March 12, 2015
Norman Finkelstein on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Thursday, March 12
Educational Science Building, Room 204
UW-Madison Campus [Map]
7 pm

Dr. Norman Finkelstein, well known speaker and scholar, will address recent events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the future of Palestine. All students, faculty, and guests are welcome to attend.

Sponsored by UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Union Directorate Society and Politics Committee and support from Associated Students of Madison.

For more info: Facebook — UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine

Brandeis Donors Exact Revenge for Carter Visit

Major Givers Reportedly withholding Funds from School, Sparking Fierce Free-Speech Debate on Massachusetts Campus

Larry Cohler-Esses, The Jewish Week (New York), February 16, 2007

Major donors to Brandeis University have informed the school they will no longer give it money in retaliation for its decision last month to host former President Jimmy Carter, a strong critic of Israel.

The donors have notified the school in writing of their decisions–and specified Carter as the reason, said Stuart Eizenstat, a former aide to Carter during his presidency and a current trustee of Brandeis, one of the nation’s premier Jewish institutions of higher learning.

They are “more than a handful,” he said. “So, this is a concern. There are evidently a fair number of donors who have indicated they will withhold contributions.”

Brandeis history professor Jonathan Sarna, who maintains close ties with the administration, told The Jewish Week, “These were not people who send $5 to the university. These were major donors, and major potential donors.”

“I hope they’ll calm down and change their views,” Sarna said.

Sarna indicated he knew the identity of at least one of the benefactors but declined to disclose it. He said only that those now determined to stop contributing include “some enormously wealthy individuals.”

Eizenstat said his information came from discussions Tuesday with university administrators, who did not disclose to him who the donors in question were, or how much was involved.

Kevin Montgomery, a student member of the faculty-student committee that brought Carter to Brandeis, related that the school’s senior vice president for communications, Lorna Miles, told him in a meeting the week before Carter’s appearance that the school had, at that point, already lost $5 million in donations.

Asked to comment, Miles replied, “I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

Miles said that university President Jehuda Reinharz was out of the country and unavailable for comment. The school’s fundraising director, Nancy Winship, was also unavailable, she said.

“I have not heard anything from donors,” said Miles. “I don’t know where Stuart’s information is coming from. I don’t think there is any there there, in your story.”

The apparent donor crisis comes on the heels of a series of Israel-related free speech controversies on the Waltham, Mass., campus, of which Carter’s January appearance is only the latest and most high-profile. Critics of Israel last year protested Reinharz’s removal of an art exhibit from the school library containing anti-Israeli paintings–denounced by some as crude propaganda–by youths from Palestinian refugee camps.

The university got flack from the other side when it awarded an honorary doctorate in June to renowned playwright and frequent Israel critic Tony Kushner, who once referred to Israel’s founding as “a mistake.”

The run-up to Carter’s appearance was also punctuated by acrimony when the former president declined an initial invitation to appear in a debate format with Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz. Instead, Dershowitz appeared only after Carter left the hall.

Yet, the school has also won notice for a course it offers on the Middle East conflict co-taught by Shai Feldman, a prominent Israeli strategic analyst, and Palestinian Khalil Shikaki, a leading West Bank demographer. It also conducts an exchange program with Al Quds University, a Palestinian school in East Jerusalem. The Brandeis student body of about 5,000 is about 50 percent Jewish but also contains a significant population of Muslims.

Nevertheless, the free-speech controversies seemed to pit Brandeis’ commitment to maintaining its status as a top-tier, non-sectarian university–with all the expectations of untrammeled discourse this brings–against its determination to remain, in Reinharz’s words, a school under “continuous sponsorship by the Jewish community.”

The alleged action by some top donors has now sharpened the tensions between those two goals, intensified by the school’s commitment to the ideals of its namesake. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a founder of American Zionism and one of the judiciary’s fiercest free speech defenders.
“The American Jewish community understands the visit by Carter to Brandeis to be reflecting a heksher”–a stamp of approval–“from the university,” said Sarna, whose field is American Jewish history. “They see it as a statement that Brandeis certifies him as kosher.”

“The faculty views it very differently,” he said, “that Brandeis is a forum; that views are uttered in that forum, some of which we agree with and some of which we don’t. But the faculty does not view his appearance as a heksher.”

