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Jimmy Carter’s book plainly threatens to ignite a serious mainstream discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict. To avert such a disaster he just as plainly must be reduced to ridicule and the debate turned into a circus. Enter Alan Dershowitz.
After Carter responded affirmatively to a provisional invitation that he speak at Brandeis University, Brandeis president (and Zionist historian) Jehuda Reinharz predicated a formal invitation on his willingness to debate Dershowitz. “I don’t want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz,” Carter replied. “There is no need for me to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine.” (1)
Brandeis is a distinguished nonsectarian university founded by American Jews. Aside from the conventional social science departments its divisions include an International and Global Studies program, an Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies program, and a Near Eastern and Judaic Studies program. Brandeis also houses the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, the Sarnat Center for the Study of Anti-Jewishness, the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry, the Goodman Institute for the Study of Zionism and Israel, the Stoll Family Chair in Israel Studies, and the Summer Institute for Israel Studies.
Yet Reinharz apparently couldn’t find anyone more qualified than Dershowitz to debate Carter. In a 2003 meeting of the United Jewish Appeal, Reinharz lamented: “Many of the dozens of centers for Middle East Studies in America are in sorry shape, and over the past 25 years these centers have been controlled by ideologically motivated forces or individuals, and very often produce biased and shoddy scholarship.Criteria of excellence must be applied to Middle East Studies, as they are applied to other areas of study.” (2) One indication of Reinharz’s “criteria of excellence” was his praise for Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial hoax as a “valuable synthesis” and “new analysis” –just like the syntheses and analyses presented at Iran’s Holocaust Conference. (3)
After Carter’s demurral the Boston Globe editorialized that if he “can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen”–i.e., shut up on the Israel-Palestine conflict. In particular the Globe took Carter to task for allegedly fearing “genuine debate” with that “inveterate defender of Israel, Alan Dershowitz.”
For argument’s sake let’s put to one side the extraordinary condition put on a former president that to receive an invitation he would have to debate a hostile critic (would such a condition be put on former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak?); and let’s put to one side Carter’s seemingly incontestable point that it’s hard to have genuine debate with someone who “knows nothing” about the designated topic (in fact, an overly generous appraisal of Dershowitz’s insight); and let’s put to one side whether the purpose of Reinharz’s challenge was to stimulate or to stifle genuine debate (Reinharz told a Haaretz reporter in 2002 that his mission as university president was “to promote the Jewish agenda in the world”). (4)
The principle that no one should be immune from criticism is undoubtedly valid. It becomes hypocritical, however, if selectively applied. Consider the case of that “inveterate defender” of Israel. In 2003 Dershowitz published a book entitled The Case for Israel that garnered plaudits in periodicals such as the New York Times Sunday Book Review and the Boston Globe and became a national bestseller. In 2005 this writer published a study, Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history, copiously documenting that The Case for Israel was riddled with falsifications and fabrications, and that large swaths were plagiarized from Joan Peters’s hoax. Unlike the complaints about Carter the allegations leveled against Dershowitz possessed the merit of being true.
When this writer first began to expose Dershowitz’s gross scholarly misconduct, Dershowitz piously declared that he wouldn’t respond with a libel action because he believed “so strongly in the First Amendment and full freedom of speech.” (5) Nonetheless, in seeking to block publication of Beyond Chutzpah, he first fired off a barrage of minatory letters at the publisher, subsequently boasting that he told it “I will own your company,” and recruited reputedly the most powerful law firm in the country, Cravath, Swaine and Moore, to escalate the pressure.
