With Campus Security, Students' Union security personnel and Calgary Police on hand, the controversy surrounding a presentation by Middle East scholar Dr. Norman Finkelstein revolved more around the security precautions themselves than the content of his speech.
The event, held in MacEwan Hall Sat., Apr. 3, was presented by the Palestinian-Canadian Student Society and was attended by nearly 800 people.
Dr. Finkelstein addressed many of the issues surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict, including what he saw as an extensive record of Israel's human rights violations, the "fraud" of the new anti-Semitism, the West Bank security barrier and the bias in mainstream analysis of the conflict.
"It was a great success," said Shadi Abuid, PCSS Vice-President Public Relations, adding there were no incidents of violence or conflict. "It was a night of battle of the minds and there was no room for confrontation."
PCSS President Sameh Ahmad expressed concern about the four Calgary Police officers present and that the subsequent $1,200 price tag was forced upon the PCSS by Campus Security.
"[The police presence] wasn't negotiated, it was enforced on us," said Ahmad, noting it was implied by Campus Sec- urity Manager Lanny Fritz two days before the event that the speech would not take place without police presence. "Initially we were told by Lanny Fritz that the SU would be taking care of that bill. If we knew that was going to be the bill, we'd have chosen a different venue. I've spoken to Dr. Finkelstein and he said that's a ridiculous charge. We are paying for the right of free speech."
A special meeting of the SU Op- erations and Finance Commission was called on Fri., Apr. 2. They allocated $1,000 to the PCSS to cover the event's costs but only if the event's profit could not cover it.
"Lanny Fritz decided unilaterally that Calgary Police had to be there, which is absolute nonsense," said SU VP Op-Fi Gavin Preston. "The SU is picking up the tab for something Fritz decided. And, in the end, there wasn't even an inkling of a problem."
Ahmad said the PCSS will likely be able to cover the added security costs, but expressed disappointment the profits raised will not be substantial.
"I don't think that will give us enough money to host events in the future," he said.
The author of four books on the conflict, Dr. Finkelstein is known for his fierce attacks on Zionism and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The Jewish son of Holocaust survivors, he is a strong advocate of international law.
Dr. Finkelstein first gained noteriety by publicly denouncing Joan Peters' 1984 book From Time Immemorial. Peters argued Palestine was an empty land prior to Jewish settlement. He made waves again recently by publicly accusing Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz of plagiarism and fraud in his book The Case for Israel.
Dr. Finkelstein refutes the claim Palestine was unoccupied and accuses Dershowitz of rehashing Peters' false arguments and further failing to credit her as his source.
"The one thing you can't do in academia is plagiarize," said Dr. Finkelstein in his speech. "He not only plagiarized, but he plagiarized from the Joan Peters' hoax. Did it affect his reputation? No. Did it affect his reviews? No.
"The problem [in published works] when you come to the Israel- Palestine conflict is there is no longer any quality control. Fraudulent works are not turned out by the crack-pot presses, they're turned out by the mainstream publishers. What happened in 1948 was an ethnic cleansing. It was a premeditated, calculated expulsion of the Palestinians."
Some members of the U of C Jewish student group Hillel attended the event but remain unconvinced.
"He didn't really attack what Dershowitz says as much as the little intricacies like footnotes," said Michael Lipton, former Hillel President. "He did refer to [Ders- howitz] as an immoral person. I think it's disappointing he lowers himself to criticisms of an individual's character. Dr. Finkelstein is on the fringe."
Citing widespread acts of torture and the 2002 Israeli invasion of the Palestinian Jenin refugee camp, Dr. Finkelstein expressed his belief that the human rights record on the conflict speaks for itself.
"Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and [the Israeli human rights organization] B'tselem all produced reports on Jenin," he noted. "They all reached the conclusion Israel committed major humanitarian crimes and war crimes in their siege of Jenin.
"Even though Dershowitz devotes three-quarters of the book to human rights, not once does he cite mainstream human rights organizations. Were he to get the facts right, the book couldn't be called The Case for Israel. It would have to be called The Case for Palestine.
"Truth is a bitter pill to swallow. But even if it's painful, it's still useful. Lies are never useful."
Fritz could not be reached for comment prior to deadline.