Norman Finkelstein is a well-known political scientist, activist and author. His main area of research is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust. Influenced by personal experience—his parents survived the Holocaust—he has taken an unabating stance opposing Zionists. As an American Jew who stands against Israel, Dr. Finkelstein is the frequent subject of controversy among the intellectual and political community.
While some agree with his point of view, others outright reject it. Nevertheless, Finkelstein is considered to be a famous political scientist who has been subject to a lot of polemic, certainly not far from AUB.
A few weeks ago, an active student, Tony Kanaan, brought to light a controversial issue concerning Finkelstein. As a huge fan of his work, Kanaan sent him an email, asking why he does not teach at AUB. Fishing for the opportunity to meet with a distinguished person, Kanaan did not quite get what he was expected.
Finkelstein promptly replied to Kanaan, and much to everyone’s surprise, Finkelstein admitted to having applied to AUB and being rejected, twice. Kanaan brought this issue to the public by reaching out to AUBites on the Facebook group “AUB Courses/Teachers Guru,” where he received the attention of 700+ students who liked, shared or commented on the post.
Kanaan decided to dig deeper and e-mailed Finkelstein back, asking about the possible reasons for rejection. Finkelstein did not hesitate in blaming the AUB administration, assuming that hiring him would bring about troubles.
“Many factions oppose me: the Americans on the AUB board of Directors; the BDS people; the anti-Hezbollah people, and on and on,” he stated. Finkelstein also highlighted the fact that he and Provost Ahmad Dallal have been friends for ages, and that Dallal promised to look for a position for him at AUB.
In the weeks following the email correspondence, this is still a topic of discussion among the AUB community. Kanaan himself, however, has lost faith in the story. “Sadly enough, the story was easily forgotten, and no one followed up with me,” he told Outlook. “I genuinely lost interest in the topic primarily because of the fact that I will be graduating in four months and either way won’t have the chance of seeing him. What I thought I did was hand a very important torch to the active student body to help enhance their own community. It sadly seems to have failed.” Kanaan tried to reach out to the USFC, who decided to keep this issue dormant.
Provost Ahmad Dallal clearly stated, in an interview with Outlook, that he is not aware Finkelstein applied for a position at AUB. “Neither I nor any member of the administration or BOT [Board of Trustees] have received a recommendation related to his possible appointment, nor has anyone opposed a consideration of his application.”
As a matter of fact, Provost Dallal explained how the faculty recruitment happens at AUB. “Faculty recruitment at AUB follows a standard process which starts with approval and advertising the positions depending on program needs, a search process that is conducted by a search committee appointed by the Dean, interviews with shortlisted candidates, deliberations and vote by the department, followed by a vote by the faculty advisory committee and a recommendation from the Dean that comes to me. Appointments at the Associate and full professor level are also forwarded to the President and BOT for their approval.”
An interview with Issam Chmaytelli, Vice President of the USFC, revealed that the USFC spared the trouble of looking into the issue. Chmaytelli believed the AUB administration reserves the right of hiring people and as well as their reasons and motives behind it. As student representatives, he said, they do not know any details related to hiring faculty members.
Chmaytelli also blamed Kanaan for speaking on behalf of the student body while e-mailing Finkelstein. According to the VP, Kanaan did not have the right to urge Finkelstein by telling them that he has “already gathered over 600 students that are willing to demand your presence here through petitions and what not.”
When asked about his opinion, Chmaytelli claimed that AUB does not have any problem hiring people with opposed political views. “AUB did not mind hiring a Marxist, Dr. Vijay Prashad, who promoted the leftist views and helped launching the Red Oak club at AUB.”
A lot of questions remain unanswered regarding Dr. Finkelstein; but in any case, it is clear that politics should never be the main reason for accepting or rejecting an applicant.