“It’s that gap in perception that seems to require greater dialogue between the two entities so at least one understands the other,” said Sarna.

But the Carter event may have instead opened the door to greater tensions. Emboldened by it, a group of left-wing students are now seeking to bring to campus Norman Finkelstein, a controversial Holocaust scholar who charges that Jewish leaders exploit the tragedy to fend off and silence criticism of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. He charges, too, that Jewish organizations have inflated the number of Holocaust survivors to inflate reparations payments.

A group of right-wing students has invited to campus Professor Daniel Pipes, an Arabist and policy analyst who writes often of the security threat he sees to the United States and Europe from Muslim immigrants. Pipes has also founded Campus Watch, a program that seeks to monitor what professors teach in class and publicize those it regards as extremists. This has provoked charges he is a McCarthyist, which he denies.

In a contentious meeting with faculty after the Carter event, Reinharz denounced Finkelstein and Pipes as “weapons of mass destruction,” according to a report in The Justice, the Brandeis campus newspaper. His executive assistant, John Hose, explained, “These are people who tend to inflame passions, whose mission is not so much discussion and education as it is theatre, a show … If you want serious discussion, there’s lots of resources available for that already at Brandeis.”

At the Feb. 5 meeting, Winship, the school’s chief fundraiser, also alluded to the brewing problem with donors. The e-mails from them “kept coming and coming,” The Justice quoted her as saying. “We’re just trying to repair the damage. The Middle East is just this trigger of emotions for our alumni and for our friends. For the most part, the donors who come to us come through the Jewish door.”

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The Ludicrous Attacks on Jimmy Carter’s Book

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN, Truthdig, DECEMBER 28, 2006

As Jimmy Carter’s new book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid climbs the bestseller list, the reaction of Israel’s apologists scales new peaks of lunacy. I will examine a pair of typical examples and then look at the latest weapon to silence Carter.

Apartheid Analogy

No aspect of Carter’s book has evoked more outrage than its identification of Israeli policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory with apartheid. Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post called it “foolish and unfair,” the Boston Globe editorialized that it was “irresponsibly provocative,” while the New York Times reported that Jewish groups condemned it as “dangerous and anti-Semitic.” (1)

In fact the comparison is a commonplace among informed commentators.
From its initial encounter with Palestine the Zionist movement confronted a seemingly intractable dilemma: How to create a Jewish state in a territory that was overwhelmingly non-Jewish? Israeli historian Benny Morris observes that Zionists could choose from only two options: “the way of South Africa”–i.e., “the establishment of an apartheid state, with a settler minority lording it over a large, exploited native majority”–or “the way of transfer”–i.e., “you could create a homogeneous Jewish state or at least a state with an overwhelming Jewish majority by moving or transferring all or most of the Arabs out.” (2)

During the British Mandate period (1917-1947) Zionist settlers labored on both fronts, laying the foundations of an apartheid-like regime in Palestine while exploring the prospect of expelling the indigenous population. Norman Bentwich, a Jewish officer in the Mandatory government who later taught at the Hebrew University, recalled in his memoir that, “One of the causes of resentment between Arabs and Jews was the determined policy of the Jewish public bodies to employ only Jewish workers.This policy of ‘economic apartheid’ was bound to strengthen the resistance of Arabs to Jewish immigration.” (3)

Ultimately, however, the Zionist movement resolved the dilemma in 1948 by way of transfer: under the cover of war with neighboring Arab states, Zionist armies proceeded to “ethnically cleanse” (Morris) the bulk of the indigenous population, creating a state that didn’t need to rely on anachronistic structures of Western supremacy. (4)

After Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 the same demographic dilemma resurfaced and alongside it the same pair of options. Once again Zionists simultaneously laid the foundations for apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territory while never quite abandoning hope that an expulsion could be carried off in the event of war. (5)

After four decades of Israeli occupation, the infrastructure and superstructure of apartheid have been put in place. Outside the never-never land of mainstream American Jewry and U.S. media this reality is barely disputed. Indeed, already more than a decade ago while the world was celebrating the Oslo Accords, seasoned Israeli analyst and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti observed, “It goes without saying that ‘cooperation’ based on the current power relationship is no more than permanent Israeli domination in disguise, and that Palestinian self-rule is merely a euphemism for Bantustanization.” (6)