Dershowitz then implored California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to intercede with the publisher, but Schwarzenegger refused “because of the clear, academic freedom issue it presents.” (6) Dershowitz initially denied writing Schwarzenegger, declaring that “My letter to the Governor doesn’t exist,” but when pressed on the issue he explained that “It was not a letter. It was a polite note.” He now maintains that he didn’t attempt suppression of the book and has “released the letters” to prove it. Those seeking to retrieve these “released” letters have had to bear Dershowitz’s crude evasions and tantrums instead. (7)
Ironically, just as he was threatening University of California Press with expensive and time-consuming lawsuits to prevent publication of Beyond Chutzpah, Dershowitz denounced Holocaust denier David Irving, who had sued author Deborah Lipstadt for libel, in these words: “Before Irving lost his case [against Lipstadt], several publishers had refused to issue books critical of Irving, out of fear of his bringing expensive and time-consuming lawsuits. That was a chilling of free speech.” (8)
As Beyond Chutzpah was going to press and after its publication Dershowitz embarked on an unremitting campaign of defamation, hurling wild and, frankly, obscene ad hominem calumnies. Disseminating these slanders under such juvenile titles as The Committee to Expose NORMAN FINKELSTEIN’s Close Connections to Neo-Nazism, Holocaust Denial, and His “Big Lie” of an “International Jewish Conspiracy,” he asserted that this writer was a “notorious Jewish anti-Semite” and “Holocaust revisionist,” had “praised” Osama Bin Laden, and had been let go from a teaching post due to “mental instability.” He even threatened to show up during the tenure process at the university where this writer teaches at his–Dershowitz’s — “own expense” to “document the case against Finkelstein.” Although he hasn’t yet acted on this particular threat, Dershowitz is currently inundating the university’s faculty and administration with lurid allegations to block this writer’s tenure.
Dershowitz posted on Harvard Law School’s official website the insinuation that this writer’s late mother was a “kapo” who had been “cooperating with the Nazis during the Holocaust.” Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan held that Dershowitz’s gross defamation fell within the parameters of what was permissible to post on its website. For the record, this writer’s late mother was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Maidanek concentration camp and two slave-labor camps, lost every member of her family during the war and after the war served as a key witness at a Nazi deportation hearing in the U.S. and at the trial of Maidanek concentration camp guards in Germany. (9)
In his companion book The Case for Peace, Dershowitz embellished on these smears and went on to proclaim that a “well-orchestrated” conspiracy had been mounted by an “anti-Israel triumvirate” to ruin his reputation on account of his outspoken support of Israel. When not denouncing the “Chomsky-Cockburn-Finkelstein conspiracy” hatched against him, Dershowitz derided his critics for trafficking inconspiracy theories. (10)
It must surely be reckoned a victory that, despite the brutal pressures exerted on it, University of California Press went ahead and published Beyond Chutzpah, a display of principle for which it was duly commended by the Middle East Studies Association. (11) It should nonetheless be borne in mind that the victory was partial. Getting a truly controversial book published is half the problem; the other half is getting it noticed among the tens of thousands of other books put out each year.
Normally a book that had garnered so much pre-publication publicity (due to Dershowitz’s libel threats) would have had editors scrambling to be the first to review it. But these circumstances weren’t normal. The controversy implicated Israel’s egregious human rights record, exposed a senior Harvard Law School professor who had concocted an academic fraud mangling this record, and embarrassed eminent individuals, institutions, and periodicals that, wittingly or unwittingly, had staked their names singing paeans to the hoax. It was a real scandal having real consequences in a real conflict touching on the lives of real people, not just of those eminent personalities whose reputations might be tarnished but of the people of Palestine, who daily bear the brunt of the numberless lies that proliferate in the United States.
Unsurprisingly, Beyond Chutzpah did not receive a single mainstream review in the United States. (In Israel, both Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post reviewed it, Haaretz quite favorably.) (12) This writer was unable to get on a single mainstream radio, let alone television, program or publish an op-ed on the Israel-Palestine conflict, not from a want of trying and notwithstanding that Israel-Palestine was constantly in the news.
Popular as ever, Dershowitz emerged from the potential scandal unscathed, still authoritatively cited and interviewed, his subsequent book The Case for Peace being acclaimed by the Boston Globe for providing “well-honed and incisivelogical argumentation” reminiscent of “Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.” (13) In answer to the criticism that the fragmented state being offered Palestinians wouldn’t be viable, Dershowitz quotes this piece of geopolitical wisdom in The Case for Peace: “Palestinians could yet build a Monte Carlo in Jericho, a Vatican state in Bethlehem, a Luxembourg in Ramallah, a Cyprus in Gaza, a Singapore in Nablus.” (14) Didn’t he leave out a Disneyland in Rafah refugee camp? After the succession of laudatory notices for Dershowitz’s books in the Globe, this writer contacted its Books Editor wondering if he might consider reviewing Beyond Chutzpah. The answer was a flat no. So much for the spirit of genuine debate.
