Jon Wiener’s screed [“Giving Chutzpah New Meaning,” July 11] is based on a misrepresentation of my correspondence. I wrote to the directors of the University of California Press (with a copy and cover note to the Governor) emphasizing that “I have no interest in censoring or suppressing [Norman] Finkelstein’s freedom of expression.” In a further letter, I made it clear that “I am not trying to get the Governor to prevent the publication of Finkelstein’s book.” The purpose of my letters was to encourage the UCP to give “serious consideration” to its decision to publish a defamatory lie (that I did not write The Case for Israel).
My letter was stimulated by an e-mail Finkelstein sent to the dean of Harvard Law School stating that he was “completing a manuscript for the University of California Press” that will “demonstrate that [Dershowitz] almost certainly didn’t write the book, and perhaps didn’t even read it prior to publication.” Finkelstein has gone even further, asserting that I didn’t write any of my books: “[Dershowitz] has come to the point where he’s had so many people write so many of his books…. it’s sort of like a Hallmark line for Nazis…. they churn them out so fast that he has now reached a point where he doesn’t even read them.” (This was after he compared me to Adolf Eichmann.)
Finkelstein knows that I wrote every word of the text of The Case for Israel by hand (I do not type, and I sent my handwritten manuscript to his publisher). He also knows that Harvard–after an investigation, which I sought–dismissed his absurd charges of plagiarism. Indeed, I was awarded a “dean’s prize” for “exceptional scholarship” for a subsequent book. Neither the First Amendment nor academic freedom protects knowing falsehoods, as the Supreme Court said in New York Times v. Sullivan and as Finkelstein knows, since he threatened to sue the Washington Post in 2002 for calling him a “Holocaust revisionist.”
The other purpose of my letter was to inform UCP what Professor Peter Novick, whose work stimulated Finkelstein’s book on the Holocaust, had said about Finkelstein’s reliability as a scholar: “As concerns particular assertions made by Finkelstein…the appropriate response is not (exhilarating) ‘debate’ but (tedious) examination of his footnotes. Such an examination reveals that many of those assertions are pure invention.[…] No facts alleged by Finkelstein should be assumed to be really facts, no quotation in his book should be assumed to be accurate, without taking the time to carefully compare his claims with the sources he cites.”
Novick also concluded that the book, with its concoction of an international Jewish conspiracy, is a “twenty-first-century updating of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and a piece of “trash.”
I questioned whether a university press should be lending its imprimatur to a sequel to what the Times also characterized as “a novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ which warned of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.”
I wrote the UCP that “Finkelstein will have no difficulty having his defamatory bigotry published by the kind of publisher who specializes in this kind of material and whose imprimatur will not be misused by Finkelstein.” Imagine if a university press were contemplating the publication of a racist, homophobic or sexist book. Many of Finkelstein’s supporters would be demanding that it be censored in the name of “speech codes” and “political correctness.”
In my sequel to The Case for Israel, titled The Case for Peace–to be published in September–I demolish Finkelstein’s claims, proving that he has made up quotes and facts. Finkelstein himself acknowledges that he has never been to Israel, knows “very little about Israel” and conducts no original research or interviews. It certainly shows in his work. I challenge Nation readers to read my book and then judge.
It is one thing for Jon Wiener to launch a tendentious attack against Alan Dershowitz. Professor Dershowitz thoroughly deals with the Wiener-Finkelstein line of argumentation in his forthcoming book, The Case for Peace. It is another matter altogether for Wiener to insinuate–without any substantiation at all–that Professor Dershowitz’s research assistants are guilty of academic dishonesty. We are deeply offended by Wiener’s implications that we would not check the original sources cited in Professor Dershowitz’s books. For as long as any of us can remember, the standard operating procedure in Professor Dershowitz’s office has always been for us to check out or request the original sources from the Harvard libraries.
It was journalistically inappropriate for Wiener not to interview any of Professor Dershowitz’s research assistants, who would have firsthand knowledge of what his instructions to “cite” a source actually mean.
HOLLY BETH BILLINGTON (research assistant 2002-2004)
ALEXANDER J. BLENKINSOPP (2004-2005)
ERIC CITRON (2003-2004)
C. WALLACE DeWITT (2004-2005)
AARON VOLOJ DESSAUER (2004-2005)
MITCH WEBBER (2005)
What Alan Dershowitz did had previously been unthinkable: ask a governor–in this case, Arnold Schwarzenegger–to intervene with a publisher’s decision to publish a book–in this case, the University of California Press’s decision to publish a book by Norman Finkelstein criticizing Dershowitz. The governor, to his credit, refused. His office replied to 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.” Thus the star of The Terminator sought to teach a lesson about academic freedom to a Harvard law professor.
Dershowitz now quotes from what he says is a “further letter” to the governor explaining that he didn’t really mean what he said in his original letter. When I interviewed him, I asked for a copy of this “further letter,” but he refused to let me see one–which made me and my editors wonder whether it was real.
Dershowitz says he didn’t want to prevent UC Press from publishing the book in question, but other letters show this isn’t true. He had his lawyers send belligerent letters to dozens of people who might have power to block the book. For example, a letter from Dershowitz’s attorney Rory Millson of Cravath, Swaine & Moore was sent to Lynne Withey, director of the UC Press, declaring that “the press’s decision to publish this book” was “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.”
The UC Press decided to publish Finkelstein’s book after a demanding review process. The manuscript was sent out for peer review by six leading scholars in the field; then publication was recommended by a committee of twenty UC faculty members. This manuscript was also reviewed by several libel attorneys. Dershowitz apparently hasn’t seen the forthcoming book, but nevertheless he’s sure the dozens of people who reviewed it for the press are wrong. But even if he’s right about that, seeking to stop its publication is a violation of the author’s freedom of speech and a challenge to the academic freedom of the University of California. The appropriate response to speech that is wrong is not to silence it but to argue against it–because nobody has a monopoly on the truth, not even Alan Dershowitz.
But all this is not really about Alan Dershowitz. It’s about Israel. Norman Finkelstein’s book, Beyond Chutzpah, which I’ve read in galley form, is harshly critical of Dershowitz’s book The Case for Israel, taking on his defense of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Finkelstein challenges Dershowitz by citing mainstream groups like Amnesty International, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch. The book is a series of juxtapositions–arguments by Dershowitz on Israeli practices of torture, assassinations, treatment of Palestinian children and water and land rights, followed by refutations from human rights organizations. The cumulative effect is a devastating portrait of widespread Israeli violations of human rights principles and international law.
Dershowitz leaves it to his student research assistants to respond to charges of academic dishonesty. Finkelstein argued that Dershowitz lifted twenty footnotes in his book The Case for Israel from another book (Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial), without indicating that’s where he found them. According to the definition of plagiarism at Harvard, where Dershowitz teaches, plagiarism is not just quoting someone without attribution–it is “passing off a source’s information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them.”
My article quoted Dershowitz’s instructions to Holly Beth Billington: “Holly Beth: cite sources on pp. 160, 485, 486 fns 141-145.” He was referring to footnotes in Joan Peters’s book–thus claiming Peters’s research as his own work. That would make him guilty of academic dishonesty. When I asked Dershowitz about this, he said, “I went to the Harvard library,” found and read the original sources–which made it OK, he said, not to run a footnote that included the phrase “cited in Peters.” Now Billington et al. say they are the ones who went to the library–not Dershowitz himself. If they are right, that makes his statement to me untrue.
Billington et al. say I should have asked them about this. But I don’t need to interview Holly Beth to find out what “cite” means; that’s in the dictionary–and it’s different from “go to the library and check.”