Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

“In a recent edition, Libin Zhang wrote a fantastic article on “Fillmore’s Motel”, which is located on the Harvard Law School campus, and which is known for its playful alcoholics, its open membership, and its free-wheeling inhabitants who are carving meaning out of the wilderness. Bravo! Those lucky members, who visit little known taverns, who spend all hours of the night engaged in the outdated art of conversation, and who consume whatever mind-altering substances that are at hand, are exactly what Harvard Law School needs. I approve.

To honor these urban pioneers, and to celebrate these unsung heroes, we have decided to apply for a branch membership in Fillmore’s Motel. Here is our pledge application:

1) Our branch chapter will be located in Kentucky, because that is where we live, and we aren’t about to get up from the chair.

2) Dogs are welcome in our chapter, if you don’t like dogs, then you cannot be a member of the Kentucky branch chapter.

3) Alcohol, women, and music are always encouraged to join and stay. Nothing more needs to be said about this policy.

4) The motto of our chapter is “Don’t Tread On Me!” If you have a problem with that, read this sentence again.

5) Our branch chapter invites the Cambridge chapter to visit at some inappropriate time. We will provide the Rebel Yell Whiskey, the bottles of wine will be flowing, and our chapter plays nothing but the Beatles.

6) Our chapter has an initiation that everyone must go through. Libin Zhang is invited to be the first. You must first read Mad Magazine, and then after that, all bets are off.

7) We of the Kentucky chapter are proud of our Southern Heritage, but we promise to leave the bridges to the North in current condition; they will remain unharmed.

8) For those members of Fillmore’s original chapter, who are starting to think that this makes sense; we would encourage you to rethink your stated purpose, and think: “What would President Fillmore have done when he was drunk?”

9) The answer to number 8 involves going to the bathroom, and the outside of Austin Hall. Any questions?

10) Humor first, humor second, comedy third, then mix in good friends and plenty of beer….love it….

Fair Winds and Following Seas,

Charles Facktor, Class of 1990

President of the Kentucky Chapter of Fillmore’s Motel

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To the Editor,

Imagine – being called a liar and a racist in the same issue of The Record!

I’m not sure whether to laugh or be angry. But either way I feel the need to defend myself against these unfounded slurs.

Mr. Shahrooz intimates that I lied about Norman Finkelstein’s visit to Toronto’s York University in October 2003. I was present at the event. I distributed pamphlets outside the lecture hall (Winters College Dining Hall, just so I’m perfectly clear) while the attendees waited in line outside. I observed the crowd. There were skinheads present. A number of my classmates were intimidated and left the building. Considering that I was there and Mr. Shahrooz was not, I’m impressed that he is so willing to openly accuse me of lying. I did not attend the University of Toronto engagement at which Mr. Shahrooz was present, so I would not be so presumptuous as to make authoritative statements on what took place there.

As for York University’s “shameful record of expelling peaceful Jewish pro-Palestinian activists,” I assume Mr. Shahrooz is referring to the affair involving Daniel Freeman-Maloy, who was expelled for twice violating university regulations regarding the use of unauthorized sound amplification devices (megaphones) in campus buildings. I know something about this, as in both incidents Mr. Freeman-Maloy was protesting events I organized. At any rate, he was later readmitted to the university and remains a student (and dedicated activist) there. It is unclear why Mr. Shahrooz deems it “curious” that I “neglected to mention” that story, as it has no relevance whatsoever to Norman Finkelstein.

Finally, Mr. Shahrooz implies that I “can’t distinguish between” Arabs and neo-Nazis. The accusation of racism is implicit. I am disgusted that such serious charges would be leveled for no apparent reason and by someone who does not know me. Such ad hominem, baseless, purious allegations only reveal desperation, and are both offensive and shameful.

Yaakov Roth, 2L

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To the Editor,

I am writing in response to Kaveh Shahrooz’s recent letter to the Editor of The Record.

I agree completely with Mr. Shahrooz about what an event organized by a student-group should be: engaging, rational, and unorthodox. I was very disappointed, however, that Mr. Shahrooz chose to conflate the arguments of three very different letters, written for distinctly different purposes, and that he used my name in doing so.

