‘Plagiarized!’ ‘Total Nonsense…’

‘Plagiarized!’ ‘Total Nonsense…’

‘Plagiarized!’ ‘Total Nonsense…’

Cambridge, Mass.


Cambridge, Mass.

Alexander Cockburn’s politically motivated claim that I “plagiarized” from Joan Peters is total nonsense [“Beat the Devil,” Oct. 13]. Let’s begin with what is undisputed: Every word written by others appears with quotation marks, is cited to their original or secondary sources and is quoted accurately. This means that they are not plagiarized. James Freedman, the former president of Dartmouth and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has concluded, after reviewing the relevant material, that what I did was “simply not plagiarism, under any reasonable definition of that word.”

Cockburn’s claim is that some of the quotes should not have been cited to their original sources but rather to a secondary source, where he believes I stumbled upon them. Even if he were correct that I found all these quotations in Peters’s book, the preferred method of citation is to the original source, as the Chicago Manual of Style emphasizes: “With all reuse of others’ materials, it is important to identify the original as the source. This…helps avoid any accusation of plagiarism…To cite a source from a secondary source (‘quoted in…’) is generally to be discouraged….”

It is especially cynical that Cockburn would have me cite the quotes to Peters, since Norman Finkelstein–his source–has alleged that Peters herself originally found these and other quotes in earlier books. Should I have cited those books? That is why citing the original source is preferred.

I came across the quoted material in several secondary sources. They appear frequently in discussions of nineteenth-century Palestine. The Mark Twain quote, highlighted by Cockburn, appears in many books about the subject. I came across it in 1970 while preparing a debate about Israel for The Advocates. Cockburn also points out that I quote some of the same material from the Peel Report that Peters quotes, but he fails to mention that I also use many quotes from the report that do not appear in Peters’s book. I read the entire report and decided which parts to quote. I rely heavily on the Peel Report, devoting an entire chapter (Six) to its findings. They are quoted directly, with proper attribution.

Cockburn refers to Finkelstein’s “devastating chart,” which compares several quotes from my books with quotes from Peters’s book. By juxtaposing these quotes, he makes it appear that I am borrowing words from her. But these are all quotes–properly cited in my book–from third parties. Of course they are similar, or the same. One does not change a quote. And since I did find some of the quotes in Peters’s book, as she found them in others, it should come as no surprise that the ellipses are sometimes similar or the same.

It is important to recall that my book is a brief for Israel. It does not purport to be a work of original demographic research, as Peters’s does. A few pages are devoted to summarizing the demographic history, and these pages rely heavily on quotes from others to make my points. I found most of my quotes in secondary sources. When I was able to locate the primary source, I quoted it. When I was unable, I cited the secondary source. Contrary to Cockburn’s implication that I cited Peters once, I cited her eight times in the first eighty-nine pages (Ch. 2, fn 31, 35; Ch. 5, fn 8; Ch. 12, fn 34, 37, 38, 44, 47). Of my more than 500 references, fewer than a dozen were found in Peters and cited to original sources. Although we use a few of the same sources–and we each use many sources not used by the other–I come to different conclusions from Peters about important issues. As I made clear in my book, “I do not in any way rely on” Peters’s conclusions or demographic data for my arguments. Peters’s basic conclusion is that only a small number of Palestinians lived in what later became Israel. She provides specific figures, which have been disputed. My very different conclusion is that:

There have been two competing mythologies about Palestine circa 1880. The extremist Jewish mythology, long since abandoned, was that Palestine was “a land without people, for a people without a land.” The extremist Palestinian mythology, which has become more embedded with time, is that in 1880 there was a Palestinian people; some even say a Palestinian nation that was displaced by the Zionist invasion.
   The reality, as usual, lies somewhere in between. Palestine was certainly not a land empty of all people. It is impossible to reconstruct the demographics of the area with any degree of precision, since census data for that time period are not reliable, and most attempts at reconstruction–by both Palestinian and Israeli sources–seem to have a political agenda.

I offer very different and rougher estimates, which Cockburn and Finkelstein do not challenge, as they do Peters’s. How then can I be accused of plagiarizing ideas or conclusions with which I disagree, from a book that I cite eight times, using the preferred form of citation?

Why then would Cockburn attack me so viciously? The answer is in his sentence bemoaning the fact that a pro-Israel book is “slithering into the upper tier of Amazon’s sales charts.” He disapproves of my message and of the fact that it is reaching a wide audience. Instead of debating me on the merits, he has tried to destroy my credibility with a false accusation. (This is not the first time he and Finkelstein have gotten together and employed this tactic against people with whom they disagree.)

Let people read The Case for Israel and judge it for themselves against Cockburn’s charges. I have sent his attack and my response to President Summers. I have nothing to fear from false charges.