Indeed, although repeatedly approached by third parties to debate this writer, Dershowitz adamantly refused on the ground that he had a “longstanding policy against debating Holocaust deniers, revisionists, trivializers or minimizers,” but would instead debate Noam Chomsky. (15) Several anomalies in his position merit notice. This writer has authored two books on the Nazi holocaust. The first, A Nation on Trial (co-written with Ruth Bettina Birn), received glowing praise from the world’s leading authorities on the Nazi holocaust, including Raul Hilberg, Christopher Browning, and István Deák, and was named a “notable book of the year” by the New York Times Sunday Book Review. The second, The Holocaust Industry, was blurbed by Hilberg, the undisputed dean of Nazi holocaust historians. Referring explicitly to this writer’s findings on Holocaust compensation, which Dershowitz claims to find so repellent, Hilberg wrote that “he was actually conservative, moderate and his conclusions are trustworthy.I am by no means the only one who, in the coming months or years, will totally agree with Finkelstein’s breakthrough.” Beyond this, Dershowitz has for many years pilloried Professor Chomsky for Holocaust denial. To cite the most recent examples, in The Case for Israel he deplores “Chomsky’s flirtation with Holocaust denial,” and in The Case for Peace he deplores Chomsky for “supporting, praising, and working with Holocaust deniers.” (16) The real reason Dershowitz has refused to debate this writer would seem to lie elsewhere.
Many academic and literary scandals touching on questions that overlap with those posed in Beyond Chutzpah recently received wide media play. A duo of Harvard Law School professors, Laurence H. Tribe and Charles J. Ogletree, faced credible charges of scholarly malfeasance. It is noteworthy that, although both these professors share the mainstream liberal politics of the New York Times, and although Harvard is held in reverence by the Times, none of these considerations deterred the Times from giving prominent critical coverage to the HLS scandal. (17) A singular omission in the Times reportage, however, was any mention of the copiously documented and far more serious accusations leveled against Dershowitz, who also teaches at HLS. Defenders of the Holy State get to play by a different set of rules. The Times reporter privately told Dershowitz that she couldn’t “even understand” the charges against him. (18) Again, notice must be taken of just how truly impressive such mental discipline is.
Tribe and Ogletree were publicly rebuked, while a popular left-wing professor at the University of Colorado was to be stripped of his teaching post after being charged with scholarly fraud and plagiarism. Yet, although their combined academic malfeasances paled beside Dershowitz’s, he continues to go his merry way at Harvard. Just since Spring 2005, and in addition to his academic derelictions documented in Beyond Chutzpah, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has credibly accused Dershowitz of making “blatantly false and utterly preposterous” statements; the main national Jewish newspaper Forward reported that “not a wordis true” in the self-promoting passage of a speech Dershowitz delivered; a respected Amherst College professor suggested in a scholarly review of another of Dershowitz’s recent books, Rights From Wrongs, that “parts of Dershowitz’s book are in conflict with one another because they were written by different hands”; and senior Harvard Law School librarian Harry S. Martin denied Dershowitz’s repeated claim that he (Martin) had exonerated Dershowitz of plagiarism charges. (19)
In yet another literary scandal, it was revealed that the author of a book chronicling his redemptive personal odyssey, which became a national bestseller after Oprah Winfrey’s selection of it for her book club, had fabricated portions of his life. The Times weighed in with no less than 16 articles in the space of 20 days meditating on the perils of an eroding boundary between fiction and fact, for which postmodernist relativism was held culpable, and of nonfiction straying from “objectivity and veracity.” One might have thought that this would be a ripe occasion for the Times, finally, to scrutinize the Dershowitz case. But it was not meant to be. (20) Then it was revealed that a Harvard undergraduate had lifted passages from other literary works in her debut “chick-lit” novel. The Times gave extensive coverage to this scandal as well. Unlike the Times, Harvard’s school paper had the temerity to mention that among similar scandals rocking Harvard in recent years was the Dershowitz case. Predictably Dershowitz fired off an outraged letter denying any parallels. (21)
In a more comic than textbook case of projection Dershowitz accused two respected academic authors who had written an article critical of the “Israel lobby” of precisely the scholarly derelictions leveled against him: “a compilation of old, false, and authoritatively discredited charges dressed up in academic garb. The only thing new about it is the imprimatur these recycled assertions have now been given by the prominence of its authors and their institutional affiliationsfilled with errors and distortions that should be obvious to any critical readerquotations are wrenched out of context…facts are misstatedembarrassingly poor logic is employed.”