If it’s “foolish and unfair,” “irresponsibly provocative” and “dangerous and anti-Semitic” to make the apartheid comparison, then the roster of commentators who have gone awry is rather puzzling. For example, a major 2002 study of Israeli settlement practices by the respected Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem concluded: “Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the apartheid regime in South Africa.” A more recent B’Tselem publication on the road system Israel has established in the West Bank again concluded that it “bears striking similarities to the racist Apartheid regime,” and even “entails a greater degree of arbitrariness than was the case with the regime that existed in South Africa.” (7)

Those sharing Carter’s iniquitous belief also include the editorial board of Israel’s leading newspaper Haaretz, which observed in September 2006 that “the apartheid regime in the territories remains intact; millions of Palestinians are living without rights, freedom of movement or a livelihood, under the yoke of ongoing Israeli occupation,” as well as former Israeli Knesset member Shulamit Aloni, former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel, South African Archbishop and Nobel Laureate for Peace Desmond Tutu and “father” of human rights law in South Africa John Dugard. (8)

Indeed, the list apparently also includes former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Pointing to his “fixation with Bantustans,” Israeli researcher Gershom Gorenberg concluded that it is “no accident” that Sharon’s plan for the West Bank “bears a striking resemblance to the ‘grand apartheid’ promoted by the old South African regime.” Sharon himself reportedly stated that “the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict.” (9)

The denial of Carter’s critics recalls the glory days of the Daily Worker. Kinsley asserts that “no one has yet thought to accuse Israel of creating a phony country in finally acquiescing to the creation of a Palestinian state.” In the real world what he claims “no one has yet thought” couldn’t be more commonplace. The Economist typically reports that Palestinians have been asked to choose between “a Swiss-cheese state, comprising most of the West Bank but riddled with settlements, in which travel is severely hampered,” and Israel “pulling out from up to 40 percent or 50 percent of the West Bank’s territory unilaterally, while keeping most of its settlements.” (10)

The shrill reaction to Carter’s mention of apartheid is probably due not only to the term’s emotive resonances but its legal-political implications as well. According to Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions as well as the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “practices of apartheid” constitute war crimes. Small wonder, then, that despite–or, rather, because of–its aptness, Carter is being bullied into repudiating the term. (11)

Partial or full withdrawal?

In order to discredit Carter the media keep citing the inflammatory rhetoric of his former collaborator at the Carter Center, Kenneth Stein. On inspection, however, Stein’s claims prove to be devoid of content. Consider the main one of Carter’s “egregious and inexcusable errors” that Stein enumerates. (12)

According to Stein, Carter erroneously infers on the basis of U.N. Resolution 242 that Israel “must” withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. It is true that whereas media pundits often allege that the extent of Israel’s withdrawal is subject to negotiations, Carter forthrightly asserts that Israel’s “borders must coincide with those prevailing from 1949 until 1967 (unless modified by mutually agreeable land swaps), specified in the unanimously adopted U.N. Resolution 242, which mandates Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories.” (13)

In fact and to his credit Carter is right on the mark.

Shortly after the June 1967 war the U.N General Assembly met in emergency session.

There was “near unanimity” on “the withdrawal of the armed forces from the territory of neighboring Arab states,” Secretary-General U Thant subsequently observed, because “everyone agrees that there should be no territorial gains by military conquest.” (14)

When the General Assembly couldn’t reach consensus on a comprehensive resolution, deliberations moved to the Security Council. In November 1967 the Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 242, the preambular paragraph of which emphasized “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” The main framer of 242, Lord Caradon of the United Kingdom, later recalled that without this preambular statement “there could have been no unanimous vote” in the Security Council. (15) Fully 10 of the 15 Security Council members stressed in their interventions the “inadmissibility” principle and Israel’s obligation to fully withdraw while none of the five other members registered any disagreement. (16)

For its part the United States repeatedly made clear that it contemplated at most minor and mutual border adjustments (hence Carter’s caveat of “mutually agreeable land swaps”). Jordanian leaders were told in early November 1967 that “some territorial adjustment will be required” on the West Bank but “there must be mutuality in adjustments” and, on a second occasion, that the U.S. supported “minor border rectifications” but Jordan would “obtain compensationfor any territory it is required to give up.” (17)
When Israel first proposed annexation of West Bank territory, the U.S. vehemently replied that 242 “never meant that Israel could extend its territory to [the] West Bank,” and that “there will be no peace if Israel tries to hold onto large chunks of territory.” (18)

