Councillor calls on Toronto Public Library to cancel speaking invitation to controversial author
A sign at a Toronto Public Library branch is seen in this undated file image. (CTV News Toronto)
Published Monday, December 4, 2023 4:42PM EST
A city councillor is calling on the Toronto Public Library to cancel a speaking invitation extended to an author who he says “spreads disinformation and conspiracy theories about Jews and the Holocaust.”
An event set to take place Tuesday at the Toronto Reference Library features Norman Finkelstein as one of three guests as part of a new series on “intellectual freedom,” along with Christian Parenti, an economics professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and activist and former journalist Jeanne McGuire.
Finkelstein previously authored a controversial book accusing the Jewish community and Israel of exploiting and exaggerating the Holocaust. His views resulted in a protracted fight over his academic career, in which he was eventually denied tenure at DePaul University.
On the day of the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel which sparked the ongoing war, he wrote “it warms every fiber of my soul” to see children in Gaza smiling about what happened and compared the attacks to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising during the Holocaust.
"Inviting Finkelstein to a pseudo conference at Toronto Reference Library discussing freedom of views on university campuses, is particularly hurtful in this period of extreme antisemitism” Coun. James Pasternak wrote in an open letter posted Monday.
“To invite an author who has been accused of making false accusations and misrepresentations in his book about the Holocaust and survivors and justifying the October 7 terrorist attacks against Israel is the last thing we need in the City of Toronto. We should not be welcoming someone who spreads disinformation and conspiracy theories about Jews and the Holocaust."
He added that Finkelstein’s views should not be welcomed in Toronto, especially not as part of a taxpayer-funded event.
In an email to CP24.com, TPL said the event was planned in the summer by its cultural & special events programming unit and followed the library’s regular process.
“Tomorrow’s event is about academic freedom and all three panelists are writers, teachers or scholars who have had their research, conclusions and, yes, personal opinions challenged by administrators, donors, sponsors or students,” the library said in a statement.
“This has led in some institutions to scholars being fired or having tenure revoked. The event is not meant to be an exploration of the issues or topics that have led to the silencing of these voices, but about what the limits of ‘academic freedom’ are and what this term means in the 21st century.”
The statement did not directly address Pasternak’s call for Finkelstein’s invitation to be cancelled, or some of his recent comments.
The library said all three panelists are paid a standard fee and travel expenses, but would not say how much.
Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith Canada has also called for Finkelstein’s visit to be cancelled.
“By inverting the narrative, while remaining blind to the reality of Jewish pain on university campuses, the TPL is contributing to the further marginalization of a Jewish community already under siege, and that is absolutely unacceptable” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in a statement.
The event listing says there will be signed copies of the guests’ books for sale.
TPL has not publicized the event on its Twitter page as it does for most events.
Finkelstein did not immediately return an email seeking request for comment on calls to cancel his invitation.