Along the way Dershowitz also alleges that “the authors cite quotations to their primary sources, when it’s obvious that they did not find the materials there.On at least one occasion, they quote to the primary source incorrectly.Rather than citing to where they actually found the quotation, the authors simply copied a citation without checking the source they were citing.” (22) These allegations of Dershowitz were widely and respectfully quoted in the major media and serious journals, it not once being so much as hinted that, even if valid (itself highly doubtful), he should be the very last one leveling them. (23)
And now it’s that “inveterate defender” bravely protecting the Holy State from another infidel attack. Dershowitz lunges into Carter’s book for being “shallow and superficial,” “biasedindecentahistorical, one-sided,” a “wrongheaded, upside-down view of the Mideast conflict,” replete with “hyperbole and overstatement,” “conveying misinformation, ahistorical facts to American audiences,” “misleading the court of public opinion,” and on and on. (24) These criticisms of Dershowitz are yet again cited reverentially across the U.S. media without even a trace of irony.
According to Dershowitz, Carter’s book is filled with “simple mistakes of facts and deliberate omissions thatwould fill a volume the size of his book.” None of his obsequious admirers seem to have noticed that a book the size of The Case for Israel has already demonstrated Dershowitz’s numberless mistakes and omissions–not to mention fabrications, falsifications and plagiarisms.
“You can always tell when a public figure has written an indefensible book,” Dershowitz says of Carter, “when he refuses to debate it in the court of public opinion.” But dare anyone say that the kettle shouldn’t be calling the coffeepot black? “The real reason Carter won’t debate me,” Dershowitz proclaims, “is that I would correct his factual errors.” But isn’t that the real reason Dershowitz won’t debate this writer? “Authors should be accountable for their ideas and their facts,” Dershowitz asserts. “Books shouldn’t be like chapel [a sermon?] delivered from on high and believed on faith.” But shouldn’t this principle also apply to authors delivering books from on high at Harvard Law School?
“Jimmy Carter isn’t brave for beating up on Israel. He’s a bully,” Dershowitz scowls. “And like all school-yard bullies, underneath the tough talk and bravado, there’s a nagging insecurity and a fear that one day he’ll have to answer for himself in a fair fight.” But doesn’t our “inveterate defender of Israel” hurl slanders and libels at this writer–and numberless others who dissent from the Party line–because he dreads a fair fight? Is it brave, Mr. Dershowitz, to scandalize the memory of a deceased survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi death camps because you are terrified of being exposed as a fraudster?
“When Jimmy Carter’s ready to speak at Brandeis, or anywhere else, I’ll be there,” Dershowitz challenges. “If he refuses to debate, I will still be there–ready and willing to answer falsity with truth in the court of public opinion.”
This writer is also ready to debate, anytime and anywhere. But will Alan Dershowitz be there?
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN’s most recent book is Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history (University of California Press). His web site is www.NormanFinkelstein.com.
1. Carter, Palestine, p. 216.
2. Farah Stockman and Marcella Bombardieri, “Carter Book Won’t Stir Brandeis Debate,” Boston Globe (15 December 2006).
3. Harry Mairson, “Mideast Scholarship, A Canard,” in Brandeis Hoot (1 April 2005).
4. Library Journal, 15 April 1984.
5. Cited in Mairson.
6. UCLA International Institute, “Alan Dershowitz Speaks on His ‘The Case for Israel'” (21 October 2003).
7. See Steven Zeitchik, “Behind Beyond Chutzpah,” Publisher’s Weekly (17 May 2005), Scott Jaschik, “First Amendment Furor,” Inside Higher Ed (27 June 2005); Jon Wiener, “Giving Chutzpah New Meaning,” Nation (11 July 2005), Jennifer Howard, “U. of California Press to Publish Book That Alan Dershowitz Has Criticized as Anti-Semitic,” and “Calif. Press Will Publish Controversial Book on Israel,” Chronicle of Higher Education (11 July 2005, 22 July 2005), Mandy Garner, “The Good Jewish Boys Go Into Battle,” Times Higher Education Supplement (United Kingdom) (16 December 2005).