In private Israeli leaders themselves suffered no illusions on the actual meaning of 242. During a closed session of the Labor Party in 1968 Moshe Dayan counseled against endorsing 242 because “it means withdrawal to the 4 June [1967] boundaries, and because we are in conflict with the SC [Security Council] on that resolution.” (19)

In its landmark 2004 advisory opinion, “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall In the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the International Court of Justice repeatedly affirmed the preambular paragraph of Resolution 242 emphasizing the inadmissibility of territorial conquest as well as a 1970 General Assembly resolution emphasizing that “No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal.” The World Court denoted this principle a “corollary” of the U.N. Charter and as such “customary international law” and a “customary rule” binding on all member States of the United Nations. It merits notice that on this crucial point none of the Court’s 15 justices registered any dissent. (20)

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Jimmy Carter’s Roadmap

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN, CounterPunch, NOVEMBER 13, 2006

The historical chapters of Palestine Peace Not Apartheid are rather thin, filled with errors small and large, as well as tendentious and untenable interpretations. But few persons will be reading it for the history.

It is what Carter has to say about the present that will interest the reading public and the media (assuming the book is not ignored). It can be said with certainty that Israel’s apologists will not be pleased. Although Carter includes criticisms of the Palestinians to affect balance, it is clear that he holds Israel principally responsible for the impasse in the peace process. The most scathing criticisms of Israel come in Chapter 16 (“The Wall as a Prison”). One hopes that this chapter (and the concluding “Summary”) will be widely disseminated.

Below I reproduce some of Carter’s key statements.

***

Most Arab regimes have accepted the permanent existence of Israel as an indisputable fact and are no longer calling for an end to the State of Israel, having contrived a common statement at an Arab summit in 2002 that offers peace and normal relations with Israel within its acknowledged international borders and in compliance with other U.N. Security Council resolutions. (p. 14)

Since 1924, Shebaa Farms has been treated as Lebanese territory, but Syria seized the area in the 1950s and retained control until Israel occupied the Farms–along with the Golan Heights–in 1967. The inhabitants and properties were Lebanese, and Lebanon has never accepted Syria’s control of the Farms. Although Syria has claimed the area in the past, Syrian officials now state that it is part of Lebanon. This position supports the Arab claim that Israel still occupies Lebanese territory. (pp. 98-9)

The best offer to the Palestinians [at Camp David in December 2000]–by Clinton, not Barak–had been to withdraw 20 percent of the settlers, leaving more than 180,000 in 209 settlements, covering about 10 percent of the occupied land, including land to be “leased” and portions of the Jordan River valley and East Jerusalem.

The percentage figure is misleading, since it usually includes only the actual footprints of the settlements. There is a zone with a radius of about four hundred meters around each settlement within which Palestinians cannot enter. In addition, there are other large areas that would have been taken or earmarked to be used exclusively by Israel, roadways that connect the settlements to one another and to Jerusalem, and “life arteries” that provide the settlers with water, sewage, electricity, and communications. These range in width from five hundred to four thousand meters, and Palestinians cannot use or cross many of these connecting links. This honeycomb of settlements and their interconnecting conduits effectively divide the West Bank into at least two noncontiguous areas and multiple fragments, often uninhabitable or even unreachable, and control of the Jordan Valley denies Palestinians any direct access eastward into Jordan. About one hundred military checkpoints completely surround Palestinians and block routes going into or between Palestinian communities, combined with an unaccountable number of other roads that are permanently closed with large concrete cubes or mounds of earth and rocks.

