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.”

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Professor says UC Press must publish Beyond Chutzpa

Two emails from Beshara Doumani

June 28, 2005

Dear Friends,

I want to alert you to a disturbing development on the academic freedom front: It is possible that the University of California Press might not, after all, publish the long-awaited book by Norman Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. The reason is that UC Press, under pressure from outside political forces as well as pressure from inside the UC administration, has asked Norman Finkelstein to make further changes despite and in violation of an earlier commitment to publish the final galleys without any further changes.

This commitment came after a very long and tortuous editing process during which Norman has bent over backwards in accommodating queries by editors, reviewers, and several (nine is the figure I heard) libel lawyers that UC Press consulted. As the article by Jon Wiener that appears in the current issue of the Nation magazine shows, the book has received excellent reviews by eminent scholars and has been cleared by several lawyers. The new demands seem to be the result not of scholarly concerns, but of intensive lobbying by Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard professor and author of the book The Case for Israel, which Norman tears apart by showing that every substantive claim the book makes is false. Norman also makes a strong case that Dershowitz is a plagiarist.

My understanding is that the core of the new demands by UC Press is the deletion of any references to plagiarism on the part of Alan Dershowitz, primarily in order to avoid being sued. That is a dangerous abdication of the right of academic freedom and the consequences go well beyond Norman Finkelstein and his book. If the heavy handed tactics succeed in muzzling UC Press and Norman Finkelstein, university presses in general will become very wary of publishing any book critical of Israeli policies or of the apologists for these policies, of which Dershowitz is a prime example. The capitulation of the President and Provost of Columbia University when it comes to what ME professors can teach now may have its publication equivalent.

There is no doubt in my mind that Norman’s book would have been published by now if the normal procedures of peer review were followed. The folks at UC Press, if left alone to do their work freely, would have seen this book through. But peer review procedures and academic freedom do not always apply when it comes to critical academic works about Israel. What we have before us here is a naked in-your-face attempt to exercise political muscle in support of bankrupt intellectual arguments.

The article by Jon Wiener was written before these new developments, hence the assumption that the book will be published in its current form. I should also note that despite claims to the contrary, the letters sent by Dershowitz and his lawyers unequivocally aim at suppressing the publication of the book.

It is ironic that when Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, was asked to intervene on behalf of Dershowitz and prevent the publication of this book, his office replied that it cannot do so, for this is a clear case of academic freedom. I think it is very important that UC Press and the UC administration and lawyers be reminded that this core principle is at stake and they should not allow outside pressures to dictate the political boundaries of what can or cannot be published.


Below is a link to yet another article on Norman’s book. This one is by Scott Jaschik, “First Amendment Furor,” and is available at the following link: http://insidehighered.com.

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Giving Chutzpah New Meaning

Alan Dershowitz is on the defensive over his research on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jon Wiener, The Nation, JUNE 23, 2005

What do you do when somebody wants to publish a book that says you’re completely wrong? If you’re Alan Dershowitz, the prominent Harvard law professor, and the book is Norman Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, you write the governor of California and suggest that he intervene with the publisher–because the publisher is the University of California Press, which conceivably might be subject to the power of the governor.

Schwarzenegger, showing unusual wisdom, declined to act. The governor’s legal affairs secretary wrote Dershowitz, “You have asked for the Governor’s assistance in preventing the publication of this book,” but “he is not inclined to otherwise exert influence in this case because of the clear, academic freedom issue it presents.” In a phone interview Dershowitz denied writing to the Governor, declaring, “My letter to the Governor doesn’t exist.” But when pressed on the issue, he said, “It was not a letter. It was a polite note.”

Old-timers in publishing said they’d never heard of another case where somebody tried to get a governor to intervene in the publication of a book. “I think it’s a first,” said Andre Schiffrin, managing director at Pantheon Books for twenty-eight years and then founder and director of the New Press. Lynne Withey, director of the University of California Press, where she has been for nineteen years, said, “I’ve never heard of such a case in California.”

But if you’re Alan Dershowitz, you don’t stop when the governor declines. You try to get the president of the University of California to intervene with the press. You get a prominent law firm to send threatening letters to the counsel to the university regents, to the university provost, to seventeen directors of the press and to nineteen members of the press’s faculty editorial committee. 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 “part of a conspiracy to defame” Dershowitz. It concludes, “The only way to extricate yourself is immediately to terminate all professional contact with this full-time malicious defamer.” Dershowitz’s own letter to members of the faculty editorial committee calls on them to “reconsider your decision” to recommend publication of the book.

Why would a prominent First Amendment advocate take such an action? Dershowitz told Publishers Weekly that “my goal has never been to stop publication of this book.” He told me in an e-mail, “I want Finkelstein’s book to be published, so that it can be demolished in the court of public opinion.” He told Publishers Weekly his only purpose in writing the people at the University of California Press was “to eliminate as many of the demonstrable falsehoods as possible” from the book before it was published.

Everyone knows who Alan Dershowitz is–the famed Harvard professor, part of the O.J. Simpson defense team, author of the number-one bestseller Chutzpah, portrayed by Ron Silver in the film Reversal of Fortune, about his successful defense of accused wife-murderer Klaus von Bülow. He’s also one of the most outspoken defenders of Israel, especially in his 2003 book The Case for Israel; it reached number twelve on the New York Times bestseller list. That’s the book Finkelstein challenges in Beyond Chutzpah. Continue reading

June 24, 2005
“Beyond Chutzpah: The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” by Dr. Norman Finkelstein

Grainger Hall, University of Wisconsin
975 University Avenue
Madison, WI
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM

Dr. Norman Finkelstein, Professor of Political Theory at DePaul University and author of Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict will present this keynote address at the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation Upper Midwest Regional Organizing Conference. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact rafahsistercity at yahoo.com.