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Debating Norman Finkelstein

Menetrez’s False Allegations


Frank Menetrez, in "The Case Against Alan Dershowitz" on the CounterPunch website, absurdly repeats the politically motivated and false charge that I committed plagiarism by quoting Mark Twain and citing to the original Mark Twain book The Innocents Abroad, when, as he falsely claims, I found that quote in Joan Peters’ 1984 book From Time Immemorial.

The actual facts are as follows: I have been quoting the Mark Twain reference since 1970, when I found it in preparing for a PBS program called The Advocates. I placed the quote on a blue card that I had with me during the debate. I subsequently used the card in several debates that I had during the nineteen seventies and eighties. This fact has been confirmed in writing by a producer of the PBS show, as well as by other witnesses. I have owned for many decades an 1871 edition of the Mark Twain book, which is marked in my handwriting at the point of the quotation. I believe that I originally found a reference to the quote in a pro-Israel pamphlet published by The Near East Report. I have in my library a copy of one such pamphlet with the page on which the Mark Twain quote appears bent over with two pencil marks pointing to the quote itself. This pamphlet was published prior to the publication of the Peters book. It is clear, therefore, that I did not and could not have first come upon the Twain quote in the Peters book (though I obviously read it there again). It would have been dishonest and absurd for me to have cited the Peters book, when I owned and read the quote in the original Twain book and in other works published before the Peters book. Nor was it proper to cite it to a pamphlet which is not generally available in libraries. The appropriate citation, according to The Chicago Manual of Style and other standard works, is to the original, which is precisely what I did.

It is crystal clear to any objective reader that this entire dispute about my citation of the widely-quoted Twain passage is politically motivated and directed against me because I have written books in support of Israel. Professors Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer repeatedly cited primary sources without checking the original and without citing the secondary source where they actually found the quotation. I proved this in my response to the original online version of their screed against the Israel Lobby. (1) Yet nobody accused Walt and Mearsheimer of plagiarism, for the simple reason that what they did is not plagiarism by any reasonable definition of that term. It reflects, at worst, some sloppiness in citation form. It is not plagiarism, even when the author never checked the primary source against the secondary source in which he first found the quote, as Walt and Mearsheimer failed to do. It is certainly not plagiarism when the author found and used the quoted material years before the secondary source was even published, as is the situation with me.

Harvard was fully aware of the details of the phony plagiarism charge when they investigated it, because I provided them with the allegations and because The Harvard Crimson reported on it in detail. (2)

The entire thrust of Menetrez’s politically motivated charge is disproved by documented facts.


(1) From page 19 Alan Dershowitz, "Debunking the Newest-and Oldest-Jewish Conspiracy: A Reply to the Mearsheimer-Walt Working Paper," Kennedy School of Government Faculty Research Working Papers at 19:

"Moreover, on several occasions, the authors cite quotations to their primary sources, when it’s obvious that they did not find the materials there. For example, the authors cull a single quotation that originally appeared on pages 401-403 of Max Frankel’s biography, The Times of My Life and My Life with The Times. ("I was much more deeply devoted to Israel than I dared to assert.") It is the type of quotation that pops up regularly on radical conspiracy theory web sites that assert the same sort of Jewish domination of the media as Mearsheimer and Walt allege. Clearly the authors did not read Max Frankel’s autobiography, but rather came across the quotation somewhere far less reputable. On at least one occasion, they quote to the primary source incorrectly. Though they cite to page 99 of the Steve Cox translation of Nahum Goldmann’s The Jewish Paradox, the quotation that Walt and Mearsheimer use is not from Cox’s and Goldmann’s book. Rather than citing to where they actually found the quotation, the authors simply copied a citation without checking the source they were citing. A few years ago, Finkelstein accused me of "plagiarism" on the basis of his claim that I cited to original sources, rather than to the secondary sources from which he (erroneously) believed I had initially found some of my quotations. In other words, Walt and Mearsheimer did exactly what Finkelstein accused me of doing. (The claim that citing to original sources amounts to plagiarism is patently ridiculous, and it was promptly refuted by quick reference to the Chicago Manual of Style, as well by investigations conducted by Harvard University, The New York Times, a former president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a score of librarians and professors.) Nor was I ever accused of taking quotations out of context in any way. I note that Finkelstein has not raised any "plagiarism" charges against Walt and Mearsheimer, either because he realizes that the accusation is utterly absurd, or because he has a double standard when it comes to criticizing his ideological soul mates. I suspect that both reasons play a part in his decision to remain silent. Finkelstein, who has made a career out of falsely maligning the academic integrity of nearly every prominent Holocaust historian and supporter of Israel’s right to exist (including Elie Wiesel, whom Finkelstein has called a "liar," "cheater," "clown," "ridiculous character," and "wimp") never criticizes the citation form of his ideological allies."