There was no possibility that any Palestinian leader could accept such terms and survive, but official statements from Washington and Jerusalem were successful in placing the entire onus for the failure on Yasir Arafat. (pp. 151-2)

A new round of talks was held at Taba in January 2001, during the last few days of the Clinton presidency, between President Arafat and the Israeli foreign minister, and it was later claimed that the Palestinians rejected a “generous offer” put forward by Prime Minister Barak with Israel keeping only 5 percent of the West Bank. The fact is that no such offers were ever made. Barak later said, “It was plain to me that there was no chance of reaching a settlement at Taba. Therefore I said there would be no negotiations and there would be no delegation and there would be no official discussions and no documentation. Nor would Americans be present in the room. The only thing that took place at Taba were nonbinding contacts between senior Israelis and senior Palestinians. (p. 152)

In April 2003 a “Roadmap” for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was announced by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on behalf of the United States, the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union (known as the Quartet).The Palestinians accepted the road map in its entirety but the Israeli government announced fourteen caveats and prerequisites, some of which would preclude any final peace talks. (p. 159)

“Imprisonment wall” is more descriptive than “security fence.” (p. 174)

Gaza has maintained a population growth rate of 4.7 percent annually, one of the highest in the world, so more than half its people are less than fifteen years old. They are being strangled since the Israeli “withdrawal,” surrounded by a separation barrier that is penetrated only by Israeli-controlled checkpoints, with just a single opening (for personnel only) into Egypt’s Sinai as their access to the outside world. There have been no moves by Israel to permit transportation by sea or by air. Fishermen are not permitted to leave the harbor, workers are prevented from going to outside jobs, the import or export of food and other goods is severely restricted and often cut off completely, and the police, teachers, nurses, and social workers are deprived of salaries. Per capita income has decreased 40 percent during the last three years, and the poverty rate has reached 70 percent. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has stated that acute malnutrition in Gaza is already on the same scale as that seen in the poorer countries of the Southern Sahara, with more than half of Palestinian families eating only one meal a day. (p. 176).

The area between the segregation barrier and the Israeli border has been designated a closed military region for an indefinite period of time. Israeli directives state that every Palestinian over the age of twelve living in the closed area has to obtain a “permanent resident permit” from the civil administration to enable them to continue to live in their own homes. They are considered to be aliens, without the rights of Israeli citizens.
To summarize: whatever territory Israel decides to confiscate will be on its side of the wall, but Israelis will still retain control of the Palestinians who will be on the other side of the barrier, enclosed between it and Israel’s forces in the Jordan River valley. (pp. 192-3)

The wall ravages many places along its devious route that are important to Christians. In addition to enclosing Bethlehem in one of its most notable intrusions, an especially heartbreaking division is on the southern slope of the Mount of Olives, a favorite place for Jesus and his disciples, and very near Bethany, where they often visited Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus. There is a church named for one of the sisters, Santa Marta Monastery, where Israel’s thirty-foot concrete wall cuts through the property. The house of worship is now on the Jerusalem side, and its parishioners are separated from it because they cannot get permits to enter Jerusalem. Its priest, Father Claudio Ghilardi, says, “For nine hundred years we have lived here under Turkish, British, Jordanian, and Israeli governments, and no one has ever stopped people coming to pray. It is scandalous. This is not about a barrier. It is a border. Why don’t they speak the truth?”
Countering Israeli arguments that the wall is to keep Palestinian suicide bombers from Israel, Father Claudio adds a comment that describes the path of the entire barrier: “The Wall is not separating Palestinians from Jews; rather Palestinians from Palestinians.” Nearby are three convents that will also be cut off from the people they serve. The 2,000 Palestinian Christians have lost their place of worship and their spiritual center. (pp. 194-5)

International human rights organizations estimate that since 1967 more than 630,000 Palestinians (about 20 percent of the total population) in the occupied territories have been detained at some time by the Israelis, arousing deep resentment among the families involved. Although the vast majority of prisoners are men, there are a large number of women and children being held. Between the ages of twelve and fourteen, children can be sentenced for a period of up to six months, and after the age of fourteen Palestinian children are tried as adults, a violation of international law. (pp. 196-7)

The unwavering official policy of the United States since Israel became a state has been that its borders must coincide with those prevailing from 1949 until 1967 (unless modified by mutually agreeable land swaps), specified in the unanimously adopted U.N. Resolution 242, which mandates Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories. This obligation was reconfirmed by Israel’s leaders in agreements negotiated in 1978 at Camp David and in 1993 at Oslo, for which they received the Nobel Peace Prize, and both of these commitments were officially ratified by the Israeli government. Also, as a member of the International Quartet that includes Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union, America supports the Roadmap for Peace, which espouses exactly the same requirements. Palestinian leaders unequivocally accepted this proposal, but Israel has officially rejected its key provisions with unacceptable caveats and prerequisites.

