Max Planck Institute urged to cancel talk by academic Norman Finkelstein.
Israel’s embassy and leading deputies in the German parliament slammed a Max Planck Institute branch for stoking hatred of Israel and Jews with a series of lectures from a pro-Hezbollah US academic who trivialized the Holocaust and is popular among neo-Nazis.
“It is outrageous that a distinguished German institution [Max Planck Institute branch in Halle] gives a stage to someone who spreads, in the best case, science fiction, and in the worst, pure incitement against Israel. Supporting [Norman] Finkelstein to maintain his academic facade is highly dangerous and an abuse of the scientific standards,” the Israeli Embassy in Berlin told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Michaela Engelmeier, a Social Democratic deputy in the Bundestag, told the Post she was astonished that “with our history it is possible to welcome academics who play down the Nazi regime’s murder of six million Jews and present it as trivial.”
She added that the fact that the anti-Israel academic is delivering talks close to International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 is “especially insensitive.”
She urged the Max Planck Institute to cancel next week’s Finkelstein lecture titled “Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom.”
Engelmeier cited Finkelstein’s support of the US and EU-classified terrorist organization Hezbollah. “In the past, Finkelstein compared the antisemitic terrorist organization Hezbollah with the resistance against the National Socialists. He compared Israel’s approach with that of the Nazis. He termed, in his most important work, the remembrance of Auschwitz as the ‘Holocaust Industry.’” Finkelstein’s remarks place him in the “center of right-wing radical deniers of the Holocaust and make him criminally liable in Germany,” Engelmeier said.
Volker Beck, a Green Party deputy who is the chairman of the German-Israel Parliamentary Group in the Bundestag, told the Post that the Max Planck Institute’s invitation to Finkelstein has nothing to do with “qualified academic expertise.” Finkelstein leveled “false contentions against the Jewish Claims Conference… he explained his solidarity with Hezbollah and considers Hamas a ‘peace offensive’ against Israel,” Beck said.
Beck said Finkelstein’s views are welcomed by “conspiracy theoreticians and neo-Nazis because Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors.”
He questioned what motivated the Max Planck Institute to invite the American to speak. “One cannot comprehend the invitation,” Beck said, adding that he could not understand why the institute would have anything to do with fomenting “antisemitic prejudices.”
The group Alliance against Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism along with an anti-fascist student organization from the University of Halle protested on Monday against Finkelstein’s first talk. There were 30-50 protesters.
The regional paper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, where the Max Planck Institute Halle is located, wrote that the institute’s media department was “surprised by the intense reactions.” The Max Planck Institute told the paper that Finkelstein is “a smart academic.”
Marie-Claire Foblets, the managing director of the department of law and anthropology at the Max Planck Institute, played a key role in organizing Finkelstein’s talks and has vigorously defended him. She told the Post it is absurd to call Finkelstein an antisemite.
Post emails to Dr. Martin Stratmann, the president of the Max Planck Institute, were not immediately returned.
The indifference to antisemitism at the Halle branch has raised eyebrows among monitors of modern antisemitism in Germany such as Dr. Efraim Zuroff from the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, because the Max Planck Institute played a role in advancing the Hitler movement’s lethal antisemitism.
Christina Beck, a spokeswoman for the Max Planck Institute, told the Post the institute “comprehensively rejects any accusations of antisemitism. In our research organization, there is no place for any form of hatred or agitation. The Max Planck Society maintains excellent relations with Israel and has been involved in German-Israeli research collaborative projects for several decades, in particular through the Minerva Foundation. As an independent research organization we also support diversity of opinion and freedom of science.”
The Halle Jewish community called the lectures a “disgrace” and refused to meet with Finkelstein. Foblets advocated a meeting between Halle’s Jewish community and the anti-Israel activists.
Engelmeier reminded the Max Planck Institute that many “artists, academics, social democrats, communists, journalist, and Sinti and Roma were victims of National Socialism. These Nazis’ murder of these victims was not disputed by Finkelstein, rather only the Jews, she said.
“Finkelstein blames Israel alone for the terrorism in the Middle East. With this position, he illustrates his passion to deny facts and to deny the terrorist attacks of the antisemitic organization Hamas, and equates Israel’s defensive measures with the annihilation of the Nazis,” she said.
Sebastian Striegel, a Green party deputy in the state government in Saxony-Anhalt, told the Post that “a public institution should not invite Finkelstein, because he relativizes the Holocaust.”