Finkelstein received his doctorate from the Department of Politics, Princeton University, for a thesis on the theory of Zionism. Finkelstein first came to attention by designating Joan Peters's From Time Immemorial, a history and defense of the state of Israel, a "monumental hoax."
Finkelstein occupies a controversial place in the public eye. The Anti-Defamation League, a conservative, pro-Israel advocacy group which says it fights anti-Semitism, has called Finkelstein a "Holocaust denier" and accused him of pursuing an anti-Semitic agenda. Finkelstein has called these accusations empty and undeserved. "I am Jewish and my parents are Holocaust survivors. With others you could say, 'you're an anti-Semite' or 'you're a Holocaust denier,' [but] you can't do that with me," he once responded, "you have to argue the facts." Neither the ADL nor similar groups have quoted Finkelstein denying that the Holocaust actually occurred.
Finkelstein has praised Hezbollah for armed resistance against the Israeli Army in Lebanon. In his book The Holocaust Industry, he has described Holocaust reparations as a corrupt "racket," in which little of the money actually goes to victims. He has also challenged the characterization of the Holocaust as a unique event in history, and likened Israeli security to the Gestapo. Questioned explicitly about his views on terrorism, Finkelstein has said that rather than violence, Palestinians should pursue independence through "non-violent civil revolt."
In addition to his denunciation of Peters herself, Finkelstein has accused Alan Dershowitz of secretly using Peters to do his research for him, pointing to where Dershowitz quoted the same excerpts that Peters footnoted in her book, but where he referenced only their original sources and not Peters. Finkelstein has called this plagiarism, a charge that Dershowitz denies. (See Dershowitz-Finkelstein affair.)