Teacher testimony stirs controversy
By Christina L. Esparza
A Cal State Long Beach professor's controversial
testimony in a highly publicized libel trial has left his peers asking
for an explanation.
CSULB psychology professor Kevin MacDonald
testified last year on behalf of David Irving, a historian who claims the
estimated number of Jews killed in the Holocaust has been exaggerated and
the Auschwitz death camp had no gas chambers.
Irving sued author Deborah Lipstadt for
libel, contending she had ruined his reputation by saying that he falsified
historical data in his books.
"I certainly was surprised, to say the
least, that a CSULB professor would testify for someone who was well known
of being a Holocaust denier," said CSULB history professor Donald Schwartz
who teaches a class on the Holocaust. "It left me feeling there is
a need for a faculty open discussion with MacDonald in a formal forum."
MacDonald was called as an expert witness
in Irving's defense because he has written three books on Judaism asserting
that Jews have historically separated themselves from gentiles. However,
MacDonald said he is not a historian and "can offer no expert opinion on
the work of David Irving," according to his deposition.
But, in a letter posted on his Web site
defending his testimony, MacDonald said he saw himself defending
Irving's right to free speech.
MacDonald said he was approached by Irving
to testify because one of MacDonald's books called the suppression of Irving's
work "an example of Jewish tactics for combating anti-Semitism," the letter
MacDonald, who refused to be interviewed,
has also posted a reaction to claims that his books are anti-Semitic.
He writes: "This book ['A People that Shall
Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy'] is likely to be
highly controversial and troubling to many, since it depicts Judaism as
a fundamentally self-interested group strategy which has often been in
competition with at least some sections of gentile society."
During questioning in the libel case, Irving
asked MacDonald if he "perceived the Jewish community as working in a certain
way in order to suppress a certain book." MacDonald answered "yes" and
added there were "several tactics the Jewish organizations have used."
MacDonald replied to an article written
about him in the April 20 issue of New Times magazine saying: "My position
is that we should not simply assume that every instance of anti-Semitism
is completely irrational. Rather, we should suppose that, in general, there
are indeed real conflicts of interest between groups…"
However, MacDonald has insisted in many
writings and in the New Times article that he is not an anti-Semite and
one of his students agreed.
"I don't see his believing in freedom of
speech as him agreeing with Irving," said Susan Miramontez, a junior psychology
major and a student in MacDonald's class. "He's a highly intelligent man
who enjoys his profession."
But MacDonald's testimony, along with his
writings, has caused CSULB faculty to demand an explanation for his actions,
Psychology department chairman Keith Colman
refused to comment and said it was not his job to defend the professors
in his department.
Faculty members have expressed concern
because MacDonald's work has been used as ammunition for neo-Nazis to attack
Jews, Schwartz said.
"His work has been read and cited by right-wing
groups, like skinheads," Schwartz said. "His work can be used in those
racist and anti-Semitic views."