Campus Watch Champions Finkelstein’s Free Speech…So Long as No One Hears Him

posted by Alex Joffe

What are we to make of University of Arizona Middle East Studies professor Leila Hudson’s defense of David Irving?

The Forward has noticed a European crackdown on those who question not just the occurance, but also various aspects – number of victims, methods of extermination – of the Nazi holocaust. Most alarming is the detention of British revisionist historian David Irving in Austria. His work – which I have not read first hand – has been a lightning rod for vicious and costly debates about the meaning of the holocaust in academia and in the British courts. He faces up to 20 years in Austrian prison for the crime of holocaust denial.

She rises to the defense of the well-known Holocaust denier after criticism of her father Michael Hudson’s institution, Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, decided to have clownish Holocaust (and newfound Middle East) “historian” Norman Finkelstein speak on – of all things- anti-Semitism and its “misuse.”

Apparently, along with any of Irving’s work, Hudson did not read Irving’s full Wikipedia entry or else she would have discovered that his many “controversial” activities include not only Holocaust denial but forgery of historical documents. Perhaps both are, in her view, usefully transgressive activities; after all, they challenge the “Holocaust industry.” And the “vicious and costly debates” which she finds so upsetting had to do with Irving having sued historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel in a British court, a suit which Lipstadt won, hands down.

Having stated clearly that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, Hudson steps in a little deeper:

In light of these developments, attempts not just by Alan Dershowitz but by the mainstream US academic community to silence Norm Finkelstein for daring to write about “the holocaust industry” are particularly disturbing. For now, the US is still safe for everyone from loonies to controversial academics to air the results of their mental labors in the “marketplace of ideas” without fear of legal sanction but the climate in Europe and the noisy Campus Watch and “academic freedom” campaigns are a real threat to this legacy of free speech and debate. Gotta back Charles Glass in the Independent when he defends the right to write and speak (not the views) of Irving, saying Free speech is for everyone – even David Irving. Freedom of speech is worthless if it doesn’t guarantee the right to unpopular speech.

The “mainstream US academic community” she links to is a letter from her father to the Georgetown college paper, in which he accused the university’s Program in Jewish Civilization of not only refusing to co-sponsor Finkelstein, but criticizing the CCAS decision! But that “community,” when defined outside her own family, has indeed repudiated Finkelstein again and again as a hate-filled, pseudo-scholar, and his own words demonstrate why. Of course Hudson throws Campus Watch for good measure, since the noise apparently interrupts her deep researches into matters such as David Irving. But her phrase “air the results of their mental labors” is really pretty funny.

But all this indicates a far more serious problem, the inability (or unwillingness) to recognize bad or non-existent scholarship, and worse, to defend it as merely “controversial.” No one in this country is restricting Norman Finkelstein’s free speech, but many people exercise their own free speech to criticize him, and to criticize the poor judgment shown by institutions like Georgetown (and University of California Press) which give him a podium. No one is has a right to speak at a university just because they have a bunch of degrees. And in fact, no one has a right not to be disinvited. Universities are supposed to be about judgment, not simply about controversy, especially cheap controversy.

The cheap controversy that Finkelstein generates says more about the institution, in this case Georgetown continuing its blatant trend of showcasing anti-Israeli professors, than about the presumed substance of the speech. Meanwhile, Leila Hudson’s studied cluelessness about David Irving – and resulting defense – speaks volumes about her own judgment and historical acumen. Perhaps for an encore she can explain why Ernest Zundel is misunderstood.