8. Alan Dershowitz, “Neve Gordon Can’t Take Criticism,” Jerusalem Post (8 November 2006)
9. Afterword to Deborah Lipstadt, History on Trial: My day in court with David Irving (New York: 2005), p. 304 (emphasis in original).
10. Dershowitz repeated these accusations in numerous articles, many of which are posted at www.NormanFinkelstein.com, under “Beyond Chutzpah” and “Who Was Maryla Husyt Finkelstein?”
11. Alan Dershowitz, The Case For Peace: How the Arab-Israeli conflict can be resolved (Hoboken, N.J.: 2005), pp. 122 (“conspiracy”), 169-70 (“well-orchestrated”), 180, 187 (“triumvirate”).
13. Neve Gordon, “The Controversy Surrounding the Origins of the ‘New Anti-Semitism,'” Haaretz (26 April 2006). Ben Naparstek, “His Own Worst Enemy,” The Jerusalem Post (12 December 2005).
14. Michael D. Langan, “Dershowitz Makes a Compelling ‘Case for Peace,'” in Boston Globe (15 November 2005).
15. Dershowitz, Case for Peace, p. 41.
16. Statement of Alan M. Dershowitz (www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/dershowitz/statement.html).
17. Dershowitz, Case for Israel, p. 212; Dershowitz, Case for Peace, p. 170.
18. Sara Rimer, “When Plagiarism’s Shadow Falls on Admired Scholars,” in The New York Times (24 November 2004).
19. Dershowitz, Case for Peace, p. 234n119 (quoting Rimer). For another disingenuous attempt to separate out Dershowitz from Tribe and Ogletree, see M. Aidan Kelly, “Mercy of the Court of Public Opinion,” Harvard Crimson Magazine (27 September 2006); for my (unpublished) reply, see www.normanfinkelstein.com/.
20. Regan Boychuk, “The Case Against Alan Dershowitz” (15 April 2005; www.zmag.org/); Kathleen Peratis, “Only Human” in Forward (24 February 2006); Hadley Arkes, “The Rights And Wrongs of Alan Dershowitz,” in Claremont Review of Books (Fall 2005); “Correction,” Harvard Crimson (26 May 2006).
21. After several fruitless phone conversations with the Times reporter who covered the story, this writer spelled out for him in writing the obvious reasons why the Dershowitz fraud merited Times attention: The Case for Israel was also a Times best seller on the nonfiction list; it bore not on personal salvation but rather a burning political issue; The Times Sunday Book Review ran a positive review of it by a Times editorial board member; and so on (email to Edward Wyatt dated 30 January 2006). The quoted phrase in the text came from Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani’s contribution, “Bending The Truth In a Million Little Ways,” in New York Times (17 January 2006).
22. David Zhou, “College Looking Into Plagiarism,” in The Harvard Crimson (27 April 2006). Alan M. Dershowitz, “Plagiarism Accusations Unfairly Characterized” (letter), in The Harvard Crimson (5 May 2006).
23. Alan Dershowitz, “Debunking the Newest–and Oldest–Jewish Conspiracy” (April 2006; www.ksg.harvard.edu/, pp. 4-6, 19n79.
24. See John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, Setting the Record Straight: A response to critics of “The Israel Lobby” (5 November 2006; forthcoming).
25. Alan Dershowitz, “The World According to Carter,” New York Sun (22 November 2006); Alan Dershowitz, “Jimmy Carter Trivializes Rwandan Genocide” (8 December 2006; www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-dershowitz/; “Dershowitz Dissects Carter, ” (8 December 2006;); Alan Dershowitz, “From Jimmy Carter, a book-length smear on Israel” (2 December 2006; ); Alan Dershowitz, “Jimmy Carter Plays the ‘God Card‘” (13 December 2006; ); Alan Dershowitz, “Why Won’t Carter Debate His Book?,” Boston Globe (21 December 2006).