The overriding problem is that, for more than a quarter century, the actions of some Israeli leaders have been in direct conflict with the official policies of the United States, the international community, and their own negotiated agreements.Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land. In order to perpetuate the occupation, Israeli forces have deprived their unwilling subjects of basic human rights. No objective person could personally observe existing conditions in the West Bank and dispute these statements. (pp. 207-9)

The United States has used its U.N. Security Council veto more than forty times to block resolutions critical of Israel. Some of these vetoes have brought international discredit on the United States, and there is little doubt that the lack of a persistent effort to resolve the Palestinian issue is a major source of anti-American sentiment and terrorist activity throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world. (pp. 209-10)

The bottom line is this: Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens–and honors its own previous commitments–by accepting its legal borders. All Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israel’s right to live in peace under these conditions. The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories. (p. 216)

J’accuse: Finkelstein and Dershowitz

It’s a dispute that involves just about every emotive issue you can think of – Israel, Palestine, human rights, freedom of speech. Gary Younge dissects the academic battle that has gripped America

Gary Younge, The Guardian, 10 August 2005

In his landmark book, Democracy in America, the 19th-century French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville commented on the fever pitch to which American polemics can often ascend. In a chapter entitled Why American Writers and Speakers Are Often Bombastic, he wrote: “I have often noticed that the Americans whose language when talking business is clear and dry … easily turn bombastic when they attempt a poetic style … Writers for their part almost always pander to this propensity … they inflate their imaginations and swell them out beyond bounds, so that they achieve gigantism, missing real grandeur.”

When it comes to a duel between DePaul university political science professor Norman Finkelstein and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz over Finkelstein’s upcoming book, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, gigantic bombast feels like an understatement. It is a row that has spilled on to the pages of most of the nation’s prominent newspapers and gone all the way to the desk of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Like the two professors in Irvine Welsh’s The Acid House who abandon their high-minded theoretical clashes for a drunken brawl in a car park, Finkelstein and Dershowitz hover between principle and raw verbal pugilism in which the personal and the political are almost indistinguishable.

Finkelstein says Dershowitz is a “total liar”, adding that “If a true word were to leap out of his mouth he would explode.” Dershowitz eschews direct personal attacks only to ascribe his jibes to others. “Many people have thought he was unstable … he is like a child … he makes up facts.”

But beneath the vitriol lie many vital issues: namely Israel, Palestine, human rights in the Middle East, anti-semitism, academic freedom and intellectual honesty. Not to mention the scope for discussing these subjects in the United States, Israel’s greatest ally, where the parameters for debate are relatively narrow compared with the rest of the western world. “The atmosphere for publishing critical stuff on Israel here is very intimidating,” says Colin Robinson, who as publisher of the New Press initially intended to publish Finkelstein’s book.

Finkelstein billed his book as “an exposé of the corruption of scholarship on the Israel-Palestine conflict,” but essentially it is an attack on Dershowitz in general and his bestselling book, The Case for Israel, in particular, which Finkelstein describes as “among the most spectacular academic frauds ever published on the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

This is fighting talk. But then both of these writers come to this subject and each other with some form.

Finkelstein is best known for his book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. The book, serialised in the Guardian, argued that the Holocaust should not be treated as a sacred event to be exploited by a huge “memory industry” but understood as one of many genocides. Translated into 17 languages, it drew widespread criticism from many Jews for playing to an anti-semitic gallery in both its tone and tenor. It is “filled with precisely the kind of shrill hyperbole that Finkelstein rightly deplores in much of the current media hype over the Holocaust”, wrote historian Omer Bartov, who holds a chair at Brown university. “It is brimming with the same indifference to historical facts, inner contradictions, strident politics and dubious contextualisations.” Other experts believe he has a point.

Dershowitz is not just a prominent figure in American academe but the nation’s cultural life. He was part of both OJ Simpson and Mike Tyson’s defence teams. In 1991, he wrote Chutzpah, in which he argued that American Jews should shed their self-image as second-class citizens and engage more bravely with gentile America. In 2003 he wrote The Case for Israel.

