approach to the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

Unfortunately, it is against this background that one could safely infer that the Peace Studies program has not acted in the spirit of peace-promoting as one should or would expect. Certainly Dr. Galliher needs no outside assistance in coming up with names of respected scholars — unlike the scholarly-discredited Norman Finkelstein — who would present a different interpretation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Rather, what is needed is a change in Dr. Galliher’s attitude on how to better use university (i.e. public) money in promoting the cause of peace and academic integrity.

It is quite disconcerting that when it comes to Israel bashing, the peace program director does not need outside advice as to his choice of speakers, yet he requires it when it comes to more scholarly balanced speakers. We would be more than willing to assist him in this cause.

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Kevin Gamble March 16, 2008 | 11:38 a.m.

When those who would defend Israel learn to accept criticism of its policies and politics, then the process of peace can begin. The letter above is disingenuous, confusing the questioning of power with the exercise of power.

Thinkers like Chomsky understand that the only proper way to view the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is through the lens of power--something that Israel, with its morbidly reflexive backing by the U.S., fully has over the Palestinian people.

It's a cheap shortcut, and common defamation technique, to equate critique of policy with hating or "bashing" the country as a whole. I expect that these letter writers are better than this, and are simply reacting emotionally, which is understandable. But if the writers are truly interested in peace, they should stop waiting for someone else to take the first step.

As should the leaders of Israel.

(Report Comment)
Rick Diamant March 16, 2008 | 2:47 p.m.

Kevin, you completely ignored the point of this letter. It criticizes the total lack of balance in the selection of speakers brought to Mizzou by the Peace Studies department. Feintuch and Perkins didn't say that Peace Studies shouldn't bring speakers that are anti-Israel, they said that Peace Studies should also bring in pro-Israel speakers so both points of view are heard.

Do you feel that only anti-Israel speakers should be sponsored by Mizzou? How are people supposed to make an informed decision on any issue if they don't hear all sides of the issue?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 16, 2008 | 3:45 p.m.

It's the responsibility of a lecturer or program director to see that a balance of views is presented. If one wanted to receive only a single viewpoint, he or she could simply read the commentary of those who hold that viewpoint. There would be no need to attend a lecture or even to enroll as a student. Perhaps we could then eliminate entire programs at University of Missouri-Columbia.

Adolf Hitler, by his own admission, while living in Vienna selectively read only the worst kind of antisemitic trash. Why? Because he was apparently only interested in the reinforcement of his pre-existing views. That is not education!

(Report Comment)
Ken Levy March 16, 2008 | 11:58 p.m.

Norman Finkelstein argues for a just settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict and his scholarship is, to my knowledge, impeccable. A single example of a defect in his scholarship has yet to come to my attention and none is presented above. That DePaul caved proves nothing.

He's vilified in part because he opposes Israeli state policy toward the occupied territories and Lebanon. That policy opposes peace and is an especially tragic irony.

It's important to emphasize that a just settlement has been agreed to: full Israeli withdrawal from the territories acquired during the June 1967 war, full recognition by the Arab states of the state of Israel within the '67 borders with some minor adjustments, and the right of self-determination for the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. The agreement is about thirty years old now and continues to be opposed by the US and Israel, accompanied at times by up to about five other states (Dominica, Tuvalu, Nauru, Micronesia, etc.) There is a broad consensus which includes the entire Arab League that supports this decades old just settlement and it is, in my opinion, a proper expression of international morality under a system of international law. The US and Israel are the last holdouts.

The Peace Studies program did its job by presenting Norman Finkelstein. His scholarship on the topic and his argument for the morality and practicality of the international consensus are right in line with the mission of the program. In light of the fact that the nature of the conflict tends in the US to be buried underneath a thick ideological fog that suppresses critical discussion of Israeli policy, Finkelstein's presence should be particularly welcome. Discussion is far more open in Israel with severe denouncements of aggression in leading newspapers and documented by the mainstream human rights organizations, amongst others. We're all familiar with the apologetics. Finkelstein offers serious critique. That's fair.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble March 17, 2008 | 9:11 a.m.

It's the responsibility of every individual to find their *own* balance of information and come to their *own* decisions. A question to ask is, would this letter to the editor have been written if only speakers in favor of Israel's political policies had been invited to speak at the university? Judging by the wording in this letter, I'm skeptical. That should give us pause.

Rick, in his response above, simply falls into the same trap as the orginal writers, in oversimplifying things to a black and white, "pro- and anti-Israel" way of seeing things. In doing so, he validates my original point, that the type of "balance" sought by the original writers sounds more like a simple rejection of criticism of Israeli policy.

I can criticize American policies and politicians without being "anti-American". The same can be done to Israel. There's a very real imbalance in power in that region, and in the acceptance of the messages coming from the various sides in the Palestinian issue. Our government and media has a long record of being biased toward Israel's leaders in this regard. Those who see an "imbalance" in the type of thinkers sponsored by one specific department at MU aren't seeing the big picture, that such views are those of the small voice speaking against the large voice.

In that sense, another ten thinkiers considered "anti-Israel" by some of those here probably still wouldn't right the "balance". And, intellectually speaking, of what use is a speaker who simply validates a government? There's already too little critique of governments to begin with.

(Report Comment)

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