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Giving Chutzpah New Meaning | The Nation

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Giving Chutzpah New Meaning

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Dershowitz has a second argument: While Palestinian terrorists have targeted Israeli civilians intentionally, the killing of Palestinian civilians by the Israel Defense Forces is "unintended," "inadvertent" and "caused accidentally," because the IDF follows international law, which requires the protection of civilian noncombatants. For example, Dershowitz writes, the IDF tries to use rubber bullets "and aims at the legs whenever possible" in a policy designed to "reduce fatalities." But Finkelstein's evidence to the contrary is convincing: Amnesty International reported in 2001 that "the overwhelming majority of cases of unlawful killings and injuries in Israel and the Occupied Territories have been committed by the IDF using excessive force." Amnesty cited the use of "helicopters in punitive rocket attacks where there was no imminent danger to life." As for the rubber bullets, Amnesty reported in 2002 that the IDF "regularly" used them against demonstrators who were children "at distances considerably closer than the minimum permitted range...and the pattern of injury indicates that IDF practice has not been to aim at the legs of demonstrators, as the majority of injuries suffered by children from rubber-coated bullets are to the upper body and the head."

About the Author

Jon Wiener
Jon Wiener
Jon Wiener teaches US history at UC Irvine. His most recent book is How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey...

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Another of Dershowitz's examples of Israeli protection of Palestinian civilians concerns Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh. Dershowitz writes that on several occasions, the army passed up opportunities to attack him "because he was with his wife or children." But in July 2002 an Israeli F-16 dropped a one-ton bomb on Shehadeh's apartment building in Gaza City, killing Shehadeh and fourteen Palestinian civilians, nine of whom were children.

Most of Beyond Chutzpah consists of these kinds of juxtapositions--arguments by Dershowitz on Israeli practices of torture, assassinations, treatment of Palestinian children, and water and land rights, refuted by documentation from human rights organizations. The cumulative effect is a devastating portrait of widespread Israeli violations of human rights principles and international law.

Finkelstein has won support for his book from leading scholars, whose statements appear in the book's publicity materials: Baruch Kimmerling, who holds a chair in sociology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and whose book on Palestinian history was published by Harvard University Press, calls Beyond Chutzpah "the most comprehensive, systematic and well documented work of its kind." Sara Roy of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard, whose book on political Islam in Palestine has just been published by Princeton University Press, calls Beyond Chutzpah "a vigorous, intelligent, succinct and powerfully argued analysis." Avi Shlaim, professor of international relations at Oxford, calls it a work of "erudition, originality, spark, [and] meticulous attention to detail." Daniel Boyarin, professor of Near Eastern studies at UC Berkeley, calls the book "accurate, well-written, and devastatingly important."

The argument about plagiarism, which has figured prominently in the pre-publication controversy over the book, has been relegated to an appendix. Finkelstein's evidence has already been presented in these pages by Alexander Cockburn and debated by Dershowitz in letters exchanges with Cockburn [October 13, October 27 and December 15, 2003]; thus it can be summarized here briefly. In the Dershowitz book, twenty-two out of fifty-two quotations and endnotes in the first two chapters "match almost exactly" material quoted in Joan Peters's From Time Immemorial--including the placement of ellipses in quotations. Beyond Chutzpah has an eleven-page chart comparing these quotations. They are virtually identical. But Dershowitz never acknowledges Peters as the source for these quotations; instead, he cites the original sources that appear in Peters's footnotes.

The official policy on plagiarism at Harvard, where Dershowitz teaches, is clear on this issue: "Plagiarism is passing off a source's information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them." Dershowitz in an e-mail made three arguments in his defense: first, for three of the quotations in question, "I have incontrovertible evidence that I was using those quotations in the 1970s in debates," and thus "I did not originally find them in the Peters book." Second, although he did not cite Peters for the quotations listed by Finkelstein, he did cite her as the source of "at least eight" others. As to why he failed to cite Peters for the quotations in question, Dershowitz acknowledges that he found them originally in Peters, but "I then went to the Harvard library, read them, and cited them in the original," without indicating that he found them first in the Peters book--a citation practice that he (and some of his defenders) regards as proper.

But Finkelstein somehow obtained a copy of the uncorrected page proofs of The Case for Israel containing some devastating footnotes, which he reproduces in Beyond Chutzpah--including one that says "Holly Beth: cite sources on pp. 160, 485, 486 fns 141-145." Holly Beth Billington is credited on Dershowitz's acknowledgments page as one of his research assistants; the pages to which he refers her are from Peters's book. The note doesn't tell Holly Beth that Dershowitz is going to the Harvard library to check the original sources, nor does it tell Holly Beth that she should go to the library to check; it says she should "cite" them--copy the citations from Peters into his footnote, presumably to give readers the impression that he consulted the original source. That's not plagiarism in the sense of failing to put in quotation marks the words of somebody else, and the Harvard administration has taken no action in response to Finkelstein's charge. But it's clearly dishonest for Dershowitz to have passed off another scholar's research as his own.

The Finkelstein book was originally under contract to the New Press, and Dershowitz claims he succeeded in persuading the New Press to drop it. He told me in an e-mail that after he wrote the New Press pointing out "numerous factual inaccuracies in Finkelstein's manuscript, New Press cancelled it's [sic] contract with him." New Press publisher Colin Robinson says that's not true: "We did not cancel the agreement to publish Norman's book and never wanted to do so." Finkelstein said the same thing in an e-mail: "I was the one who pulled out of the contract when publication was delayed due to Dershowitz's letters. In fact, Colin urged me to reconsider the decision and stay with New Press."

Now, despite Dershowitz's best efforts, UC Press is publishing the book--to the great credit of director Withey and history editor Niels Hooper. The book is appearing in August rather than June--because, according to the press statement, "editing and production took longer than we hoped." Hooper explained that California published the book not as part of a personal feud between Finkelstein and Dershowitz but because the chapters on human rights "show what is going on in the Occupied Territories and Israel." Dershowitz is relevant as a prominent defender of Israeli policies and practices.

Will Dershowitz now sue for libel in federal court in Boston, or in London, where the law makes it easier for libel plaintiffs to win--as his attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore has threatened? That would be another shameful act by a man who claims to be a defender of free speech.

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