My letter was not an “anti-Finkelstein tirade.” My letter presented two distinct problems that many in the Jewish community have with Finkelstein: his repeated denial of the existence of anti-Semitism (which is distinct from an argument regarding the use of incidences of anti-Semitism for certain purposes by various organizations) and his reliance on arguments related to Jewish conspiracy theory. He invoked both of these themes during his talk. In this, my letter was not “long on accusations and short on actual facts;” it was a direct result of what Finkelstein has written, and what he repeated that night. Neither of these things focus on Finkelstein’s opinions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; nor did my letter, although Mr. Shahrooz’s response strives to portray otherwise.

Further, I never accused Finkelstein of being anti-Semitic or of being a “Jew-baiter,” or that being “anti-Israel is anti-Semitic.” Nor did I appreciate the insinuation that I do not have “prior knowledge of his writing.” I am sure both Mr. Shahrooz and I have read all of Finkelstein’s published books, and would be able to converse about his work at length with one another.

Nowhere in my letter did I grope for ad hominem monikers, either, using the terms “tirade,” “silly,” or “lazy” to describe the people that disagree with me, or their contentions. I think that one of the most productive things we can do is work to retain, rather than sacrifice, decorum and civility in making our arguments.

I believe very strongly that any student organization can bring any speaker they wish to campus, to discuss whatever they want and, as Mr. Shahrooz points out, Finkelstein discussed much that evening. As someone who has a personal interest in seeing a positive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I believe that bringing someone who offers practical, constructive solutions to campus is ideal. I do not think Norman Finkelstein is that person, precisely because of the baggage that he carries with him… baggage that is acknowledged in the academic community, particularly those who study the Middle East, and which has caused many – including his former mentor as well as Noam Chomsky – to distance themselves from him and his arguments. It is of interest to note that Justice For Palestine previously turned down a request for Finkelstein to come speak two years ago for precisely these, and other, reasons.

I believe that Mr. Shahrooz’s use of my name as well as my letter, or mere sentence fragments thereof, rather than the actual points I made, to construct his own argument, much of which had nothing to do with the issues I raised, was unfair. While likely making it easier for him to write his own letter, setting up easily tackled straw men through incorrectly attributing certain views to me was most disingenuous. Indeed, it completely looked past the point of my letter for mere rebuttal purposes. With such tactics, how can we get to the important work of creating dialogue to solve the crisis in the region?

As an aside, two days before Finkelstein’s talk, I witnessed – and confronted – a Harvard student who wa
s publicly making anti-Semitic remarks. Finkelstein refused to address this when it was raised in a question posed to him during the question and answer session. The incident I experienced spurred me to call the Harvard University Police Department to find out about hate crimes on our campus. The only reported hate crime since 2001 was perpetrated against a Muslim student. The HUPD pointed out that while there has only been one hate crime reported against a Muslim student since 2001, there have been incidences, acts, and comments made about or directed towards Muslims since 2001 that could not be classified as hate crimes (and likely many things that went entirely unreported)…incidences similar to the one that I recently experienced that was directed against Jews.

What if someone came to campus to speak, however, and said that Muslims do not face any racism on campus? What if that person said that Muslims control information in the business world, media, academia, and politics (as a lead-in to why coverage about an Islamic country was favorable)? I hope people would say that it was nonsense…not because they are stifling debate, but because it would be. Would we allow them to speak? Of course, because free speech is an important value. While protecting an individual’s right to speak, it is equally important that we correct their inaccuracies, however. This is one facet of actually allowing debate: tolerating the opinions of others, particularly those with whom one disagrees, but also being able to freely disagree with them.

If that person came to speak and was going to say the things about Muslims that Finkelstein said about Jews, and I knew about it, I would – in my capacity as President of the Jewish Law Students Association – send as forceful a letter to the Record as I sent two weeks ago. Not because I have to, but because it would be the right thing to do; because we should not tolerate inaccuracy, misinformation or spite no matter what shape, issue, or religion it assumes (or which background it claims so as to stifle criticism). It seems that in all the arguing, people have forgotten to be civil, rational and engaged with one another. It speaks volumes, however, that only Jewish students wrote those letters when Finkelstein came to speak.

I am glad that I will be meeting with the co-chairs of Justice for Palestine this week. It is my hope that together we can work to create an environment that fosters debate, while respecting differences of opinion and background. Constructing a community that values tolerance and intellectual discussion should be a primary concern. Doing so will be the first stepin fostering dialogue on this important issue, and hopefully making it more possible to create peace one day.

Very Respectfully,

Michael Masters

President, Jewish Law Students Association

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