A passionate advocate of Zionism and Israel, who after September 11 made the case for torture of suspects whom authorities believed to be hiding information about “an imminent large-scale threat”, Dershowitz is also loathed by the left. Noam Chomsky has described him as a “Stalinist-style thug”.

Both insist they would rather not stoop to the other’s level but have been provoked. “I feel that I have an obligation to defend the ideas,” says Dershowitz. “He is not going to destroy my career. But if they can attack me in this way then it can have a powerful message for others who share my ideas that their careers can be destroyed.”

Finkelstein insists that Dershowitz is either baiting him or is insane. “On a public relations front his attacks have become so hysterical that [Dershowitz] is either trying to provoke me or he’s imploding. My friends keep telling me, ‘Norman, don’t respond’.”

Finkelstein’s criticisms of the book can be reduced to two central themes. The first amounts to an accusation of academic fraud. He originally asserted that Dershowitz “almost certainly didn’t write [it] and perhaps didn’t even read it prior to publication”. He also charged that Dershowitz “plagiarises large swaths” of From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters, a now-discredited – by Finkelstein – 1984 book, which attempted to buttress the Zionist argument that the land that is now Israel was underpopulated, and its few inhabitants a collection of different peoples, not Palestinians with a strong claim. (In the version that has just gone to press, the word “plagiarise” has been softened to “lifts from” or “appropriates without attribution”.) Finkelstein alleges that of the 52 quotations and endnotes in the first two chapters of Dershowitz’s book, 22 are almost exact replicas of Peters’ book. However, instead of quoting Peters as the source, Dershowitz cites the original sources from Peters’ footnotes.

The second accusation is that Dershowitz’s defence of Israel’s human rights record during the second intifada is based on flawed or fraudulent data, which Finkelstein challenges with reports from organisations such as Amnesty International, the US-based Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem. “I juxtapose what he says is going on there and what is actually going on there,” says Finkelstein.

A recent piece in the American leftwing magazine The Nation details some of the points of contention. Finkelstein takes issue, for example, with Dershowitz’s assertion that “when only innocent civilians are counted, significantly more Israelis than Palestinians have been killed.” Yet, he says that, according to Amnesty International, even when only unarmed civilians are counted, the ratio is still three to one, Palestinian to Israeli. Dershowitz argues that the IDF tries to use rubber bullets “and aims at the legs whenever possible”; he points to a 2002 Amnesty report that rubber bullets are regularly used against children, at close range, often injuring their heads or upper bodies.

Dershowitz says his principal grievance was with the accusation that he hadn’t written the book – “It’s like disputing the paternity of my children,” he says. “I know I wrote the book. I wrote every single word of it” – and dismisses the plagiarism allegations as malevolent pedantry. He says they were investigated by the Harvard library and dismissed as a “frivolous charge” and that he can prove he used some of the citations in public debates as far back as the 70s and that he first saw the other quotes in Peters’ book, then went and checked the originals in Harvard library.

On the issue of what is going on in Israel, Dershowitz claims that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch did not get all of their facts right and that Finkelstein is a “transient academic” with little practical knowledge of the Middle East. “This is a man who until recently had never been to Israel.”

When Dershowitz found out that the book was going to be published by the New Press, says Robinson, who published The Holocaust Industry when he was an editor at Verso, he got the home addresses of the New Press board and urged them not to publish it. “I got four letters from Dershowitz in three months.”

Realising that the book was bound to provoke great controversy, Robinson says he sought to postpone publication from early spring to early autumn so that he could be sure they got it right. “We wanted our ducks in a row. We wanted to read the manuscript to know what we would be defending before we put it in the catalogue.”

Piqued, Finkelstein took the book to the University of California Press, saying that he wanted to get it out as early as possible. “The book was very timely and I thought a delay would be damaging,” he says.

After the UC Press decided to take it on, Dershowitz wrote to Schwarzenegger, but even he would not get involved. “You have asked for the Governor’s assistance in preventing the publication of this book,” wrote his legal affairs secretary. “He is not inclined to otherwise exert influence in this case because of the clear academic freedom issue it presents.” According to The Nation’s reporter Jon Weiner, who is also a professor of history at the University of California, Dershowitz got a prominent law firm to write stern letters to the university regents, to the university provost, to 17 directors of the press and to 19 members of the press’s faculty editorial committee.

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