BY ADINA LEVINE
In response to accusations of plagiarizing his latest book The Case for Israel, Prof. Alan Dershowitz claims that the charges are unfounded, and that he is being scapegoated for having written a pro-Israel book.
“This is a hate attack against me because I wrote a pro-Israel book,” stated Dershowitz. “That’s the kind of thing these guys do: they make it up. They are hit-and-run haters who have no credibility. The message is clear, particularly to young people, that if you write a book pro-Israel, you are going to get accused of plagiarism.”
Norman Finkelstein, a Political Science professor at DePaul University in Chicago accused Dershowitz of lifting two entire chapters from Joan Peters’ 1984 From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine. Alexander Cockburn, a columnist for The Nation, seconded the charge of promoting Peters’ original sources as his own.
“He lifted whole-cloth two chapters from a hoax,” asserted Finkelstein. “If a student of mine did that I would say, ‘I’m sorry but this is college. You don’t do things like that.'”
Finkelstein, who was in the NYU library researching what he refers to as the “Dershowitz Hoax” at the time of this interview, asserts that Dershowitz originally found many primary sources in Peters’ book, and never independently looked at the original sources. He cites a Mark Twain quote from his visit to Palestine that allegedly proves that Dershowitz did not conduct independent research based on a page number discrepancy.
Dershowitz responds with proof of his handwritten notes and library records that he did independently consult the primary sources. Moreover, he claims that even if he didn’t, citing a primary source is preferable to a quoting a secondary source, according to the Chicago Manual of Style. His eight explicit citations of Peters refute any claims of plagiarism, he asserts.
“This is not plagiarism, it’s scholarship,” asserted Dershowitz. “That’s the way you do research. That’s the way everyone does research. You find quotes and you check them with the original sources. That’s what the bluebook says to do. That’s what you learn in first year law school.”
On the specific issue of the Mark Twain citation, Dershowitz responds with proof of his 1970 debate about Israel for The Advocates, in which he used the quote before the publication of Peters’ work. Further, Dershowitz asserts that he does not purport his work to be an original essay, but rather an advocacy collection of secondary sources and primary sources, many of which are available from an AIPAC pamphlet entitled Myths and Fact, that reoccur in Peters’ book as in much pro-Israel literature.
“Mine is an advocacy book relying primarily on secondary sources, and I did it right,” asserted Dershowitz. “I would do it exactly the same way again.”
Dershowitz denies any plagiarism of Peters by asserting that he disagrees with her conclusions. Peters’ book is a demographic analysis of the Palestinian origins, which Dershowitz cites as “extremist” in his book.
“How can you lift something you disagree with?” he questioned.
Instead, Dershowitz claims that Finkelstein has specifically targeted his book for its subject matter as a pro-Israel book, which offended Finkelstein, a leading opponent of Zionism and author of The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. Instead of arguing the book on its merits, however, Finkelstein instead chose to besmear his research techniques, “the literary analog to a hate crime,” according to Dershowitz.
“The finger is turned against the accusers,” declared Dershowitz. “I am accusing him of anti-Semitism.”
Finkelstein claims that his own political leanings are irrelevant, that his charge has no bearing on his personal political affront at Dershowitz’s book.
“I’ve never experienced a conflict between my “political leanings,” on the one hand, and my commitment to truth and the ordinary standards of scholarship, on the other,” asserted Finkelstein. “The charges I’ve leveled against Dershowitz bear strictly on matters of scholarship: he is peddling a pernicious hoax and using his Harvard credentials to lend a veneer of credibility to this enterprise.
Dershowitz points out that Finkelstein has similarly accused other pro-Israel authors of similar charges, including Stuart Eizenstadt, Abba Eban, Yehuda Bauer and Daniel Goldhagen. Finkelstein claimed that Elie Wiesel lied in his biography, by writing that he read Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason in Yiddish, when Finkelstein believed that it was never published in Yiddish. Dershowitz noted that the Critique of Pure Reason was published in Yiddish in Warsaw in 1929 and is owned by the Harvard library.
“If I had written a pro-Palestinian book, would he have attacked me?” asked Dershowitz. “Name somebody he’s ever gone after who doesn’t fit the profile of a pro-Israel author.”
Finkelstein asserts that his focus on Dershowitz is not any “witch hunt,” but because of the prominence of Dershowitz’s book as a national bestseller.
“We’re not talking about a cookbook here,” commented Finkelstein. “We’re talking about a hoax for Americans in a crucial political question that is widely published. This is a very serious issue.”
The Justice for Palestine society has published an invitation for both Dershowitz and Finkelstein to debate the merits of the book at an open forum. Finkelstein looks forward to the opportunity.
“I have to tell you that I’m fallible like anyone else,” admitted Finkelstein. “I eagerly looked forward to his response because I’m curious – did I make an error here, did I make an error there? I was quite shocked at the discovery that he didn’t answer any of my points.”
Dershowitz, however, indicated that a debate on the issues lends credibility to the false charge.
“I’m happy to debate him on the issue of why he attacks only pro-Israelis,” commented Dershowitz. “But I’m not going to debate him on when I stopped beating my wife. I’d just as soon debate him on when he stopped molesting his children. There is no credible charge.”
However, he added, “But as anyone who knows me knows, I shy away from no debate.”
Finkelstein asserted the need for Harvard Law School to take action and censure Dershowitz’s conduct.
“Mr. Dershowitz is using his Harvard pedigree to lend credibility to the book,” opined Finkelstein. “Will the institution which he is effectively exploiting hold him accountable?”
At his “Letters to a Young Lawyer” symposium last week, Dershowitz addressed 1Ls. affirming the benefits of living a life of controversy. “If you are going to live a life of controversy, you can’t go close to any lines,” Dershowitz emphasized. “You have to anticipate in advance all of your enemy’s attacks. There are too many people out there who would love to see me come down. I guess I’ve failed at my own advice that I should have anticipated this attack [of plagiarism], but this [charge] is shocking to me.”