Giving Chutzpah New Meaning
Finkelstein's Holocaust Industry, however, has some prominent supporters, and not only leftists like Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn. Most significant is Raul Hilberg, the semi-official dean of Holocaust studies and author of the classic The Destruction of the European Jews, who wrote of The Holocaust Industry, "I would now say in retrospect that he was actually conservative, moderate and that 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."
Dershowitz did not see the manuscript for Beyond Chutzpah before writing his letters, which were based instead on statements Finkelstein had made in interviews and lectures. Dershowitz's attorney objected first of all to Finkelstein's statements that Dershowitz "almost certainly didn't write [The Case for Israel], and perhaps didn't even read it prior to publication." He also objected to the charge that Dershowitz is guilty of plagiarism--more on that later--and that "every substantive sentence" in the Dershowitz book "is fraudulent." Finkelstein has been telling this to anyone who will listen, and wrote as much in an e-mail to me: "I devote some 200 pages to documenting that every substantive fact in the book is a flat-out lie." (Emphasis in original.)
Now that the "uncorrected pages" of Beyond Chutzpah are being sent out to reviewers, it's possible to see what Finkelstein's book actually says. (Disclosure: A senior editor of The Nation served as a freelance editor of Beyond Chutzpah.) The claim that Dershowitz didn't write The Case for Israel has been removed--the UC Press explained in a statement accompanying review copies that "Professor Finkelstein's only claim on the issue was speculative. He wondered why Alan Dershowitz, in recorded appearances after his book was published, seemed to know so little about the contents of his own book. We felt this weakened the argument and distracted from the central issues of the book. Finkelstein agreed."
But the rest of the claims Dershowitz and his attorney railed against are still there: Beyond Chutzpah describes Dershowitz's Case for Israel as "among the most spectacular academic frauds ever published on the Israel-Palestine conflict." In Dershowitz's book, "It's difficult to find a single claim...that's not either based on mangling a reputable source or referencing a preposterous one, or simply pulled out of the air." He charges that Dershowitz "plagiarizes large swaths" of his book from Joan Peters's From Time Immemorial, whose scholarship Finkelstein had debunked in an earlier book. The introduction concludes by calling The Case for Israel "rubbish."
The body of Beyond Chutzpah shows Finkelstein to be an indefatigable researcher with a forensic ability to take apart other people's arguments. The core of the book challenges Dershowitz's defense of Israel's human rights record by citing the findings of mainstream groups, including Amnesty International, the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem and Human Rights Watch.
The most important part of the book examines Israel's treatment of Palestinian civilians during the second intifada, which began in September 2000. Since then Israel has killed three Palestinians for every Israeli killed. Dershowitz tries to defend this ratio, writing that "when only innocent civilians are counted, significantly more Israelis than Palestinians have been killed." But Finkelstein cites Amnesty International's conclusion that "the vast majority of those killed and injured on both sides have been unarmed civilians and bystanders." That means Israel has killed something like three times as many unarmed civilians and bystanders as Palestinians have.