(2) Lauren A. E. Schuker, "Dershowitz Accused of Plagiarism," The Harvard Crimson, Sept. 29, 2003. Alan Dershowitz, "Professor Dershowitz ‘Rests His Case,‘" The Harvard Crimson, Oct. 3, 2003. Norman Finkelstein, "Finkelstein Proclaims ‘The Glove Does Fit," The Harvard Crimson, Oct. 3, 2003.

Reply to Alan Dershowitz


"Disproved by documented facts"? Unfortunately for Alan Dershowitz, saying it doesn’t make it so.

Dershowitz’s response documents nothing. The one fact he claims he can document is that he encountered the Twain quotation long before Joan Peters published her (notoriously worthless) book From Time Immemorial. He has made that claim before, as I reported in my article. I also reported that I checked the only proof he has previously cited, but I found that it didn’t support him — according to the transcript, he never quoted or even mentioned Twain in his 1970 debate on The Advocates.

As I also explained, even if Dershowitz could establish that one fact, it would still not provide a defense to the charge of plagiarism. (It goes without saying that Dershowitz’s irrelevant attack on Walt and Mearsheimer does not provide a defense either.) Regardless of how long Dershowitz has known about the Twain quote, there is no avoiding the conclusion that he copied The Case for Israel’s Twain quote directly from Peters’ book, not from the original source. There is likewise no avoiding the conclusion that, having copied the quote from Peters, he neither cited Peters nor checked the quote against the original source, even though he now says that the original source was sitting on his own bookshelf.

The reason both conclusions are inescapable is that, as my article showed, The Case for Israel’s Twain quote is riddled with errors, large and small, that are identical to the errors in Peters’ quotation from the same source. Dershowitz never challenges my evidence on that point. In fact, as usual, he never mentions the identical errors argument, and he again fails to confirm that Harvard investigated it. (Dershowitz also says not a word about my documented charge that he deliberately deceived DePaul University about his own proposal that Israel should destroy entire Palestinian villages in response to Palestinian terrorist attacks. He doesn’t even bother to deny it.)

According to Dershowitz, it would be "absurd" for him to cite Peters, given that he (allegedly) knew of the Twain quote long before Peters published her book. The problem with Dershowitz’s argument is that the proper way for him to avoid that purported "absurdity" would be for him to check the quote against the original Twain himself. If he doesn’t feel like checking the Twain, then he shouldn’t be citing it directly. Prior awareness of the quote cannot protect him against the charge of plagiarism.

On this point, Dershowitz makes the remarkable suggestion that what he did "is not plagiarism by any reasonable definition of that term." He refers vaguely to "The Chicago Manual of Style and other standard works" but never mentions Harvard’s guidelines for student writing, which his own conduct clearly violated, as I explained in my article. And The Chicago Manual of Style (14th ed.) states: "It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of meticulous accuracy in quoting from the works of others. Authors should check every direct quotation against the original, if possible, or against a first, careful transcription of the passage." (Section 10.5) Accordingly, the Manual provides that "[r]eferences to the work of one author as quoted in that of another must cite both works." (Section 15.425)

As for definitions of plagiarism, my electronic copy of the New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as "the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own." The evidence demonstrates that is precisely what Dershowitz did. He took Peters’ work–her rendering of the Twain quotation at the very least–and passed it off as his own.

It bears emphasis that the Twain quote is just one example. Norman Finkelstein catalogued twenty sources that Dershowitz appears to have lifted directly from Peters, many of them arcane texts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (Beyond Chutzpah, pp. 232-242) The plagiarism is easy to prove in the case of the Twain quote only because Peters made so many mistakes and Dershowitz copied all of them so carefully. For sources that Peters quoted more carefully or that Dershowitz copied from her more sloppily, there will be no such evidence to be found.

Finally, two comments on the big picture: First, Finkelstein has repeatedly stated that the plagiarism charge is of secondary importance, the primary issue being The Case for Israel’s whitewash of Israel’s human rights record. But Dershowitz, who has now spent years pillorying Finkelstein in every forum that will let him, has never answered a single one of Finkelstein’s substantive arguments on that score. Thus, Finkelstein’s case against Dershowitz on the preeminently important issue of Israel’s human rights record stands completely unrebutted.

Second, if my analysis is sound, Dershowitz committed plagiarism. Finkelstein exposed it. As "punishment" for his misconduct, Dershowitz received an official exoneration from Harvard University. As a "reward" for Finkelstein’s exposure of Dershowitz’s misconduct, Finkelstein’s own career was destroyed. I do not expect Dershowitz to care about or even notice the injustice of this state of affairs. But it should not be too much to ask that someone else at Harvard would notice and would care enough to say so.