Northeastern University on Monday kicks off what it calls Holocaust Awareness Week. This year’s events include a talk by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon and a documentary about the six-decade hunt for Nazi war criminals. But, according to a 17-minute film released Monday morning by a campus watchdog group, Holocaust Awareness Week at the Boston-based school in the past has often been less about remembering Hitler’s victims and more about bashing the Jewish state.
The film, called “Hijacked Holocaust,” shows anti-Zionist activists such as Alice Rothchild and Nadim Rouhana participating as panelists during the week ostensibly designed to raise awareness of the Nazi genocide against the Jews. Rothchild is shown in the video likening Israel to an abused child who, in turn, has become an abuser.
“Out of our catastrophe [the Holocaust], we created another catastrophe [the Nakba, the Palestinian term for the aftermath of Israeli independence in 1948],” she says.
Tufts University Professor Nadim Rouhana is an Israeli Arab and self-described anti-Zionist who wrote in 2010 that “it would be politically and morally wrong for the United States to support recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.” At Northeastern, Rouhana said Israel “has made every political [use] of the Jewish Holocaust to gain support for the Jewish State.”
In 2009, Rouhana was one of the organizers of a conference at Haifa University that was advertised by a poster showing the hand of an IDF soldier grasping the breast of a woman wearing a traditional Palestinian dress. The poster read: “Her husband needs a permit to touch her. The occupation penetrates her life every day.” At the time, a conference organizer called the ad “just an artistic device to convey a message” and denied that it implied that IDF soldiers rape or sexually harass Palestinians.
“It’s very upsetting that this was happening for all these years at Northeastern University, and few in the Jewish community were aware of it,” says Charles Jacobs, who heads Americans for Peace and Tolerance on Campus, a nonprofit outfit that made the film.
‘For too long, universities have been hiding behind “academic freedom” to promote the demonization of Israel’
“For too long, universities have been hiding behind ‘academic freedom’ to promote the demonization of Israel,” he says. “In the postmodern world of the academe, no one is willing to call anything a lie. No one is calling out people who use their platforms for propaganda. It’s just ‘an alternative view,’ so the idea that Jews are like Nazis becomes a legitimate opinion and not a racist attack.”
Jacobs, who was named by the Forward as one of America’s top 50 Jewish leaders, was one of the founders of the Boston branch of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).
The Provost of Northeastern University, Stephen W. Director, says Jacobs is “cherry picking random examples (many of them quite dated) that he believes reflect negatively on Northeastern.”
‘Northeastern is a vibrant academic community where people of all backgrounds and faiths come together in pursuit of knowledge’
“The present-day facts are clear: Northeastern is a vibrant academic community where people of all backgrounds and faiths come together in pursuit of knowledge,” says Director. “Some recent examples include a well-attended talk by Pulitzer prize-winning author Art Spiegelman, who delivered the annual Morton B. Ruderman Memorial lecture at Northeastern. This event was sponsored in part by Northeastern’s Jewish Studies Program, which is invigorated under the leadership of Professor Lori Lefkowitz, a prominent scholar of Jewish studies.”
But another Jewish Bostonian dismayed by what has occurred at Northeastern is Steven Stotsky, whose father, an American World War II combat veteran named Dr. Bernard Stotsky, endowed the school with the Stotsky Professorship in Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies to further the study of the Holocaust.
Last year, Steven Stotsky published a column in Boston’s Jewish newspaper expressing concern about the planning committee’s invitation to Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir to appear during the upcoming Holocaust Awareness Week. Shamir’s documentary, “Defamation,” claims that Jews exaggerate the threat of anti-Semitism for such purposes as raising money and justifying Israeli abuses against Palestinians. The film, in which the controversial anti-Zionist political scientist Norman Finkelstein compares Israel to Nazi Germany, was denounced by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for its attempt to “belittle the issue of anti-Semitism and cheapen the Holocaust.”
After Stotsky’s editorial, Shamir did not appear at Northeastern’s 2011 Holocaust Awareness Week, but, according to the film, was instead invited to speak to students and faculty later in the year.
Stotsky is also concerned with who the university has chosen to fill his father’s chair. From 2006 to 2009, the Stotsky Chair was held by Professor Inez Hedges, who supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) against Israel. In the film, Hedges is shown introducing Rothchild, saying, “I certainly didn’t want to end my tenure without having Alice Rothchild speak with us.”
“My father decided to endow a chair at Northeastern University to study the Holocaust because he was concerned that the Holocaust would be trivialized or forgotten over the years,” Stotsky says on camera. “We’re now seeing a situation, however, where the whole purpose of it is being transformed and perverted into an attack on Israel and the Jewish community.”
Provost Director, however, notes that, “This chair is currently held by Laurel Leff, a scholar and author who is chronicling the complex history of American efforts to rescue European intellectuals from the scourge of Nazi aggression.
Richard Landes, a history professor at Boston University, calls it “ludicrous” to compare the Nazi genocide to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
‘It’s moral sadism. To say the Israelis are behaving like Nazis is a sadistic thing to do’
“It’s a total perversion of what the Holocaust was,” he says in the film. “It’s moral sadism. To say the Israelis are behaving like Nazis is a sadistic thing to do. It’s Jew-baiting on the most extreme level.”
Until this year, Holocaust Awareness Week was organized by a campus group called the Spiritual Life Center. According to Jacobs, some of the center’s staff last year (one wearing a keffiyeh) attended a lecture by Finkelstein that was cheered by an anti-Zionist audience.
This year’s Holocaust Awareness Week has been organized by The Northeastern Humanities Center with the Holocaust Awareness Committee.
The university believes Jacobs’ film does not take an intellectually honest and holistic view of what happens on campus.
As a top-tier research university committed to the vigorous exchange of different viewpoints, Northeastern hosts events across the spectrum of ideas
“Mr. Jacobs takes issue with some past speakers at Northeastern. As a top-tier research university committed to the vigorous exchange of different viewpoints, Northeastern hosts events across the spectrum of ideas,” says Director. “Later this month, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, will speak to students, faculty and staff about Israel’s strong relationship with the US.”
For Jacobs and his group, the improved climate does not erase what has happened in the past. They are calling on the university to launch an investigation into previous conferences and to apologize to the Stotsky family and the Jewish community. They also want the school to ensure that Holocaust Awareness Week will be administered by “faculty sensitive to Jewish peoplehood” and urge Northeastern to extend its minority sensitivity training to include the Jewish people.