Anti-Semitism? You Just Don’t Like What I Say!
Alan Dershowitz, Harvard’s Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, has decided to attack me personally, thinking that if he undermines my reputation he can save his own. Paradoxically, he manages to prove one thing in his recent diatribe in the Jerusalem Post: that he is a consistent man.
As in his book The Case for Israel, here too, he relentlessly passes fiction for fact.
Despite Dershowitz’s claims, I never compared Israelis to Nazis, and I certainly am not a neo-Nazi or anti-Israeli. Like Dershowitz, I am an American citizen, yet unlike him I have chosen to live in Israel and invest a large portion of my time struggling for social justice. I served in the Israeli paratroopers and was critically wounded defending the northern border.
Following the great Jewish tradition, I try, however modestly, to be critical of Israel whenever its policies violate principles of justice or human rights.
Ironically, about two years ago Dershowitz invited me to contribute a chapter to a book he was editing called What Israel Means to Me. At that time he was not questioning my commitment to Israel. What, then, has led him to change his mind?
Dershowitz’s assault began following my review of Norman Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah. This book, which was published by University of California Press, provides clear evidence that in The Case for Israel Dershowitz "lifted" information and ideas from Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial. My review maintained that Harvard University’s own definition of plagiarism – "passing off a source’s information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them" – would, indeed, convict Dershowitz.
It was this that triggered Dershowitz’s animus.
DERSHOWITZ avers that he never tried to stop UC Press from publishing Beyond Chutzpah and seems to think that if he repeats this often enough it will eventually become true. This is a well-known demagogic strategy.
Unfortunately for him, UC Press has correspondence on file in which he and the prestigious law firm he hired demand that the Press sever all contact with Finkelstein. A typical letter from Dershowitz’s attorney, Rory Millson of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, describes "the press’s decision to publish this book" as "wholly illegitimate" and concludes that: "The only way to extricate yourself is immediately to terminate all professional contact with this full-time malicious defamer."
When the Press’s director Lynne Withey replied that she was committed to academic freedom and would therefore go ahead with the book, Dershowitz wrote to the university’s board of trustees and even to California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, asking them to intervene on his behalf. They declined.
DERSHOWITZ’S inability to refute the evidence led to his vicious personal attack against me. However, Dershowitz also makes a political claim when he contends that my successful suit against Prof. Steven Plaut was, in effect, an attempt to undermine freedom of speech. Again he distorts the truth to suit his own purpose.
I filed a libel suit against Plaut when he began publishing a series of slanderous articles in which he calls me a "fanatic anti-Semite," "a Judenrat wannabe," "a promoter of Hitler," and "a groupie of the world’s leading Holocaust denier." He went on to compare me to the notorious Holocaust denier David Irving.
In various places he claimed that I have called on Arabs to use violence against Israel; he published an article on the racist Kahane Web site, asking his readers to harass me – some obediently complied; he also disseminated the falsehood that my academic ability is poor, and even initiated an international campaign to have me fired.
Make no mistake, my suit against Plaut is about slander and not about our opposing political views.
YES, I AM a severe critic of the Israeli government’s policies, but just as I want my opinions to be heard, I believe in freedom of expression and am not interested in censoring other people’s opinions, including those of Dershowitz or Plaut. If anyone disagrees with my views, he or she has the right to try and refute my position. Notice, that throughout his article Dershowitz does not engage my political arguments. Instead, he picks up the cudgels of defamation and vilification.
In fact, both Plaut and Dershowitz are the ones who aim to silence their political rivals. In order to accomplish their goals they exploit the Holocaust, thus undermining the significance of this uniquely catastrophic historical event.
Their attack against me illustrates this point. Despite the fact that most of Plaut’s criticism is related to my positions vis- -vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he characterizes me as an anti-Semite, Judenrat wannabe, and promoter of Hitler. The use of Holocaust vocabulary is intentional and emotive, designed to destroy my credibility in the political arena. The sad irony is that in order to advance his political goals Plaut ends up trivializing the Holocaust.
Despite the ruthless efforts to ruin my good name, the Israeli court has had its say. It found Plaut guilty of libel. Now, in the aftermath of this case, allowing his personal vendetta to blur his legal judgment, Dershowitz shamelessly attacks the judge’s verdict. This lack of judgment is apparent when the Harvard professor calls me names and concludes with a cheap dare that I sue him, instead of rising to the academic challenge of proving that he did not "lift" information from others.
Unlike Dershowitz, however, when choosing between truth or dare I always side with truth.
NEVE GORDON teaches human rights at Ben-Gurion University in Israel and is the editor of From the Margins of Globalization: Critical Perspectives on Human Rights. He Can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.