Every time he tries to leap to firmer ground, defending the rotten standards of scholarship in his rotten book, Dershowitz sinks in deeper. Start with his defiant declaration from the dock that he did not commit plagiarism because “every word written by others appears with quotation marks, is cited to their original or secondary sources and is quoted accurately.” This skates (rather clumsily, I have to say) round the question of what source Dershowitz actually did use for his citation and whether or not he acknowledged it. Often he used Peters and pretended he didn’t, which would get him into very hot water at Harvard if he were a student and not the Felix Frankfurter Professor.

Here are Harvard’s own rules, set forth in Writing With Sources: A Guide for Harvard Students: “Plagiarism is passing off a source’s information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them.” And also: “When quoting or citing a passage you found quoted or cited by another scholar, and you haven’t actually read the original source, cite the passage as ‘quoted in’ or ‘cited in’ that scholar both to credit that person for finding the quoted passage or cited text, and to protect yourself in case he or she has misquoted or misrepresented….”

I discussed only Dershowitz’s first two chapters, as dissected by Norman Finkelstein, his nemesis in this affair, who points out that twenty-two of the fifty-two footnotes to these chapters are lifted from Peters without attribution. Finkelstein recently laid waste Dershowitz’s attempts at self-exculpation in the Harvard Crimson. As Finkelstein points out, one problem for the beleaguered prof comes in the form of ellipses. Dershowitz echoes Peters’s ellipses. Another problem identified by Finkelstein: For Twain, Dershowitz cites from one edition and Peters from another, but the page numbers he cites are from Peters’s edition, not his. So Peters’s text is where he got the quote.

Yet another problem goes to the concluding sentence from the Harvard guidelines quoted above. Dershowitz echoes Peters’s mistakes. From Twain she cites as one continuous text what are in fact two separate paragraphs separated by eighty-seven pages. Dershowitz follows suit. He’s handcuffed to Peters in a more serious breach of scholarship when he plagiarizes her erroneous citation of British consular official Wm. T. Young’s supposedly first-person description to Lord Canning of an instance of anti-Semitism in Jerusalem. The description was not Young’s but a memorandum by one A. Benisch, which Young was forwarding.

Another bloodied glove, as it were, comes with Dershowitz’s attribution of the unlovely neologism “turnspeak” to George Orwell. This was a coinage by Peters, who cited Orwell as having inspired it. Glazed with literary pillage, and ever eager to suppress the fact that he was relying heavily on one of the most notorious laughingstocks of Middle Eastern scholarship, Dershowitz seized on Orwell as the source, once again cutting Peters out.

Quoting The Chicago Manual of Style, Dershowitz artfully implies that he followed the rules by citing “the original” as opposed to the secondary source, Peters. He misrepresents Chicago here, where “the original” means merely the origin of the borrowed material, which is, in this instance, Peters.

Now look at the second bit of the quote from Chicago, chastely separated from the preceding sentence by a demure three-point ellipsis. As my associate Kate Levin has discovered, this passage (“To cite a source from a secondary source…”) occurs on page 727, which is no less than 590 pages later than the material before the ellipsis, in a section titled “Citations Taken from Secondary Sources.” Here’s the full quote, with what Dershowitz left out set in bold: “‘Quoted in.’ To cite a source from a secondary source (“quoted in…”) is generally to be discouraged,

since authors are expected to have examined the works they cite. If an original source is unavailable, however, both the original and the secondary source must be listed


So Chicago is clearly insisting that unless Dershowitz went to the originals, he was obliged to cite Peters. Finkelstein has conclusively demonstrated that he didn’t go to the originals. Plagiarism, QED, plus added time for willful distortion of the language of Chicago‘s guidelines, cobbling together two separate discussions.

Some time ago three judges on a Florida appeals court overturned a $145 million landmark judgment against tobacco companies. In their decision the judges appropriated without acknowledgment extensive swaths of the brief put forward by the tobacco companies’ well-paid lawyers. The judges were sued for judicial plagiarism, and, as so often, Dershowitz had a pithy quote: “If a student ever did what this judge did, he’d be tossed out on his rear end from Harvard Law School. We teach our students as a matter of ethics that when you borrow, you attribute.”

Amherst professor Sayres Rudy, who says his credentials are “from the ground up,” i.e., based on honor codes he enforced (Davidson) or examined (UVA, The Citadel), has studied the Dershowitz/Peters case: “I can say unequivocally that under Davidson College’s and other schools’ honor codes Dershowitz’s quotations constitute plagiarism, with clear attempt to deceive as to (A) his research and (B) his findings. Thus his plagiarism is serious and unambiguous, and if it were a student in question, the debate would regard levels of punishment. Maximal punishments would be considered without any doubt, including at UVA expulsion, at Davidson two-term suspension, and at military schools such as West Point or The Citadel a discharge.”

But then, Dershowitz isn’t a student. He’s the Felix Frankfurter Professor at Harvard Law School, meaning presumably that he’s beyond reform. Two-tier justice for all!


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